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SCO wants feds to keep promise on water advisories

The Southern Chief’s Organization (SCO) is requesting the federal government to keep its promise of ending long-term boil water advisories.

According to a statement from the SCO, government claims the delay is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the SCO believes that First Nations need access to clean and safe drinking water now and that any potential delay in ending the advisories is not acceptable.

During the 2015 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to eliminate all long-term water advisories on First Nations by March 2021. Since that time, there were 12 long-term advisories in First Nations communities in Manitoba.

“The potential abandonment of the promise to end long-term boil water advisories on reserve by March 2021 is deeply concerning,” said SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

“The COVID-19 pandemic cannot be blamed for the government’s potential failure to deliver on a promise made five years ago during their campaign.”

In this year’s Speech of the Throne, the federal government referred to the need to end long-term boil water advisories across the country. However, there was no specificity on whether they will fulfil their original goal to end all long-term advisories by March 2021.

“In the past six months, we have seen the federal government take action in many different ways to better the lives of Canadians throughout the pandemic. When are they going to give us the same level of effort to benefit our lives and communities, and ensure all First Nations have access to safe drinking water, which is a basic human right?” said Daniels.

Since November 2015, the federal government has lifted 93 long-term drinking water advisories but 61 long-term advisories still remain, five of which are in Manitoba.

“The federal government can’t delay any longer. There is no excuse for any community to not have access to fresh, clean drinking water. The federal government must fulfill its longstanding promise, and grant us the same access to clean water as all other Canadians,” said Daniels.

Currently, the SCO is working to build a Water Authority in their territories to protect and guarantee safe water sources and infrastructure for southern First Nations in Manitoba.

“We are working aggressively to meet the Spring 2021 goal to ensure all First Nations on reserve have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water,” said the press secretary for the Minister of Indigenous Services Adrienne Vaupshas on Wednesday.

“Our work on water infrastructure will continue beyond Spring 2021. We will continue to support operations and maintenance of water infrastructure on reserve to prevent future short and long term drinking water advisories,” she added.

Vaupshas noted that the health and wellbeing of First Nation community members remain the federal government’s top priority.

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“First Nations are leading the response to protect their communities from COVID-19. In some cases, this has had an effect on getting equipment and resources into communities, especially in remote and northern areas. It is too early to determine the full impact of COVID-19 on water infrastructure timelines,” she said.

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
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