Ottawa won't set new deadline for providing clean water in First Nations communities

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OTTAWA — Indigenous Services Canada won't set a deadline for lifting all remaining long-term drinking-water advisories in First Nations communities.

Department officials said public health measures, contractor and human resource shortages as well as supply chain interruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic make it too difficult to figure out a firm timeline.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said he remains committed to ensuring every First Nation community will have access to clean drinking water.

"Our commitment to lift all long-term drinking-water advisories on public systems on reserve remain firm," Miller said Wednesday at a news conference in Ottawa.

"We will continue working in partnership with First Nations to ensure every single one is lifted."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised in 2015 to lift all drinking-water advisories by this March. In December, Miller announced that deadline would be missed.

Over 100 long-term drinking-water advisories have been lifted since 2015, but there are still 38 First Nations communities where the water isn't considered safe to drink.

Department officials told a technical briefing Wednesday that they are aiming to take full advantage of the spring and summer construction period to make up for the delays.

The federal government is also launching a new website to track progress on lifting the remaining advisories, which Miller called an "effort in transparency."

"Now people can look on the website and see the detailed planning involved," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 10, 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