Follow-up Hearing on the 2021 Reports of the Auditor General of Canada—Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities—Indigenous Services Canada

Press Release

14 June 2022

Karen Hogan, Fellow Chartered Professional Accountant FCPA, Fellow Chartered Accountant FCA
Auditor General of Canada

Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the access to safe drinking water in First Nations communities. I would like to acknowledge that this hearing is taking place on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. Joining me today is Glenn Wheeler, the principal who was responsible for the audit.

As we have not conducted any new audit work since we presented our report to Parliament in February 2021, I will provide today a brief overview of last year’s audit findings.

Reliable access to safe drinking water is vital to the health and well‑being of all, including the people living in the more than 600 First Nations communities across Canada. A key component of reconciliation is eliminating long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems on First Nations reserves and addressing community infrastructure needs.

In 2015, the federal government committed to eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems on First Nations reserves by March 31st, 2021. We reported that 60 remained in effect in 41 First Nations communities as at November 1st, 2020. Almost half had been in effect for over a decade.

In addition, we found that some long-term advisories were lifted only as a result of interim measures that did not fully address the underlying deficiencies. For some of these water systems, long-term solutions were not expected to be completed until 2025.

We also found that Indigenous Services Canada’s efforts had been constrained by an outdated policy and formula for funding the operation and maintenance of public water systems. The department had not amended the funding formula since it was first developed 30 years ago. Until the formula is updated, it is unclear whether funding increases will be sufficient to meet First Nations’ water infrastructure needs.

Following the tabling of our report, the department presented the committee with a detailed action plan that addressed our recommendations. Many of the milestones that the department had set have passed.

I’m pleased to see that the committee is revisiting this report. As I said last week, this is an example of results being slow to follow the department’s original commitments. To improve the situation for First Nations communities, actions have to catch up to the words. This committee’s ongoing follow-up is critically important.

The committee may wish to ask the department what progress it has made to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories. As well, it may wish to inquire about progress on co-developing a legislative framework for safe drinking water and a long-term strategy for water infrastructure.

This concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have. Thank you.

IHT5

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