Despite an influx of billions in funding and a campaign pledge, the Liberals have barely made a dent in ending drinking water advisories for First Nations communities, a report released Thursday found.
It’s been almost one year since the Trudeau Liberals committed $1.8 billion over five years in their 2016 budget to help end all long-term advisories. A “flawed” system “ridden with delays” means there were still 156 advisories affecting 110 First Nations communities as of fall 2016, according to the report from the David Suzuki Foundation and The Council of Canadians.
WATCH: Researchers lay out what they say are the three biggest issues facing First Nations communities in Ontario when it comes to access to clean drinking water.
“The protection of water and lands is the beating heart of who we are as a people. It’s our lifeline to everything,” Roxanne Green of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation said Thursday in Ottawa.
“We have many First Nations communities in Canada that are living in Third World conditions in a first world country. And that is not acceptable.”
Residents of Shoal Lake, which straddles Ontario and Manitoba, haven’t been able to drink community water for 19 years, Green said.
“The impact of not having safe drinking water has been great and costly for us. We have people in our community that are very vulnerable to sickness because we don’t have access to clean drinking water.
“While water is life, sometimes water has taken life. We have lost lives due to not having access,” Green said.
The report, entitled Glass Half Empty?, focused on nine First Nations communities in Ontario, the province with the highest number of drinking water advisories in the country; as of November 2016, the province had 81 advisories, 68 of which were classified as long-term, affecting 44 communities.
WATCH: How living under a water advisory effects one community
The research revealed that only three of the nine communities either had or were on track to have their advisories lifted by 2020. In another three of the examined communities, efforts were underway but it was not certain whether they would result in their advisories being lifted by 2020.
In terms of the final three communities, the report found there was virtually no hope their residents would have their advisories lifted.
In one of the three communities that had its advisory lifted, however, the water operator reported the system required almost $800,000 in repairs.
“This demonstrates that solutions to drinking water issues cannot be quick fixes and need to be sustainable in the long term,” the report’s authors wrote.
Among the key recommendations in the report, the authors call on the Liberal government to expedite the process, include First Nations in more decision-making on the issue and greater transparency on how the government is tracking its progress.
“Even though we only looked at nine communities, the issues that were raised were systematic,” said Rachel Plotkin of the David Suzuki Foundation.
“While it’s our hope that this report will help to raise awareness and hold the federal government accountable to its promise to end the drinking water crisis in Canada by 2020, we also believe that this type of reporting should not be left to NGOs and non-profit organizations.”
In response to the report, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett’s office said addressing water and wastewater infrastructure continues to be a key priority.
“Since taking office, we have lifted 18 long-term drinking water advisories,” her office told Global News. “We are very confident the glass is half full and will continue to work in full partnership with First Nations communities.”
Despite the government’s stated success on 18 advisories so far, tracking of the number of advisories across the country has proven difficult.
According to the David Suzuki Foundation, the number of advisories in place is constantly fluctuating. Moreover, some communities don’t report.
While the foundation found 156 advisories in 110 communities as of last fall, Health Canada reported 133 advisories in 90 communities as of Oct. 31 and Indigenous Affairs reported 140 advisories in 85 communities as of Nov. 30.