Feds Miss Deadline to End All Drinking Water Advisories, but Will Work Long-Term With First Nations

Feds Miss Deadline to End All Drinking Water Advisories, but Will Work Long-Term With First Nations
Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller pauses as he responds to a question during a news conference in Ottawa on June 5, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

The Liberal government says they will not be able to end all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nations by the promised deadline, but will commit long-term to finish the work.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller announced on Wednesday that the government can’t meet the target of lifting all long-term drinking water advisories for Indigenous communities by March 2021, but promises to commit to long-term partnership with them to “get this done.”

During the 2015 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised First Nations his government would eradicate all-long term drinking water advisories by March 2021.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into efforts to upgrade water systems and carry out on-site training, with supply chains snarled and some reserves opting to restrict travel, according to deputy minister of Indigenous Services Christiane Fox.

In addition, the complexity of projects on remote sites, which can include infrastructure overhauls, have added to the delay, she said. Miller admitted this during the press conference, adding they also have faced challenges hiring and retaining operators for water and wastewater treatment plants on remote sites.

“We’re making ourselves accountable. We’re making future governments accountable,” Miller said. “And while there have been many reasons for the delay, I want to state as clearly as possible. Ultimately, I bear the responsibility for this, and I have the responsibility and the duty to get this done.”

On Oct. 23, when asked to confirm the promise and deadline to complete the lifting of outstanding drinking water advisories, Trudeau said “as soon as possible” as “there’s more work to do.”

However, Miller sought to shield Trudeau from the failed goal by saying the prime minister “deserves a lot of credit” for pursuing it.

Miller also announced the additional spending of $1.5 billion to speed up the work toward this year, which was earmarked in the fall economic statement (pdf) by the Liberal government on Nov. 30, on top of $2.1 billion already committed since 2016.

Though Miller called the continued lack of access to clean water in scores of First Nations communities “totally unacceptable,” he did not set a second deadline.