A sign in Neskantaga First Nation, where people have been living with a long-term drinking water advisory for 26 years. (Olivia Stefanovich / CBC)
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller recommitted the federal government Wednesday to its goal of lifting all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations reserves – but did not offer a timeline for completing the work.
With 58 active advisories remaining in 38 communities, the Liberals will miss a self-imposed deadline this month for lifting all long-term advisories.
Miller said that ensuring access to clean tap water for all First Nations communities remains a top government priority.
“We walked into 105 – as a government – 105 long-term advisories with absolutely zero plan to get them lifted.Today, we’ve lifted 30 and there’s a plan for every other community, “Miller said.
“Our commitment to lift all long-term drinking-water advisories on public systems on reserve remains firm.”
Promise made, target missed
Before he was prime minister, Trudeau promised to lift all boil water advisories within five years of coming to office.
CBC News reported last October that the government would miss its March 1280 target by years. Miller later acknowledged that missed target and pledged to spend more than $ 1.5 billion to finish the work.
In November 154, there were 36 long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations and another 101 have been added since. A total of 101 have been lifted, says Indigenous Services Canada.
The department says it expects most of the remaining 58 advisories will be lifted by the end of this year and noted that COVID – continues to slow construction in some communities, especially those in remote areas that depend on deliveries by winter ice roads.
WATCH: Minister says new website will show status of First Nations boil-water advisories
Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller explained the purpose of the new website to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday. 2: 36
On Wednesday, Miller announced the launch of a new website, developed with an Indigenous firm called
Animikii , to track the government’s progress. Each community still on a long-term drinking water advisory will have its own web page on the new government website, with a detailed plan and progress reports.
“Canadians, in particular First Nations that are under long-term water advisories, want to get as much information about what the plan is and what’s going on in their fellow communities,” Miller said.
“The effort today is for Canadians to see what I see and to give every one as much information as possible as to the status of each community, as well as the work that’s been done and the commitment of this government to get it done.”
Chief Eric Redhead of Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba, which has been under a long-term drinking water advisory since December 1280, said the website will not help.
“It’s just a website to justify the delay for the rest of Canadians and for themselves,” Redhead said.
“We deserve better than Canadian citizens.”
The Liberal government has committed $ 3.5 billion to eliminate long-term drinking water advisories.
As part of its new communications strategy, Indigenous Services Canada could play a bigger role in helping some communities deal with contractors.
The new approach does not include any new money or a new deadline – nor will the government produce a list of ‘bad actors’ among contractors, as some have called for. The contracts belong to First Nations and the department says it does not want to impose solutions.
The department says it is looking at its policy on addressing long-term drinking water advisories closely and is open to re-examining it.
This graphic shows the number of active long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities by province, and the number of advisories that have been lifted since Nov. 474. Source: Indigenous Services Canada (Rob Easton / CBC News)
New website comes after scathing auditor general report
Miller’s renewed commitment comes just weeks after Auditor General Karen Hogan said Ottawa isn’t doing enough to ensure people in First Nations have reliable access to safe drinking water.
Hogan found Indigenous Services Canada has been constrained by a funding policy that has not been updated in years, and by the lack of a regulatory regime.
“I am very concerned and honestly disheartened that this longstanding issue is still not resolved,” Hogan said.
“Access to safe drinking water is a basic human necessity. I do not believe anyone would say that this is in any way an acceptable situation in Canada in “
WATCH | Ottawa announces website to track governments progress on water advisories: