Posts Tagged ‘Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo’

The Capacity Gap

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Posted @ Water Canada on 28 May 2010 · Written by Kerry Freek, Editor, Water Canada

Earlier this week, the federal government introduced Bill S-11, the proposed First Nations Safe Drinking Water Act. The Act promises to bring First Nations water up to the same standards of other Canadian jurisdictions. To the uninitiated, this news reads like a sign of goodwill and cooperation. Below the surface, however, First Nations frustration is growing.

“Three-quarters of First Nations are adamantly opposed to this Bill,” said Merrell-Ann Phare of the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources at this week’s CFCAS Water Security Symposium in Ottawa. The two-day event covered water science, policy, and everything in between.

Phare didn’t tackle specifics, but she did state that while the promises of First Nations water legislation are in theory pretty good, it’s all about the follow-through. “The number one opposition to the Bill is the lack of capacity and resources,” she explained.

That’s exactly what the Assembly of First Nations is saying. Yesterday, National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo issued a press release claiming that the legislation will not in its current form meet the stated objective of ensuring First Nations have access to safe drinking water.

“This legislation will create new regulations for First Nations drinking water but does not specify how First Nations will be equipped with the facilities, skills and resources to meet those regulations,” said Atleo. “First Nations need infrastructure, training and support to meet the requirements of the new regulations. Regulations without the capacity and financial resources to support them will only set up First Nations to fail and to be punished for this. In my view, we must address the capacity gap as well as the regulatory gap. After all, the safety and health of First Nations people is the stated goal.”

Atleo’s concern is justified, but his argument isn’t new. Cash and resource-strapped communities all over Canada are struggling to implement standards that promote human and environmental health. “Just look at the financial impact on Ontario communities as they work their way through the implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act regulations,” said one of my colleagues yesterday.

Our coverage of the Canada-wide Strategy for the Management of Municipal Wastewater feedback (“Download Debate“) provides another prime example. With no accompanying funding strategy, the new regs (to be implemented over 30 years) have municipalities in a tizzy—downloaded costs are just another reason to fret over shrinking budgets.

Are these situations indicative of what might be a combination of inadequate consultation and forced political agenda?

Let’s add another level to the First Nations case. It’s not just about capacity—it’s about timing. This afternoon I spoke with Irving Leblanc, AFN’s director of housing and infrastructure. He cited the national audit that is currently underway to assess the capacity and needs for clean drinking water in First Nations communities. The audit is expected to be complete in December, and, he told me, it will give the government a better indication of the funding and capacity requirements.

These results (what Leblanc called “Class D estimates”) could have provided more accurate information upon which to base the Act. So why has Bill S-11 appeared months before the end of the study?

The National Chief is advocating partnership and discussion with stakeholders: “We must build on these recommendations and move forward based on the rights of First Nations peoples and governments and design solutions in full collaboration,” Atleo said yesterday. “Our communities have a clear understanding of the real needs and challenges in delivering safe drinking water and our voices must be heard.”

Back to this week’s CFCAS event. This week in Ottawa, scientists and policy experts came together to listen to each other and gain a better understanding of the state of Canada’s water and its management. I can’t count the number of times people commented on breaking down silos and beginning integration. If I took away one lesson from the symposium, it’s that we’ve got to listen and hear before we act. If the federal government’s announcement is any indication of our nation’s progress, we may still have a long way to go.

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