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INAC AND HEALTH CANADA ANNOUNCE FIVE-YEAR PLAN AND MORE MONEY TO FIX FIRST NATION WATER ISSUES
By Cori Marshall
This morning Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC), and Minister of Health Jane Philpot made an announcement on the five-year plan to address long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities. Minister Bennett announced that "for the first time we are implementing a long-term action plan". The plan seeks to end all long-term drinking water advisories by 2021.
According to Minister Bennett, the government has allocated "$1.8 billion of new money" over the five-year period to help accomplish the goal. None of the money earmarked in the 2016 budget has been carried over from previous government initiatives. The money is directed to "on reserve systems [that are] financially supported by INAC".
As of January 2017, $275.7 million has already been allocated to 201 water infrastructure projects. Minister Bennett underlined that "29 [projects] are aimed at addressing 44 long-term advisories in 28 communities." With this spending the government is addressing "more than 60% of the existing" advisories that have lasted for a year or more.
Minister Bennet offered a lack of long term funding as a reason why these long term issues have not been properly addressed in the past. According to Bennett to complete a project it takes four to five years, and in a lot of cases the money would run out before the feasibility study phase of the project was complete. By the time money could allocated to the project again a new feasibility study would be required, leaving communities in a constant state if starting over.
Minister Philpot announced an additional "$141 million over five years to help the monitoring and testing of on reserve community drinking water". The task of monitoring water quality falls under the jurisdiction of Health Canada. The federal government has committed nearly $2 billion to improving the drinking water and wastewater infrastructure of First Nations Communities.
Not all of the funds are going toward design, construction, and monitoring of the systems. Some of the money goes toward the Circuit Rider Training Program. The program allows for the training of young, local individuals to continue the operation of community systems.
Drinking water advisories vary in nature, from short to long term, and may or may not effect an entire community. In some cases in can be as little as one building that is effected. The causes for advisories can vary as well.
Advisories can be caused by either technical or operational reasons. Technical reasons for advisories can be that the equipment is malfunctioning or has reached the end of its life cycle. Operational reasons can be that there is insufficient staff to operate and monitor the equipment, therefore safety cannot be ensured.
Canada is large and long-term advisories are not uniformly spread across the territory. According to Minister Bennett, more than 90% of the advisories that have existed for a year or longer can be found in three provinces "namely Ontario, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia." The reasons for this unequal distribution are that some communities are more remote than others and services cannot be provided easily and in some regions communities are rely more on the Circuit Rider Training Program.
INAC and Health Canada have big job ahead of them between now and 2021. Minister Bennett acknowledges that fact that they "cannot do this alone." This is why the government is creating partnerships with First Nations communities to accomplish the task.
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