April 12th, 2021
MP Ashton calls for emergency debate on the government's failure to provide clean drinking water to First Nations
Dear Mr. Speaker,
I am writing to you to give notice under Standing Order 52(2) that I will be seeking leave on Monday April 12th, 2021, to propose an emergency debate regarding the failure of the Federal Government to meet their deadline to solve the clean drinking water crisis facing Indigenous Peoples in March of 2021 as promised.
We’re now in April, which means that the government has fundamentally broken their commitment to Indigenous Peoples and this is the first opportunity to address the House and debate this. The fact that the deadline imposed by the government has come and gone without resolution is an emergency. The fact that the government refuses to set a date for when this will be solved is an emergency. The lack of clean drinking water is the emergency. Every day that people go without clean drinking water is a dire emergency. I’ve heard from many First Nations in my riding how it is only getting worse. Not only that, Indigenous Services Canada has made it clear how pressing this is. An official from ISC said that while COVID-19 variants have not arrived in First Nations, “it is only a matter of time.” We cannot deal with the COVID-19 pandemic facing Indigenous Peoples without dealing with the lack of clean drinking water. It has become clear to me that Parliament must discuss and debate this to identify the best path moving forward.
Fifty-eight long-term drinking water advisories are still in place in 38 First Nations as a result of decades of neglect on the part of Liberal and Conservative governments. This Federal government was largely elected on its promise to end these drinking water advisories, and we must discuss how and why this failure was allowed to happen. While the government has argued that their failures are a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Auditor General’s report on Access to Safe Drinking water in First Nation communities was clear that this isn’t the case, concluding, “Indigenous Services Canada did not provide the support necessary to ensure that First Nations communities have ongoing access to safe drinking water. Drinking water advisories remained a constant for many communities, with almost half of the existing advisories in place for more than a decade.”
Let’s be clear, the COVID-19 pandemic has only exasperated the need for clean drinking water on reserves. As the Auditor General report says, “Many First Nations communities are particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks, such as the virus that causes the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), because of social, environmental, and economic factors. In comparison with other communities, First Nations communities more frequently experience overcrowded or poor housing conditions, have higher rates of pre-existing health conditions and chronic disease and have more limited access to health care.” In Manitoba, First Nations represent 70% of all COVID-19 cases, despite only being 10% of the population. Communities like Shamattawa First Nation are simultaneously dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks and a lack of clean drinking water. The situation is untenable - they need action.
While the government continues to say all the right things, its actions deserve scrutiny and an emergency debate is the perfect avenue to do so. This is still the same government that is fighting Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Neskatanga Cree Nations, and other First Nations lawsuits over its failures to provide clean drinking water which has now been brought to the UN. Having missed the deadline, it still won’t commit to when this problem will be fixed, instead offering up a website as its only solution. First Nations, and indeed all Canadians, deserve this answer.
This also calls into question our international commitments. UNICEF just launched a campaign to ensure all children around the world have access to clean drinking water - not every Canadian child has that access. As well, Canada is a signatory to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. If Canada is to be a champion of human rights abroad, we must urgently fix this problem.
An emergency debate will allow Parliamentarians to urgently address this situation and determine a way to move forward and allow the Government of Canada to hear the deliberations of Parliamentarians to develop a more robust strategy, identify where gaps exist in our water testing system, and develop a clear deadline for when all Canadians will have access to clean drinking water without any further delay.
As always, I thank you for your careful consideration of this application.
MP Niki Ashton (Churchill--Keewatinook Aski