Canada may not be on track to achieve its self-imposed goal of ensuring access to clean water to all Indigenous communities by the end of this month, but the government says the issue sits among its top priorities.
At a news conference in Ottawa on Monday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller unveiled a new strategy designed to lift all remaining boil water advisories across the country.
These kinds of advisories have been in effect in Canada for decades. They are preventive measures that protect Indigenous communities from drinking toxic tap water induced by water management defects, such as line breaks, equipment failure, and poor filtration or disinfection during water treatment.
Miller's plan includes a new website designed to track progress toward overcoming these obstacles. The digital platform, developed with Animikii, an Indigenous firm, provides reports and detailed information about ongoing water construction projects for each of the Indigenous communities affected by the advisories.
“The effort today is for Canadians to see what I see and to give everyone as much information as possible as to the status of each community, as well as the work that’s been done — and the commitment of this government to get it done,” Miller said.
As part of its new strategy, the government has also pledged to work closely with Indigenous communities when appointing contractors, following mounting criticism in regards to previous projects carried out poorly by construction firms, CBC reported.
However, the plan makes no mention of a timeline, and critics say it falls short of what is needed.
"There's no timeline because they're not going to get this done, and they know it," National Democratic Party (NDP) MP Charlie Angus told CBC. "We need a timeline and a commitment to each community to say what is needed and how we're going to do it.”
In February, Auditor General Karen Hogan had expressed similar concerns after publishing a report highlighting the federal government’s failure to address the problem.
“I am very concerned and honestly disheartened that this long-standing issue is still not resolved,” she said. “Access to safe drinking water is a basic human necessity. I don't believe anyone would say that this is in any way an acceptable situation in Canada in 2021.”
Under its commitment to the United Nations’ Global Goals in 2015, Canada vowed to end extreme poverty and ensure reliable access to water and sanitation resources.
During his first campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had pledged to lift all boil water advisories within five years, but that promise was not fulfilled.
As it stands, there are 58 long-term drinking water advisories in 38 First Nations communities across Canada, with another 101 having been lifted since November 2015.
According to the government, construction delays brought about by COVID-19 have further contributed to the issue, but Hogan contends that poor infrastructure and insufficient funding are the root cause of the problem.