By Marc Lalonde
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Ending drinking water advisories in First Nations communities has become the number-one priority for federal Indigenous Services minister Patty Hajdu and that’s the motivation behind a new law that will govern and guarantee the delivery of safe drinking water in those communities, she said Tuesday morning.
“This is my top priority as Indigenous Services minister,” Hajdu said. “Right now, there is now law whatsoever that govern clean drinking water.”
Laws passed by the Conservative government in 2013 and the Liberals in 2020 were repealed as part of last year’s $8-billion drinking-water class-action settlement.
Hajdu said it was important to have something in place that will protect First Nations communities and is working hand in hand with the Assembly of First Nations, and the other Indigenous communities not represented by the AFN, to draft something that will protect water delivery and the water itself once it’s delivered.
“The law the Harper government had out in place only protected water up until the moment it crossed into First Nations territory,”
she said. The new law would ensure water quality is monitored and allows for litigation if the government fails to live up to its responsibilities, Hajdu added.
Currently, 32 long-term boil-water advisories are in place in 28 communities across Canada.
Money isn’t an issue, either, Hajdu said.
“There is no shortage of cash, available, either,” she said.
Some First Nations communities are being more cautious in lifting advisories, she said, while others still are working with provincial and territorial partners to make sure they can get clean drinking water to their communities.
“Some of that is beyond our control,” she said.
Earlier this month, Hajdu announced that a consultation draft of a new law has been shared with First Nations rights holders to support the development of new proposed First Nations drinking water and wastewater legislation.
The “landmark legislation,” is unique in that, to ensure transparency, parliamentary privilege has been waived and the public will be able to see the draft law in its various states before it is tabled in the House of Commons.
“This is the first time that’s happened. We’ve made it willingly available to the AFN, and to other communities (not part of AFN). We will recognize feedback from other First Nations that are not part of the AFN as well,” she said.
Hajdu added the new law will propose a First Nations water commission, whose mandate would be to monitor and help the government to manage that issue.
Marc Lalonde is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IORI:WASE. The LJI program is federally funded.