MPP Sol Mamakwa is still fighting for clean water across the Kiiwetinoong riding – which has the most long-term boil water advisories across Canada.
The federal government says 43 long-term boil water advisories remain in 31 First Nation communities across the country – with northwestern Ontario having the highest concentration of affected communities in all of Canada, with 22 projects still underway.
“In Kiwetinoong, there are 14 First Nations under long-term boil water advisories – including Neskantaga, who is almost at 27 years of living with no clean drinking water,” said said Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa, during Question Period at Queen’s Park.
“It is shameful that governments, including this one, enables this structural racism – or racism, period.”
His comments come after the release of a new report, Clean Water for First Nations: Is the Government Spending Enough?, created by the Parliamentary Budget Officer. It builds off of their 2017 report after a request from Senator Renee Dupuis to examine budget requirements for First Nations water and wastewater systems.
Overall, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has found that the government’s planned spending until 2025-2026 is enough to build the infrastructure needed to end long-term boil water advisories in all First Nation communities in Canada, but the spending isn’t enough to operate or maintain those systems.
The report shows that planned spending from the government will only cover just two-thirds of the funding needed, suggesting an average annual funding gap of $138 million to operate and maintain water and wastewater systems.
“The member’s right,” responded Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, David Piccini of the Conservatives.
“For too long, this has been simply unacceptable. That’s why our government’s working closely with Aqua and Walkerton, agencies of the government, collaboratively with First Nations and the federal government to support resolutions to long-term drinking water advisories.”
As of 2020-2021, all water and wastewater operating and maintenance costs are covered by Indigenous Services Canada. Previously, ISC covered 80 per cent of the costs, with First Nations being responsible for the remainder.
Mamakwa, who also serves as the NDP’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Critic, notes that Ontario’s Clean Water Agency is hesitant to support First Nations with boil-water advisories, as they need to achieve full cost-recovery to provide their services.
“I didn’t realize getting people clean drinking water was only important when there was money to be made off of it?” rhetorically asked Mamakwa. “Leaving people to live their whole lives under boil-water advisories is nothing to be proud of.”
Ottawa committed to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nation communities by March 31, 2021. While that goal wasn’t reached, the feds did commit an additional $1.5 billion to accelerate their work.
Overall, the federal government says since 2015, over $5.2 billion has been spent to end 119 long-term drinking water advisories on First Nation communities, and Ottawa has funded 584 projects and upgrades.