Feds didn't supply enough resources to end water advisories on First Nations: auditor

·2 min read

OTTAWA — The government did not provide the support needed to ensure First Nations communities have access to safe drinking water, says federal auditor general Karen Hogan in a report released Thursday.

Hogan found Indigenous Services Canada failed to meet its commitment to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories by the end of March.

She also noted the government has not created a regulatory regime for managing drinking water in First Nations communities.

Many First Nations in Canada have had water that’s unsafe to drink from the tap for years and fixing those problems has been a signature promise of the Liberal government.

The report concludes that 100 long-term advisories were lifted between 2015 and 2020 but 60 remained in effect as of Nov. 1, 2020, and almost half of those have been in place for more than a decade.

“Indigenous Services Canada must work in partnership with First Nations to develop and implement a lasting solution for safe drinking water in First Nations communities,” said Hogan.

She said the government should strengthen its efforts to eliminate all long-term water advisories and prevent new ones.

Hogan said the COVID‑19 pandemic has slowed progress on some projects but many were already delayed.

Hogan’s report notes access to safe drinking water is vital to the health and well-being of 330,000 people living in more than 600 First Nations communities across the country.

It says some First Nations communities continue to experience a lack of access to safe water 15 years after auditors called on the government to address the issue for the first time.

The Liberal government committed to eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems on First Nations reserves by March 31, 2021.

The government began allocating more than $2 billion to improve water and wastewater in First Nations communities in its 2016-17 budget, including funding to operate and maintain public drinking water systems.

This government’s funding to resolve the situation ends next month.

Indigenous Services Canada estimated that $1.79 billion had been actually spent by the end of November.

The government promised an additional $1.5 billion in funding, starting in 2026-27, for water treatment projects in First Nations communities in its fall economic statement.

The government said the new funding aims to accelerate the work to end all the long-term drinking water advisories.

The announcement included an additional $114 million per year, starting in 2026–27, for the operation and maintenance of water and wastewater systems in First Nations communities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press