Ottawa making progress on drinking- water promise

Posted on December 19, 2018 in Equality Delivery System – Politics Briefing
December 19,2018.   CHRIS HANNAY

The federal government is making headway in its efforts to ensure that all First Nations in Canada have access to clean drinking water.

The lack of potable water on many reserves has been one of those seemingly insurmountable challenges, and human-rights issues, that governments of both stripes have tried to tackle – with few results.

Engineering experts were skeptical when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised, during the 2015 election campaign, to end all of the long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves within five years of a Liberal government taking office.

There were 105 advisories in effect at that time. Some, like the one in the Neskantaga First Nation in Northern Ontario, stretched back two decades.

In January, 2018, the Indigenous Services department added 250 First Nations water systems to the list of those it will repair and maintain. And, in doing so, it added 24 more long-term boil-water advisories to the total.

But, by mid-December of this year, the total number of advisories had been reduced to 64, and federal officials predicted that a few more would be cleared before the calendar rolls over to 2019.

That has been done with an investment of close to $2-billion, not all of which has been spent.

“We’re very happy with the progress in that we have been able to keep on track with our targets and our plan,” Jane Philpott, the Minister of Indigenous Services, said in an interview. “Though clearly,” she added, “there is a long way to go yet.”

Perry Bellegarde, the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, counts the progress being made in providing clean drinking water to First Nations communities as a success story.

The federal government predicts that most of the long-term advisories will end by 2020, and is on track to meet the 2021 promise. Ms. Philpott said there is a plan in place for each of the communities that remain on the list.

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