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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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Updated 2016/8/9


The questions below were sent to Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC) Minister Carolyn Bennett, the answers were provided by INAC's Public Affairs Team.


WaterToday - What is Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s involvement with Grassy Narrows? The mercury has been in the water and soil for many years and there have been years of studies and consulting, yet the issue persists. How does it work with the band in this situation? Is it a provincial issue, with federal money involved? Or is it finally an emergency and your department is involved?

INAC - On Grassy Narrows, the province of Ontario's Environment Ministry is the lead department on matters relating to mercury contamination and clean-up efforts. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) continues to work with the Mercury Disability Board (MDB) and the Government of Ontario to support the work of the Board in addressing the issue of mercury contamination.

Since 1982, the Government of Canada has contributed more than $9 million in compensation to Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations, which were affected by mercury contamination, for economic and social development initiatives. Along with its partners, the Government of Canada is committed to supporting Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations in their efforts to improve the lives of their residents.

In addition to our routine contacts with Grassy Narrows, INAC also sits on a working group with the First Nation and Ontario to support the First Nation in its search for solutions to the legacy of mercury contamination.

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WaterToday - We are starting to see fairly regular press releases on water plants being upgraded, or new ones built on reserves. In real terms, there are more than six hundred reserves with approximately a hundred in dire straits, many of these with dangerously inadequate wastewater lagoons. Given the new technologies available why is this taking so long to fix? Canadians have the idea that the government throws millions and millions at this and wonder why it takes so long to fix the systems?

INAC - The Government of Canada is committed to providing First Nations with access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water.

The Government's plan to address long-term drinking water advisories on reserves includes immediate investments in communities that have identified issues as well as ongoing tracking of water treatment systems and improved monitoring of drinking water quality.

Specifically in relation to on reserve water and wastewater infrastructure, Budget 2016 proposes to address health and safety needs, end long-term drinking water advisories on reserves within five years, and ensure proper facility operation and maintenance by investing an additional $1.8 billion over five years, starting in 2016–17.

To improve the monitoring and testing of on reserve community drinking water, Budget 2016 proposes to invest $141.7 million over five years, starting in 2016–17. This will complement the significant investments that the Government is proposing to make in water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve. The proposed investment will also help to monitor progress towards ending boil water advisories on reserves.

The Government has identified urgent water infrastructure needs in communities and is moving forward with immediate investments to address them. The Government’s immediate approach is based on the following:
As a result of the 2011 National Assessment on First Nations Water and Wastewater Infrastructure and ongoing annual inspections of water systems, the Government of Canada is aware of where urgent issues persist and we are prioritizing investments to address those areas.

As part of the First Nations Infrastructure Investment Plan process, First Nations have also submitted their individual water and wastewater projects for fiscal year 2016-2017. Budget 2016 investments are now being allocated to priority projects. Many of these projects are aimed at addressing long-term drinking water advisories in Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Alberta, Manitoba, and the Atlantic.

We know that there is much more work to be done in order to end long-term drinking water advisories within the next five years. That is why we will be working in partnership with First Nations and First Nations organizations, including the Assembly of First Nations, to develop a long-term strategy to address the findings of the 2011 National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems.

INAC and Health Canada are working in partnership with First Nations in order to address health and safety needs, end long-term drinking water advisories on reserves within five years, and ensure proper facility operation and maintenance. INAC provides funding and advice to First Nations to assist in the management and operation of water and wastewater systems, related to the design, construction, operation and maintenance of water and wastewater systems. It also provides funding for the training and certification of water system operators.

Health Canada works with First Nation communities south of 60° to identify potential drinking water quality problems, including: verification monitoring of the overall quality of drinking water, and reviewing, interpreting and disseminating results to First Nations; providing guidance and recommendations about drinking water safety and safe disposal of onsite domestic sewage; and reviewing water and wastewater infrastructure project proposals from a public health perspective.

First Nations are responsible for the daily operation and management of their systems, which includes the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and monitoring of their water systems.

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WaterToday - In what way is your department helping bands with eco-tourism set ups, environment protection and green energy? Are you developing a plan for this?

INAC - INAC's Climate change Adaptation program and ecoENERGY for Aboriginal and Northern Communities Program sunset on March 31, 2016. Through Budget 2016, however, the government announced it will continue the investments made through those programs to help indigenous and northern communities adapt to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Budget 2016 proposed $129.5M over five years to adapt public infrastructure to a changing climate and strengthen the resilience of our communities to the impacts of climate change. The funding, starting in 2016-2017, will enable seven federal departments and agencies to implement programming focused on building the science base to inform decision-making, protecting the health and well-being of Canadians, building resilience in the North and Indigenous communities, and enhancing competitiveness in key economic sectors. It also proposed $10.7M over two years to implement renewable energy projects in off-grid Indigenous and northern communities that rely on diesel and other fossil fuels to generate heat and power.

INAC is currently working with key stakeholders to develop processes and mechanisms to deliver these new investments, as well as identify opportunities for new projects that will address reliance on diesel and enhance resilience of Indigenous and northern communities.

The Government of Canada is engaging in a renewed, respectful, and inclusive nation-to-nation process, one that makes progress on issues most important to Indigenous communities, and is working with First Nation communities to determine service needs and to develop strategies to prevent fire-related deaths. The Government is confident that by working together, long-term strategies can be developed that will result in significant changes for First Nation communities across Canada.
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WaterToday - The lack of proper housing in most First Nations communities has had tragic consequences with high rates of fatalities caused by fire. The Government’s Budget 2016 allocated over $800 million to First Nation housing and infrastructure to address these issues, yet most First Nation communities do not have an enforceable building code. What measures are being put in place to deal with this issue?

The Government recognizes that a greater focus on fire prevention is key to keeping people and communities safe from fire. This is not just about raising awareness of the importance of smoke alarms and fire safety, but also about increased investments in First Nation housing and ensuring that homes on reserve meet applicable building codes and regulations.

Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada does not require First Nations to submit fire losses reports. Some First Nations provide this information on a voluntary basis to the provincial Fire Commissioner or Fire Marshal offices, which may have information in this regard.

The information requested such as the construction of fire suppression infrastructure (piped water), purchase of firefighting equipment or the audit of the number of homes with working smoke detectors is Band information and not reported to INAC; it is considered third party information.

The Government recognizes that a greater focus on fire prevention is key to keeping people and communities safe from fire. This is not just about raising awareness of the importance of smoke alarms and fire safety, but also about increased investments in First Nation housing and ensuring that homes on reserve meet applicable building codes and regulations.

INAC requires infrastructure built with departmental funding to comply with all relevant codes and standards, including fire and building codes. Currently provincial and territorial infrastructure codes do not apply on reserve land. Local Chief and Council have the authority to create by-laws to adopt provincial or national fire building codes for on-reserve infrastructure. INAC provides funding to support fire safety inspections for INAC-funded public-access buildings assets on reserve, as part of the overarching Asset Condition Reporting System (ACRS) inspection regime. INAC does not provide funding for fire safety inspections of privately-owned buildings on reserve, such as commercial buildings and housing.

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WaterToday - In recent year, the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that Aboriginal treaty rights and claims over traditional lands are far more substantive than was presumed three decades ago. First Nations communities now have the opportunity to get revenue and employment from market-based activities - Own-Source Revenue (OSR) - especially those involving access to traditional lands. How does own-source revenue work exactly and how significant is own-source revenue in financing First Nations governments?

INAC - Own-source revenue (OSR) is the revenue that an Aboriginal government raises by levying taxes and resource revenues or by generating business and other income. Under self-government agreements, Aboriginal governments use some of this revenue to contribute to the costs of their own operations (e.g., providing programs and services to their citizens).

The purpose of Canada's own-source revenue policy is to take into account the ability of self-governing groups to contribute to the costs of their own government activities when determining the level of federal transfers. As such, over time, and based on ability, an Aboriginal government's reliance on federal transfers may be expected to decline. A similar practice exists for transfers to the territorial governments, which also rely heavily on transfers from the federal government.

The Own Source Revenue policy applies only to Aboriginal governments that have entered into a modern treaty or another self-government arrangement with the government of Canada. The way in which revenues are taken into account in determining federal transfers is governed by the own source revenue provision.

In July 2015, the own source revenue policy was modified to change how revenue capacity is measured and to ensure that OSR offsets do not apply to federal transfers for social programs (education, health, and social development.) As a result, the policy does not apply to ‘sectoral’ arrangements addressing only social jurisdictions, such as the Mi'kmaq Education Agreement between Canada, Nova Scotia, and twelve Mi’kmaq First Nations.

Many Indigenous groups are able to generate own source revenues. Canada's OSR policy, under which federal transfers are offset by a portion of a group's revenue capacity, only applies to groups that are signatories to modern treaties and other self-government agreements. Canada has signed 22 self-government agreements recognizing a wide range of Aboriginal jurisdictions that involve 36 Aboriginal communities across Canada.

Other Q&As

Commissionner for the Environment - Julie Gelfand
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr
Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs, Bill Mauro
Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation
Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, with input from Finance, Transport and Agriculture Canada

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