Debates of the Senate  
1st Session, 41st Parliament,Volume 148, Issue 26
  Wednesday, November 2, 2011
Question Period: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Water Supply on Reserves

Hon. Rod A. A. Zimmer: Honourable senators, I have two questions. Currently, more than 40 per cent of the 1,800 First Nations homes in Northern Manitoba still do not have an in-home water supply. The cut-off line for funding and equipment to fix this issue is fast approaching. Aboriginals fear that the water supply on reserves will not be fixed until 2013 unless the deadline is met. This has become a health care issue, creating unsanitary conditions for Aboriginals. Will the government be able to meet the deadline?

Hon. Marjory LeBreton (Leader of the Government): As honourable senators know, through the current minister and also previous ministers in our government, we are strongly committed to working with First Nations to address this very serious challenge, as we have done since we came into government. The government has made significant investments in First Nations water and wastewater systems in every budget since we came into government. We are working with First Nations to improve and expand operator and manager training and compliance. I am informed that we will reintroduce legislation to create enforceable standards and to guide investments.

In terms of the specific question about meeting the deadline, we have worked on this serious problem for many years. It is hard to say, specifically, what the deadline is or may be, but I can assure honourable senators that we are doing everything possible. We have made significant improvements over the last five years in the drinking water and wastewater conditions on our reserves.

Senator Zimmer: Honourable senators, The Globe and Mail reported this week that the actual work to connect the communities to the water supplies has not begun and that the plumbing material and equipment has not been ordered yet. I understand that we need to get the funding and equipment by December 31, 2011.

Honourable senators, this is an urgent issue. Every person in Canada should have running water. Will the federal government be able to meet this deadline?

Senator LeBreton: Honourable senators, I will have to take the question as notice and refer it to my colleague, the Honourable John Duncan, who probably has more accurate, detailed and up-to-date information. I will be very happy to provide it to the senator by written answer.

Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck: With regard to this issue, honourable senators, could the leader tell us whether or not the government actually knows what bits and pieces need to be ordered and what needs to be sent to those northern communities? It is all well and good to say the bill will fix it. The bill will not fix it. They actually need the physical structure to create safe drinking water.

Senator LeBreton: I would dare say, since we are working with First Nations and with various people responsible for the reserves, that they would certainly let us know. In the deliberations, I am certain that what is required to fix the systems would be well known on both sides of the table. I cannot imagine anyone going into a situation to improve the water and wastewater systems and not knowing what tools and equipment they may need to do so.