Delayed First Nations drinking water bill reaches committee level for study

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Ottawa Parliament Buildings Center Block with Peace Tower and Canadian flag.
Hajdu said the legislation is expected to lead to the application of minimum standards for clean drinking water in every First Nation. Photo Credit: Reimar, stock.adobe.com

Nearly six months after its first reading in the House of Commons, the First Nations Clean Water Act has reached the committee level for study, but may not make it to the Senate until the end of the year.

Canada’s Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, introduced Bill C-61, on December 11, more than a year after the government repealed the 2013 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, which was heavily criticized by many Indigenous communities. 

The First Nations Clean Water Act is one of Ottawa’s first co-developed bills with First Nations. Its development was also part of the terms of the $8 billion drinking water class action settlement for First Nations in December 2021.

Hajdu said the legislation is also expected to lead to the application of minimum standards for clean drinking water in every First Nation, and lay the groundwork for the creation of a First Nations-led water commission to support communities.

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As the bill passes the House and heads to the Indigenous and Northern Affairs committee for analysis, Hajdu has been vocal about what she calls “obstruction” of the legislation’s ability to move forward at a reasonable pace.

There has also been some heated debate over the bill in the House, leading Hajdu to ask Saskatoon—Grasswood MP Kevin Waugh to apologize for “stereotypical” comments regarding First Nations people. Waugh suggested that some First Nations communities were burning down water treatment plants out of frustration and anger with the federal government. He later explained that he did not intend to make any implication about the cause of the fires, but was instead concerned about the lack of training available to ensure reserve operators are as informed as possible.

Since 2015, 144 First Nations drinking water advisories have been lifted, with 29 still in effect.

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