Question Period: Access to Safe Drinking Water – Sen. Cordy

By: The Hon. Jane Cordy

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Wapta Falls, British Columbia

Hon. Jane Cordy: Senator Gold, today we recognize Orange Shirt Day to remember the residential schools and, in particular, the young Aboriginal girl Phyllis Jack Webstad, whose grandmother gave her a new orange shirt on the first day of school. It was taken from her and she never saw it again. I’m very pleased to see a lot of orange here in the chamber today.

I will focus my questions on how we as parliamentarians have a role in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and the government’s obligation to address over a century of injustices. This can only be achieved through actions and not just promises.

Senator Gold, in December 2019, in the Throne Speech, the government recommitted to the promise of eliminating all long-term boil water advisories on public water systems on reserves by March 2021. In last week’s Speech from the Throne, there was no mention of the March 2021 pledge, and this is concerning.

Regarding the importance of safe drinking water on reserves and the government’s pledge in the 2019 Throne Speech, the Southern Chiefs’ Organization commented:

Boil water advisories have been and continue to severely impact the lives and wellness of all affected communities. Water is the most basic human right, and is also held to be very sacred to our Indigenous ways of life.

Every Canadian, Senator Gold, no matter where they live, should expect safe drinking water. Some communities have been under boil water advisories for decades.

Senator Gold, is the government still committed to the March 2021 pledge? If so, how is this going to be safely achieved in protecting the health of populations during the pandemic, when communities, understandably, are hesitant to allow outsiders on the reserves during COVID-19?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Senator, thank you for your important question, a question that touches upon one of the ongoing tragedies in our relationship with our Indigenous communities.

The answer is yes. The government remains committed to ensuring that First Nations and other Indigenous communities on reserve have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water. It’s frankly too early to determine the full impact of COVID-19 on the water infrastructure timelines to which you’ve made reference, but I have been advised that the government is working towards the goal of ending all long-term boil water advisories on First Nations by March 2021. So there is no waffling on that point.

The government knows much more work needs to be done, but there is some encouraging news, although it’s not enough, to be sure. Nonetheless, there have been 91 long-term water advisories lifted since 2015, and 162 short-term advisories prevented from becoming long-term advisories. The government continues to work in consultation and, more importantly, in partnership with communities to co-develop long-term solutions to ensure clean drinking water for all communities and to end all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves. Thank you again for your question.

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