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
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.