The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill S-8, An Act respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Chris Warkentin (Peace River, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege for me to stand this afternoon and speak to Bill S-8.
I have the privilege of serving as the chair of the aboriginal affairs and northern development committee. I note, Mr. Speaker, that it is a role you undertook prior to your current position, and it is a privilege to succeed you in that role.
It has been a privilege to serve as chair amid the relationships that have developed across party lines, and I believe our committee has been able to undertake some good work. We have been able to do that in a way that respects not only the desire to bring different perspectives together but to move things forward. It has been a privilege for me to serve in this capacity, and I owe a debt of gratitude to all committee members of all parties who have worked together.
In the consultations and work we did in reviewing Bill S-8, that relationship was paramount, because we desired to hear from folks from different locations across the country. We desired to hear from first nations as well as experts, and from municipalities in addition to that. We desired to hear from people who could speak to the issue of drinking water on reserves specifically, and how we might move toward safe drinking water for all first nations communities and for all first nations people across the country.
There has been much said already about the bill, some of which I agree with and some of which I do not. However, this piece of legislation is enabling legislation. It will allow for regulations to be created to ensure that the water every first nation is using and providing to their local grassroots members is safe.
Clean, safe drinking water is something that we all, as Canadians, take for granted. Water in most municipalities and water systems is provincially regulated, and we know that the regulations that have been established do provide assurance of cleanliness and safety. However, this is not the case in first nations communities. I wanted to note that off the top.
One of the privileges that I have had as well is to serve with the member for Medicine Hat on these important issues. I will be sharing my time today with the member from Medicine Hat.
An important thing to note with regard to this legislation is that some people have asked for additional clarity or for provision of what the regulations would look like once they are done. We recognize as a government—and I think our minister and the minister before him have articulated it well—that it is important that we do not create, or try to create, a one-size-fits-all approach. First nations across the country were loud and clear that one size does not fit all. It never will and never has, for a number of reasons.
Number one, there are differences in our geography in terms of where water comes from, in terms of the number of people it serves and in terms of the technologies available.
There are also differences in what has been undertaken by different municipalities and different provinces. Often first nations communities depend on or collaborate with neighbouring municipalities, so if a set of regulations in one province is different from the regulations in another province, yet they both comply with their respective provincial regulations, then to try to manufacture a national, pan-Canadian regulation system would not take in the differences that we should all accommodate.
Just because there are different regulations does not mean there are different levels of water quality. Different regulations are often required because of different hydrology or different sources of water that local people are drawing from, as well as a result of the number of people who live in certain areas. A water system that serves 100 people or 25 people is vastly different from a water system that supports tens of thousands of people.
That is the reality in municipalities. It is also the reality in first nations communities. That is why an enabling piece of legislation would allow flexibility to work with first nations, to respond to their desires and hopes but also to the realities within their communities. I think we all want a system that will work and provide assurance for clean drinking water into the future.
Our government has invested significantly in providing clean drinking water. I can say that in my own constituency, we have seen significant amounts of money allocated toward water systems that provide water to first nation communities. In some cases, these water systems have been set up to be separate and only for first nation communities. In other cases, we have collaborative efforts that have been undertaken between first nations communities and neighbouring municipalities. The water systems that are built are different because the needs are different and because the water sources are different. However, I can say that with the money that has been leveraged into these systems, many first nations throughout my constituency are being better served with cleaner water and the assurance of that.
However, if we build these systems without regulations, we know that there is a possibility we cannot be assured that the people who are running these systems are trained to run them, and we heard testimony of that at committee. We heard again and again of the necessity of ensuring that for the water systems. All the money in the world could be spent on a water system, but if there is no one running it who knows how to do so, there is a chance that these systems will fall into disrepair, or as a result of either flooding or some type of change in the source water, there may be contamination or problems in terms of the water. Therefore, it is important that we have trained folks, and that is what regulations would set out. Obviously they would ensure that the people who should be running these systems are doing so.
As we look across this country, we see significant diversity. When we look at it region by region, we know we will have to be responsive not only to different realities in terms of population but also different realities in terms of the demographics, geography and distribution needs.
We have heard some concern from the members opposite that maybe people were not consulted to the extent they should have been. I can say we heard person after person come to our committee and say they had been consulted but they still had some desire to see things articulated in the regulations, which is the exciting thing about this undertaking. This process would continue to be a consultation. It would continue to work with first nations to build a regulatory regime that would work for them in their region.
We heard from first nations, some of which span between provinces where half the community is in one province and half in another. We heard from communities that live near urban centres and from some that are quite a distance from urban centres, from some that are in remote locations and from some that live where there is access to different technologies. However, the exciting thing about this process is that there would be a region-by-region recognition and implementation of different regulations.
This goes back to the fact that we are not a government that believes that a one-size-fits-all approach is the right approach. We recognize that, with more than 630 first nations, there is diversity of opinion in terms of what should work but also practical differences in terms of geography and demographics, and these things need to be addressed with regulation. This is why we believe strongly that working in collaboration with the jurisdictions in which these communities are located, whether that be provincial jurisdictions or municipalities, we can come up with a regulation that is uniquely tailored to the communities that these regulations are intended to serve. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, it would be a more customized approach to ensure that people who are living in first nations are well served by the regulation.
We know this is not a quick fix. We know it will take many years to ensure that all systems across this country are established to ensure everyone is receiving clean drinking water. However, we are well on our way, and this enabling legislation would ensure we continue to move in that direction.
Mr. LaVar Payne (Medicine Hat, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, like my colleague, I had the privilege of sitting on the aboriginal and northern affairs committee under your tutelage as the committee chair, and also under my colleague from Peace River. That was an important part of an opportunity to learn a lot about the first nations.
Now, of course, we have the safe drinking water act. I am really pleased to be able to stand here and speak to this. The legislation includes a mechanism that would allow for the development of these regulations. They are desperately needed to safeguard drinking water and allow for proper waste water treatment in first nations communities.
It is time to move forward to create the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities. Bill S-8 addresses an urgent need, and I implore the opposition to support the government on this legislation.
Currently, provincial and territorial regulations protect the safety of drinking water in the vast majority of communities across Canada. In first nations communities, however, no such regulations apply. The lack of regulations has been a major contributor to the poor state of drinking water in many first nations communities.
A lengthy process of consultation did occur, and engagement and review contributed to the legislation now before us. The process began more than seven years ago, when the expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations considered a series of regulatory options. The panel hosted a series of public hearings in first nations communities across Canada. More than 110 people presented to the panel, and a total of more than two dozen individuals and organizations provided written submissions. This work helped identify that a region-by-region approach was needed to develop effective regulations, as stated by my colleague from Peace River. Bill S-8 proposes this approach and recognizes that no one-size-fits-all solutions exist.
In 2010, the Government of Canada introduced Bill S-11, a different version of the legislation now before us, which also called for a region-by-region approach. Although this version died on the order paper, the review conducted by the standing committee of the other place clarified many of the issues that remained to be addressed. A key issue was that legislation on drinking water might abrogate or derogate from existing aboriginal and treaty rights of first nations. Most first nations representatives and many parliamentarians repeatedly raised concerns that the legislation and subsequent regulations on drinking water could infringe on existing aboriginal and treaty rights. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, protects these rights.
Between Bill S-11 and the introduction of Bill S-8 in February of last year, the Government of Canada continued to discuss legislative options with first nations groups. A breakthrough on the non-derogation issue came during the “without prejudice” discussions that the Government of Canada held with regional first nations organizations. During these discussions, first nations proposed that future legislation include a non-derogation clause, a provision clarifying the relationship between drinking water regulations and first nations rights. This was also a sentiment echoed by many witnesses who appeared to speak to Bill S-11. The clause now included in Bill S-8, clause 3, is virtually the same as the version proposed by the first nations as a result of those discussions.
In essence, the non-derogation clause included in Bill S-8 would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal and treaty rights if it is necessary to ensure the safety of first nations drinking water. The non-derogation clause in Bill S-8 would effectively balance the need to respect aboriginal and treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the need to protect human health.
It is a delicate balance to strike, but I believe the clause in Bill S-8 succeeds and would help achieve a larger goal. Consider the following example. Let us say that the only feasible water drinking source for the first nations community is on reserve lands. Under Bill S-8, regulations could be developed to protect this drinking water source, even if the regulations limited the ability of first nations individuals to use the land pursuant to their treaty rights.
Perhaps the first nation wanted to build a commercial development on the land. If the proposed land use threatened the viability of the water source, and by extension, the health and safety of community residents, derogating from a possible aboriginal treaty right to use the land could be justified.
The inclusion of the non-derogation clause in Bill S-8 would immensely strengthen the proposed legislation. It would address a key concern of first nations and other groups while promoting the health and safety of members of first nations communities.
Another important development that occurred with Bills S-11 and S-8 was the publication of the national assessment of first nations water and waste water management systems. It represents the most comprehensive study ever done of the facilities used to treat and distribute drinking water in first nations communities. The national assessment is valuable, because it provides not only an important point of reference but also an impetus for parties to work toward an effective solution.
It is important to recognize that Bill S-8 proposes a collaborative process to establish regulations in each region of the country. The government will work with first nations and other stakeholders to draft effective regulations. These regulations could be crafted to meet the particular circumstances of the region and the needs of the first nations community.
Much work remains to be done to ensure that residents of first nations communities can have the same level of confidence as other Canadians when it comes to their drinking water. Moving ahead with Bill S-8, complete with the non-derogation clause, represents an essential step forward in providing first nations with the regulations needed to safeguard drinking water in first nations communities. I encourage the members of the opposition to stop voting against Bill S-8 and to recognize the important health and safety issues at stake.
Canadians across this land, in most communities we are aware of, have safe drinking water. It is really important that all Canadians have safe drinking water, including first nations, who have suffered for a long time, in certain circumstances, without it. It is incumbent upon our government to assist those first nations to make sure that, in fact, they have the same kind of safe drinking water that all other Canadians enjoy.
Mr. Pat Martin (Winnipeg Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, maybe I will have an opportunity to expand somewhat on those thoughts and remind my colleague again of the legal meaning of the word “consultation” and all that it implies.
Let me preface my remarks today with two opening comments. First of all, I am holding the bill we are debating today in my hand, an act respecting the safety of drinking water on first nation lands. There could be no more important subject for the House of Commons to be seized with, I would argue, given the state of the nation as it pertains to the right to safe drinking water in first nations communities. However, it also goes on to say “AS PASSED BY THE SENATE June 18, 2012”.
There are two things about that. Where does the Senate get off dealing with a piece of legislation before the House of Commons gets its kick at the can on it? How do the senators pass legislation? Who gave them the right, the mandate, to generate legislation? Where does their legitimacy come from? I would argue that they have no legitimacy, have no right and have no mandate to generate legislation in the other place. They have things completely turned around backwards.
Legislation is generated here by the duly elected representatives of the people of Canada, as chosen in a fair and free federal election, at least when it is not meddled with by the Conservative Party rigging elections. We are the representatives of the people. We deal with legislation. Senators have the constitutional right to review the legislation we pass. They even have a history of vetoing legislation in the Senate.
In the early years of this country, fully 10% of all the legislation passed by the people's representatives was vetoed outright by the other place. Fully 25% was amended significantly. However, rarely, and in fact, I would argue never, in those days, as per the founding fathers of Confederation's vision of our federal system, did we see legislation generated in the Senate. This is a new phenomenon.
Now senators are cranking bills out like there was no tomorrow. Bill after bill after bill comes to the House of Commons. We get the second shot at looking at something that has already achieved all the levels of debate, scrutiny and oversight in the Senate. It is fundamentally wrong. Every time they come to our door with another piece of Senate legislation, we should reject it. We should march it back down to the Senate, drop it on the doorstep and leave it there, because I argue that they have no right. It offends the sensibilities of anyone who would call themselves a democrat, in my view.
The second thing I would point out is that in light of the importance of the subject matter we are dealing with, we should really take a moment today and reflect on the fact that the government has moved closure on this important bill, once again. If one asked how often the government uses the intrusive heavy hand of the tyranny of the majority to shut down debate and pull the shroud of its oppressive nature over our opportunity to deal with this matter, I would answer that it does it every time.
It used to be a rare, infrequent thing. Only when there was a logjam on issues of national significance or national importance would the government of the day advance a bill in spite of it being against the will of the other chamber. They were issues such as the national pipeline debate, in the late fifties. They were huge issues of national significance. Now Conservatives do it at every stage on every piece of legislation, and they do not allow a single amendment to a single bill in the 41st Parliament.
I would argue that our democracy is in tatters. This is only a facsimile of a democracy that is left here. It is kind of like a California strawberry. It has the look of a real strawberry, but when it is bitten into, it tastes like cardboard. This has the outward appearances of a democracy, but in actual fact, it falls short in every respect, because all the checks and balances have been stripped away. All the checks and balances that used to put some restraint on the absolute power of the Prime Minister's Office and the ruling party have been tossed aside. Again, that offends me.
I do not want to use my whole speech railing about those two items, but it makes my blood boil to watch the status of our great chamber deteriorate and be undermined and sabotaged by, what I would argue, some very insensitive people. We are dealing with an issue of grave concern and I want to give it the attention it deserves.
I start my remarks by telling the House that the social conditions of our first nations, Metis and Inuit people are our country's greatest failure, our country's greatest shame.
We live in the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world and we cannot provide basic needs to a family to survive in 2013.
In Pikangikum, Ontario pipes are laying there with weeds growing over them because they have been there 5 to 15 years. There have been 100 false starts to its promised fresh water and sewage system and yet those first nations still have no running water in their homes and they are using a five gallon oil pail as a toilet. It is a national disgrace.
I have been here 16 years and for 16 years we have been saying that very same thing. When Jim Prentice, a friend of mine, was made the minister of Indian affairs, he announced that this would be his number one priority. Then I watched other ministers of Indian affairs year after year adopt one theme. Andy Scott's number one priority was education. With Jim Prentice, it was going to be water, that most fundamental and basic human right and need. How many years has it been since we have seen Jim Prentice around here? His government is now imposing, and I use that word with all the weight that it implies, a pile of regulations instead of addressing the legitimate basic needs of first nations communities.
Without fresh water and adequate housing, this permanent underclass in our society will continue. As elected representatives, it is our greatest failure. I find it hard to express how disappointed I am in us, and I say that collectively, that we have not been seized with the issue sufficiently to make significant progress on something that is so easy. We are talking about fresh water for communities. We can do this. This is not rocket science.
The government says that it is all about money, that it cannot keep shovelling money at the problem as that is not the solution. I have news for the Conservatives. That is the solution. It is a complete paucity of money that causes those pipes in Pikangikum to lay there with weeds growing over them. The government's solution is to imply that all first nations leadership is either corrupt or incompetent.
That was the government's big priority. It was not a government priority to address the basic needs of first nations people. The government wanted to clean up the act. It said that it gave them lots of money, but there was nothing to show for it. Let us do the math. With 1 million people and $7 billion in total project, $3 billion or $4 billion gets lost, what we call line loss in engineering, and $3 billion or $4 billion gets to an intended person. That amounts to $7,000 per person for their housing, education, health care and infrastructure. We pay $15,000 per student for just high school in Manitoba in non-aboriginal communities and the government allows $7,000 per person for everything. We wonder why we have a permanent underclass and we why children do not achieve their full potential.
Children are growing up in chronic, long-term, multi-generational poverty and they are not being welcomed into the full economy, even though we have all of these skill shortages. The government will bring in 500,000 temporary foreign workers and allow an unemployment rate of 85% in communities in northern Manitoba, that is people between 16 and 25 years old. Who is failing to make this connection? We are, as elected representatives. It is an appalling situation.
The shortcomings of this legislation are legion and well-documented by all of the witnesses. Virtually all of the witnesses representing legitimate first nation organizations condemn this legislation, yet it is being imposed in the customary way for them.
The Conservatives have been looking for validators. They have lost their number one stooge, Patrick Brazeau. They had to kick him out of their caucus. Therefore, they do not have a stooge anymore to support some of these initiatives, to say that this is exactly what first nations need, that the reason they are poor is because they are all corrupt. Therefore, they can pass some legislation to ram and impose some more accounting down their throats.
If the Conservatives knew anything about the reality of life administering a first nation reserve these days, they would know, as the Auditor General pointed out, that first nations are over-audited. These people have to put in 160-some-odd financial reports per year, over three a week, to the five funding agencies. They are doing nothing but paperwork. If they file one of those 160 documents incorrectly, they are told that they will be put under trusteeship, third-party management, because they are not managing their money properly.
Then the Conservatives impose, through the Indian Act, an instrument of oppression, if I ever heard one, an instrument of oppression unworthy of any western democracy. As per the Indian Act, they have to re-elect a new band council every two years, so nobody ever develops any expertise in doing this kind of thing.
It is a paternalistic Eurocentric cluster something is what it is.
I remind anybody who has any working knowledge of these things, and I have noticed some of the guys claiming they have spent some time on the aboriginal affairs committee, to read this penultimate Harvard study that took place a number of years ago. It noted that the degree of successful economic development in first nation communities all over North America, not just in Canada, was directly proportional to the degree of self-determination and independence. If they can get out from under the yoke of the paternalistic Eurocentric Indian Act and the meddling of naive people who are trying to impose some set of rules without any sensitivity to culture, heritage or anything else and starved for resources and finances, there would be a road forward.
This bill represents the worst manifestation of that same paternalism that we have seen since the Indian Act was imposed on day one. There is pretty much a blanket condemnation here.
This reminds me of the days of the first nations governance act, the Liberal version of imposing even more Eurocentric naivety on them. It had many of the same properties of some of the critics who came forward condemning this, after being consulted and not having any of their concerns accommodated. Some of them were blanket condemnation of which we should really take note.
Jim Ransom, the director of the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne, said:
|| The last concern we have with Bill S-8 is in the sense of how it confers to the provinces jurisdiction over first nation water systems.
What a hodgepodge of overlapping jurisdictions that is sort of a recipe for paralyzing any progress. It is almost institutionalizing some long squabble over jurisdiction and obligations.
In Manitoba, we have been dealing with this for years now when it comes to child and family services and health services. Even though the Conservatives adopted Jordan's principle, as put forward by our colleague from Nanaimo—Cowichan to make the case that a child is a child is a child and deserves equal treatment whether it is under section 15 of the charter or section 35 or under first nations rights, we are not going to squabble about that. We are not going to wait for an air ambulance to take some kid to Winnipeg because nobody could figure out who is going to pay for the treatment of this child. We are going to do it now and we are going to fight with Ottawa later. That is what we are left doing.
The same is true for education. We have kids in Thompson off reserve. The budget is $15,000 a year to keep a kid in high school there. The budget for educating a similar student in a reserve 100 miles away is $8,000 per year. That is almost a 50% difference.
Some would argue that it should cost more to provide a comparable level of education on reserve because of the isolation, all kinds of different costs, the economy of scale and so forth, but it is about 50%. Then we wonder why the outcomes are poor in the education system.
No one can tell me that it is not about money and that in the richest and most powerful civilization in the history of the world we cannot provide for the basic needs of a child and indeed a family to survive, because that is an absolute myth.
I heard a speech one time by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He had a very poignant way of pointing things out. He said that if one had five children and only three pork chops the solution would not be to kill two of the children, but neither would it be a solution to divide those three pork chops into five equal pieces. The social democratic view of that problem is to challenge the basic assumption that there is only three pork chops because that is the big lie in a society and a civilization like this. There is enough money to provide for the basic needs of families in this society.
Nobody worked with the communities, nobody worked in a respectful nation-to-nation relationship that we had all been promised for so many years when the government dedicated that $330 million to infrastructure in the first nations. It has become almost a meaningless cliché. People actually cringe when we use that term now because that commitment has been broken and compromised so many times that nobody believes it anymore. The relationship is so strained, the leadership is so challenged to keep a lid on that simmering pot of unrest that it is tempting fate.
I am not here to speak for anyone, but I have nothing but admiration for the leadership in first nation communities to have kept the youth down as much as they have in terms of social unrest because it is a recipe for social unrest. A bunch of able-bodied young ambitious 18- to 25-year-old youth completely excluded from the economy yet seeing on television and on their iPads what the world is really like in western society and they have none of it is a recipe for social unrest and we had better get in front of that bus or we will get run over by it, in my view.
Shawn Atleo has announced that the level of unrest this summer could be a concern. It is dependent on the level of accommodation that they get from the government. The leadership has to be able to tell the people that there is hope, that there is promise on the horizon. If it is the status quo and more of the same, it cannot keep a lid on it forever. I hate to say where I would be if I was a young aboriginal man today. I think I would have a very difficult time containing myself, given the injustice of it all, the social injustice of the social conditions of our first nations, Metis and Inuit youth.
I have used much of my time criticizing the fact that this bill comes from the Senate when it should not. The government has invoked closure not once, not twice, but 41 times in this Parliament on every bill, every stage of every bill and has never accommodated a single amendment to a single piece of legislation in the entire 41st Parliament.
Our democracy is in tatters. It has become a farce in three acts. The Conservatives are losing members. Principled MPs are walking out and I believe more will as they realize they have come to most resemble that which they used to most condemn, which was the corruption of the Liberal Party. It was the culture of secrecy in the Liberals that allowed corruption to flourish. The Conservatives are obsessed with secrecy and they are not making any progress on what I believe is the most pressing social emergency of our day, and that is the social conditions of our first nations, Inuit and Metis people.
Mr. Mark Strahl (Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to participate in this debate today. I want to say at the outset that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Edmonton Centre.
Just this morning we saw the results of the good work of the Conservative government when it comes to working with first nations people. We were in the aboriginal affairs committee discussing the Yale First Nation Final Agreement, which involved Chief Robert Hope of the Yale First Nation, the Government of Canada and the Government of B.C. I am hopeful that will move ahead quickly. We saw how it can work when we work together. Certainly, I want to congratulate the Yale First Nation in my riding of Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon for all its hard work over 20 years at the table and finally getting the resolution they have been seeking with their treaty.
I am here today to talk about Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act. I believe this is an act that fully deserves the support of all colleagues in the House. The proposed legislation would address the serious problem of chronic unsafe drinking water in many first nations through an innovative and collaborative process, which is the key. The proposed process would have first nations work alongside government officials to design and implement regulatory regimes.
A starting point for this work would be the regulations that currently apply to communities adjacent to first nations, which is good common sense. More precisely, this means reviewing provincial or territorial regulations and adapting them to recognize the particular circumstances of first nations communities. We certainly recognize that an Ottawa-based, one-size-fits-all solution is not the solution that first nations need.
Members of this House need to recognize that currently no legally enforceable drinking water and waste water regulations exist for first nations on reserve. This is simply unacceptable. Regulations provide the framework for safe drinking water and waste water systems. They are essential because they map out clear lines of responsibility for each of the many steps required to safeguard water quality, such as source protection, regular quality testing and close adherence to established standards and protocols for water treatment and distribution. This is why regulations are essential for first nations communities. We must safeguard the drinking water for first nations members.
In essence, Bill S-8 is enabling legislation, as the member for Peace River, the chairman of the aboriginal affairs committee, stated earlier. It would authorize regulatory regimes developed through the collaborative process that I have just described. The proposed legislation does not dictate what the regimes must contain.
Unfortunately, some critics have chosen to misinterpret this approach and portray the bill instead as an effort by the Government of Canada to offload some of its liabilities. A closer look at the issue, however, reveals that this is simply not the case.
The truth is that collaboratively developed regulations would clarify the roles and responsibilities of all parties, including chiefs, band councils, water operators, and federal departments and agencies. The Government of Canada has no plan to offload or download its responsibilities to first nations, or to provinces and municipalities for that matter. Bill S-8 aims to engage as many stakeholders as possible in the design and implementation of regulatory regimes that protect the safety of drinking water.
Collaboration has been a defining characteristic of our government's efforts to resolve the issue of first nations access to safe drinking water since the very beginning. Seven years ago, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations agreed upon a joint plan of action. For instance, both partners appointed members to the expert panel that reviewed regulatory options. Although the panel did not recommend a particular option, it did lay out the benefits and limitation of various options. The panel's final report repeatedly emphasized the need for ongoing collaboration.
Here is an excerpt from that report:
|| The federal government and First Nations partners should take steps to pare away bureaucracy, collaborate with provinces on tri-partite harmonization, and both simplify and update procurement procedures. Over time, First Nations should take on an increasing share of the activities directly related to planning, procuring and gaining approval for plants.
Bill S-8 proposes to follow the expert panel's advice by authorizing regulations developed with the direct input of first nations and designed to meet the particular needs and circumstances of their communities. The government's approach with Bill S-8 effectively rejects other options that have been considered in the past, such as imposing a single federal regime or merely incorporating provincial and territorial regulations without adaptation. These one-size-fits-all approaches are attractive because they should make it easier and faster to establish regulations and assign responsibilities, but these approaches could never reconcile the significant differences that exist among first nations communities. The truth is that we believe the best solution is to design and implement regulations by working directly with first nations and other stakeholders. This is a bottom-up rather than top-down exercise.
To get a sense of what the process might look like, I draw the attention of the House to an effort led by the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat. Known as the APC, this advocacy and policy group comprises representatives from more than 30 first nations located in the Atlantic provinces. For the last few years, the APC has been studying regulatory options for drinking water.
Representatives of the APC described this work to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on May 23. Mr. John Paul, APC's executive director, said the organization appreciates that drinking water is ultimately a health and safety issue. Here is an excerpt of his testimony. He said:
|| We need to own whatever regulations come out of this, and we need to believe that they're workable and to figure out exactly what we need to do on the human resources side, the governance, and all of those different things.
In an effort to take ownership of regulations, the APC contracted one of Canada's most qualified experts in drinking water, Dr. Graham Gagnon, director of the Centre for Water Resources Studies at Dalhousie University. With Dr. Gagnon's help, the APC has developed a list of the technical benchmarks that could provide the basis for a regulatory regime. Perhaps more significantly, however, the APC and Dr. Gagnon have been working on a new approach to regulating the safety of first nations drinking water. The approach would involve a regional first nation water authority. The authority would be similar to those that other communities in Canada use to help govern public utilities and post-secondary education institutions.
Here is how Dr. Gagnon described the proposed authority to the standing committee:
|| Implementation of a first nations regional water authority would enable coordinated decision-making, maximize efficiencies of resource allocation, and establish a professionally based organization that would be in the best position to oversee activities related to drinking water and waste water disposal. This would, on a day-to-day basis, transfer liability away from chiefs and councils, and pass it to a technical group.
That is very important. He said this would, on a day-to-day basis, transfer liability away from chiefs and councils and pass it to a technical group. As the quote indicates, the creation of a first nations-owned authority could be a valuable part of the solution, at least for Atlantic first nations. APC continues to investigate this option.
It is impossible to say if all first nations would pursue such an approach, but the mechanism proposed in Bill S-8 would provide first nations with the opportunity to propose and develop solutions that best meet their needs and best protect their communities. As the APC's example indicated, liability would not be downloaded or offloaded to first nations but, rather, options would be developed to address the role and responsibilities of the various stakeholders by region. This collaborative approach is precisely why we should endorse the legislation before us.
Our government fully supports Mr. Paul and the APC as they develop their regulations, and we hope the opposition will realize how important this is and support Bill S-8. The bill would help us move forward and work with first nations to develop regulations that serve them well and help provide safe drinking water for first nations right across the country.
Hon. Laurie Hawn (Edmonton Centre, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise to speak to and declare my support for Bill S-8, the safe drinking water for first nations act.
The proposed legislation is based on a thorough review of the considerable amount of evidence available, including numerous reports and studies and testimony provided to parliamentary committees.
I believe that anyone who consulted this material would reach the inescapable conclusion that Bill S-8 must be enacted for Canada to make lasting progress on the issue of safe drinking water in first nations communities.
It is my hope that Canadians do not base their opinions of Bill S-8 on other sources of information, such as the popular media or views expressed by various interest and advocacy groups. Unfortunately, some of these sources present false or misleading information.
In my remarks today, I will identify and disprove many common myths about Bill S-8. The first myth is that the Government of Canada did not consult first nations prior to introducing Bill S-8. This could not be further from the truth. When we examine the facts, we will see that an extensive engagement and consultation process has been under way for more than seven years. Furthermore, this effort would only continue once Bill S-8 has passed, as government and first nations officials would work together to design and implement regulations.
Here are the relevant facts. In 2006, our government, working with the Assembly of First Nations, established an expert panel to hold public hearings to examine potential regulatory options. More than 110 individuals presented to the panel. Another two dozen submitted written reports. Almost all of the submissions and presentations came from first nations groups.
In April 2007, we held a joint workshop together with the Assembly of First Nations and its technical water expert group to engage in the proposed options for regulations and identify any challenges or issues.
In early 2009, we conducted a series of 13 engagement sessions with first nations communities and organizations and with provincial and territorial groups. Of the approximately 700 participants, more than 540 were members of first nations.
In September 2009, government officials met with first nations chiefs and organizations to discuss some of the specific issues raised during the engagement sessions. Starting in October 2010, a series of without prejudice discussions continued for another full year with first nations organizations, and that collaboration continues today. Clearly, consultation has taken place.
A second pervasive myth about Bill S-8 is that it would negatively impact aboriginal and treaty rights. The truth is, however, that this is not the case. Bill S-8 includes a carefully crafted non-derogation clause. In essence, the non-derogation clause included in Bill S-8 would not prevent the government from justifying a derogation or abrogation of aboriginal treaty rights if it is necessary to ensure safety of first nations drinking water.
We believe this clause effectively balances the need to respect aboriginal treaty rights under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the need to protect human health.
A third myth is that the Government of Canada would not provide first nations with the money needed to abide by new regulations governing water. Once again, this is absolutely false. Between 2006 and 2014, our government will have invested approximately $3 billion in water and waste water infrastructure in first nations communities.
Last year's economic action plan alone committed $330.8 million over two years to build and renovate on-reserve water infrastructure, and our government has reiterated on multiple occasions in this House, before committee and in writing to every chief in Canada our commitment to provide ongoing financial support for drinking water.
Instead of focusing on what Bill S-8 would not do, members should focus more on what it would do. The bill proposes to finally create a mechanism to develop regulations in collaboration with first nations. Until regulations are drafted, it is impossible to know exactly how much money first nations would need to be able to comply with them. This is precisely why strong collaboration is central to this government's strategy to ensure safe drinking water for first nations.
Our government would continue to provide funding for first nations for their need to participate in a process to design, implement and comply with regulations.
Another myth put forward is that Bill S-8 would incorporate provincial and territorial regulations without adaptations and would give authority to the provincial or territorial governments.
Once again, this is false. Building on and adapting to provincial and territorial regulatory frameworks would not give provinces or territories control over drinking water and waste water systems on first nations lands. Rather it would produce federal regulations that are comparable to provincial-territorial regulations and provide first nations communities and municipalities with opportunities to work together in areas such as training and new technologies.
Adapting provincial and territorial regulations would ensure comparability with existing, well-understood regulations, thus increasing certainty about regulatory standards for users and operators of drinking water and waste water systems. This would allow the government and first nations to use existing provincial and territorial water regulations as a starting point to identify areas that could be used as federal regulations and to adapt them according to the needs of first nations.
Bill S-8 would lead to the establishment of a series of regional regulatory regimes. Each of these regimes would be based on relevant provincial or territorial regulations, but the regulations would be adapted to meet the particular needs and circumstances of first nations communities and would be developed and finalized with first nations.
Closely tied to this myth is another misconception that Bill S-8 would impose provincial or territorial jurisdiction on first nations. In reality, there is nothing in Bill S-8 that would give provinces or territories control over drinking water and waste water systems on first nations lands. The proposed legislation would create federal regimes that use provincial or territorial regulations as a template. That would inspire opportunities for collaboration among first nations and neighbouring communities and municipalities.
Some critics contend that first nations would have no input into what the regulations developed under Bill S-8 would contain. The truth is exactly the opposite. First nations would have a great deal of input into the development of regulations. Our government would work in partnership with first nations and other groups, such as provincial agencies, to develop federal regulations and standards. The regulations would be based on meeting the real-world challenges of providing safe drinking water in a particular region. This approach works. The Atlantic Policy Congress has already been working with government officials on regulatory development. These collaborations will be the foundation of regulations developed under Bill S-8.
The next myth is that Bill S-8 would somehow prevent first nations from initiating and enacting their own regulations, policies and laws on drinking water. There is nothing in Bill S-8 that would take away a first nation's authority to create bylaws under paragraph 81(1)(l) of the Indian Act. In fact, it is possible that a first nation's bylaw could supersede regulations created under Bill S-8. This would occur if the first nation's bylaw established a comparable or superior level of health and safety. Bill S-8 would also allow for the use of existing first nations bylaws, if appropriate.
Finally, there is the myth that Bill S-8 would somehow expose first nations to liability issues. However, regulations developed from this proposed act could add protections against liability by establishing what the limits on liability would be for all parties involved, including first nations. Regulations would define the roles and legal responsibilities of all parties, and in the process, clarify responsibilities related to drinking water. The best options would be developed to address the roles and responsibilities of the various stakeholders by region, because as was said previously by my friend from Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, there is no one-size-fits-all or cookie-cutter approach. We have 631 first nations, and many of them have unique circumstances.
I call on opposition members to start listening to the facts on Bill S-8. I could say that they are hard of hearing, but that would not be true. I would say that they are probably hard of listening. We would like them to listen to the facts on Bill S-8 rather than to the many myths. If they do this, I am confident that they will not be able to vote against Bill S-8—hope springs eternal—and will finally agree that first nations deserve safe drinking water.
Mrs. Carol Hughes (Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for Manicouagan.
I rise today to speak to Bill S-8. I had the opportunity to speak to this bill last November. I sat on the committee and I must say that the testimony from witnesses only reinforced the NDP's opinion that this is a flawed piece of legislation.
At the heart of this debate is a basic human right: the right to safe, affordable and adequate drinking water. Unfortunately, this is a challenge in many Canadian communities, including several first nations and Inuit communities.
Canada has such an abundance of water that it is hard to imagine that such problems could exist in such a developed country.
While the appropriate course of action is to develop safe, reliable systems in partnership with the communities in need, the Conservative government has chosen to legislate regulations that would force these communities to go it alone. In fact, this legislation seems more about pursuing a Conservative view of how first nations should be run than about dealing with the actual problem. It would create demands and conditions for first nations, yet it is predictably short on the resources that would allow these communities to comply.
Bill S-8 excuses the government from its primary obligations to first nations while subjecting them to substantial risk, significant financial burdens and a patchwork of provincial standards for the delivery of safe drinking water.
This bill fails miserably when it comes to the real challenge, which is helping first nations build the capacity that would allow them to do the work of administering water and waste water systems on their lands. It is a classic case of putting the cart before the horse. In the case of communities that have been consistently asking for assistance for specific problems, they are getting rules and regulations instead of help with bricks and mortar.
The problems we have seen with flooding this spring in Kashechewan help illustrate this point. That community has been asking for help with waste water, which has been identified as problematic, since flooding in 2008. It has asked for assistance in developing storm sewers and with placing back-flow limiters on each house. Guess what? The government has consistently refused to step up, and this spring, homes in that community were inundated with backed-up raw sewage, which then forced the community to be evacuated. The minister tried to blame this on the lack of training, yet it was a company that was actually monitoring this.
On a larger scale, we can consider the testimony the committee heard from a municipal group that included the mayor of Maple Ridge and metro Vancouver's general manager of corporate services, both of whom sit on metro Vancouver's aboriginal relations committee. They reminded the committee that the report of the 2009 national assessment of first nations water and waste water estimated the cost to bring 618 individual first nations up to standard would be $4.7 billion, and it would take a decade. In addition to that, the cost to operate these improved systems would be $419 million a year.
The metro Vancouver delegation told us that local governments were concerned about this legislation's broad powers to delegate to any person or body any aspect of drinking water provision, monitoring and enforcement, which could have significant implications for local governments, as providers of utility services. It also highlighted areas of concern identified by local governments.
On that note, I want to tell the House that what we were hearing was that it may be very difficult to have municipal governments even wanting to assist first nations in hooking up to their systems because of the onerous aspects of this legislation.
Among their concerns were the following: there has been a lack of consultation and local government input; the transfer of responsibilities is unknown; the level of services is unclear; there are challenges with bylaw regulations and enforcement; there are legislative and jurisdictional uncertainties, which appear to be similar to the First Nations Commercial and Industrial Development Act; regulatory authority over reserves is unclear; there is a need to clarify financial liabilities; there are unknown funding capacities; and there is a lack of an adequate implementation plan. Does that sound like legislation that is ready to roll out? I do not think so.
As I mentioned, the committee heard from many witnesses who spoke to the deficiencies in Bill S-8. The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs has made three submissions on this bill and its predecessor, Bill S-11. It echoed many of the criticisms of other witnesses and stated:
|| We remain alarmed and concerned with the federal government’s continued approach and insistence that legislation is the answer for First Nations. We question why the current Canadian Government must be compelled to legislate as opposed to doing what is humane and just by providing adequate resources to ensure comparable water systems as the rest of Canada.
It went on to state:
|| Trust is earned through respectful, reciprocal and honourable actions and good faith negotiations.
|| The creation of legislation and policy without seeking and meeting the realistic needs of First Nations will not create success or the accountability that government is seeking for its investments.
It is not for a lack of desire that first nations do not have appropriate systems to deliver safe drinking water or manage waste water. If there is a deficiency in the process, it is certainly related to being able to deliver on those desires.
I have heard from Whitefish River First Nation on this subject as well. In a letter to the minister, Chief Shining Turtle provided the government with some basic math that showed how flimsy the government's community infrastructure investment was, and also illustrated the incredible costs related to doing the kind of work that Bill S-8 would make mandatory for these communities.
Here is the math that I believe needs to be considered by all members. The government has committed $155 million over 10 years, so let us do the math. This comes out to about $15 million a year, divide that over 8 regions that INAC uses and it becomes $1.94 million a year per region. We are going down. Divide the $1.94 million over the Ontario region's 133 first nations and the total is $14,567.67 a year. How far will that go?
One more crucial number that has been provided is the cost per metre to construct water mains on the Whitefish River First Nation. It is $300 per metre.
While the government brags about the size of their investment in community infrastructure for first nations, in reality that money is only enough to build 48.5 metres of water main a year.
In addition to these problems, Bill S-8 regulations may incorporate, by reference, provincial regulations governing drinking and waste water in first nations communities, but those regulations are not uniform, which could lead to unequal burdens for communities for what is primarily a federal responsibility.
The expert panel on safe drinking water for first nations expressed concern about using provincial regulations, claiming it would result in a patchwork of regulations leading to some first nations having more stringent standards than others.
In addition to that, the regulations in this bill would overrule any laws or bylaws made by first nations. Bill S-8 would also limit the liability of the government for certain acts or omissions that occur in the performance of their duties under the regulations the bill sets out.
As I mentioned at the outset, safe drinking water is a basic human right. The connection to health and economic well-being that flows from safe, dependable and affordable water cannot be dismissed, but this legislation is missing the mark entirely.
In addition to that, the bill would leave communities on the hook for existing problems they may not have created themselves. In those instances, if what these places really want is to start over in an attempt to get things right, the reality is they will be saddled with problem systems they have inherited.
It will make first nations liable for water systems that have already proven inadequate, but offers no funding to help them improve those deficient systems. Even if a first nation wants to build a replacement to better suit its needs, it will have to maintain its old, often costly systems at the same time.
Here is an example of how that will work. Constance Lake First Nation's water supply has been through a state of emergency. Its traditional water source was contaminated by blue-green alga, which resulted in a shutdown of its water treatment plant. It has drilled two new wells and has been off boil-water advisories for the first time in years, but also requires a new system to ensure quality and to meet its growing demand. Under the provisions of this legislation, it will be liable for the old system, while it tries to build a new one. It will be forced to waste money instead of being allowed to invest it smartly.
I see my time is up, and I will finish up the rest during the question and answer period.
Mr. Jonathan Genest-Jourdain (Manicouagan, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I had a very quick look at my recent speeches in the House, and I noticed a common underlying thread in a large number of bills introduced in the House. I have already made at least three speeches this week that touched on the same subjects, the same common thread and the same trains of thought.
At the risk of being redundant, I want to point out that the government is gradually and stealthily trying to distance itself and step back from its obligations. This is evident with the introduction of both private members' and government bills that allow the government to gradually transfer its obligations to provide services to Canadians across the country. For example, it is delegating its obligation to deliver services to charities, which are not accountable. Bill S-8 is no different.
When I consider my brief experience here in the House and the many hours I have spent in committee, I come to the same conclusion. In reality, many initiatives that focus on “Indianness” and aboriginal issues seek to allow the government to opt out of its obligations and shift the burden it has because of the fiduciary relationship, among other things, onto the backs of third parties or band councils.
This relates to Bill S-8, which pertains to safe drinking water. I am thinking, in particular, of the First Nations Land Management Act. This initiative was brought forward to, ultimately, technically and officially, give first nations communities back a certain amount of control over land management and authorizations related to partial occupancy.
In reality, if a legal expert truly focused on the enactment and the letter of this law, he would clearly see that the burden shifts the moment an agreement is signed under the First Nations Land Management Act. The environmental liabilities—past, present and future—are then assumed by the band.
As a result, all the profiteering and negligence of successive governments over the years in relation to environmental monitoring, management and assessments just add to the negligence we are seeing in 2013. The results could be catastrophic. That is why the government is trying to opt out of these obligations. It is important to remember that the reclamation of a single parcel of land on a given reserve can easily cost $100,000. It depends on whether we are dealing with oil or other pollutants and contaminants.
The same reasoning applies in the case of Bill S-8. The government is simply shifting its obligations with regard to access to safe drinking water, infrastructure upgrades and water management and filtration onto the backs of first nations and band councils, which do not have enough funding to take on these sometimes costly responsibilities. I am just thinking about my community, which recently had to deal with contaminated water. There are huge costs associated with these types of problems.
An informed review of the proposed legislative initiative indicates that there are non-derogation clauses whose interpretation and application would open the door to the abrogation of ancestral and treaty rights.