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Results: 1 - 27 of 27
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Good evening. Ulaakut.
I'm speaking to you this evening from the traditional territory of the Algonquin people here in Ottawa.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I'm pleased to join you today, at least virtually, alongside my colleagues Minister Bennett and Minister Vandal. I also want to note the presence of Christiane Fox, deputy minister; Valerie Gideon, associate deputy minister; and Dr. Tom Wong, chief medical officer of public health, first nations and Inuit health branch.
Members, as of October 26, we are aware of 362 active cases of COVID-19 in first nations communities. Since the beginning of this pandemic, we've recorded 1,254 confirmed cases in first nations communities, with 877 recoveries and, tragically, 15 deaths. This number of active cases represents the highest number of active cases to date. In addition, I can report 28 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 among Inuit in Nunavik, Quebec, and all have recovered.
In recent days and weeks, there has been an alarming rise in the number of active COVID-19 cases across the country, including in indigenous communities. We took a number of measures to support indigenous communities at the onset of this pandemic, and as we face the second wave of this pandemic, we are taking stock of what we've learned and applying those lessons rapidly.
We know that when local indigenous leadership is given the necessary resources, they are best placed to successfully respond to a crisis with immediate, innovative and proactive measures to ensure the safety of their members. The low case numbers experienced by first nations communities in the first wave was evidence of this. What is clear now, however, is that the second wave has impacted indigenous communities much harder than the first.
As in the first wave, we've put together and put into place...and ensured that the health and safety of indigenous peoples is my and the Government of Canada's utmost priority.
As the pandemic continues and continues to evolve, we are making sure to prioritize sustainable access to mental health services and continue to support indigenous communities. As such, we have invested new funding of $82.5 million, in addition to the $425 million in existing funding annually for community-based services that address the mental wellness needs of indigenous peoples.
These services comply with public health measures available, and, because of the pandemic, with many telehealth or virtual options, such as the Hope for Wellness Help Line.
We continue to work in partnership with indigenous organizations and communities to support the adaptation of mental health resources and services managed by indigenous communities, and will continue to do so throughout the pandemic and beyond it.
To support the unique challenges faced by indigenous businesses and economies, on June 11, we announced $117 million, plus a $16 million stimulus development fund to support the indigenous tourism industry. This funding builds on the $306.8 million previously announced to help indigenous small and medium-sized businesses.
The Government of Canada is also helping elementary and high school students by providing $112 million to support a safe return to first nations schools on reserve, in addition to the $2 billion being provided to the provinces and territories. And we are working to ensure the security and well-being of indigenous women and children by supporting and expanding a network of family violence prevention shelters for first nations communities across the country, and in the territories.
We continue to promote public health and safety measures and have, in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments, been actively evaluating and acquiring approved point-of-care tests to meet the needs of indigenous communities, especially those in rural, remote and isolated areas.
As of October 19, 70 GeneXpert instruments had been deployed to enable access to rapid point-of-care testing by indigenous communities across the country.
I'd like to take a moment to thank the health professionals, in particular Indigenous Services Canada nurses, who are supporting indigenous communities across the country by providing quality and culturally appropriate care, testing, contact tracing, prevention and treatment during this pandemic.
I would be remiss if I did not mention an emergency in Neskantaga that has been front and centre in the last few days. The recent shutdown of Neskantaga's water distribution system is indeed alarming. My officials are working directly with the leadership of Neskantaga First Nation, alongside partners such as Nishnawbe Aski Nation and Matawa First Nations Management, to mitigate the situation and ensure that the community has the support they need until water can be fully restored. Yesterday, Indigenous Services Canada's lead engineer accompanied the Matawa technical team to inspect the community's water infrastructure and continue water sampling.
Funding will be provided for immediate repairs as necessary, and efforts have been redoubled to address the issues with the distribution system and to support the community's new water system to completion. This funding is in addition to the recent $4 million of funding increase towards the project that aims to lift the long-term boil water advisory in that community, bringing the total investment to over $16.4 million. The construction of the community's water treatment plant is in its final stages, and we are optimistic that it will be up and running soon. We will continue to work with the community leadership to find immediate and long-term solutions to this health emergency.
With that, I look forward to taking your questions.
Meegwetch. Nakurmiik. Marsi cho.
View Gary Vidal Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I just want to take a moment to quickly thank all of the ministers and officials for taking time to be at our committee tonight. We know you're very busy people at this time. We do appreciate your time.
I want to address a few questions to Minister Miller, to begin with.
Minister, I want to talk about the boil water advisory issue for a few minutes. I think you're well aware, and I would acknowledge, that this is a long-standing issue. It's not necessarily a partisan issue. All Canadians agree that this is unacceptable and that we need to find solutions. Canadians are also frustrated when they keep hearing about how the relationship with indigenous people is the most important relationship to the Prime Minister and your government, but at the same time targets are being walked back and goals are not being met.
It appears to me that we're witnessing a crisis management approach from your department on this issue. I think that's frustrating for Canadians. What we need is a truly proactive and collaborative strategy.
My question is actually quite simple. What are the steps that you, as the minister, are taking to bring a more proactive strategy to end this issue for indigenous Canadians?
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you, MP Vidal, for that critical question, which indeed is key for all Canadians and indigenous peoples living in Canada. It is no surprise to anyone—in particular the issue I mentioned in Neskantaga, which has been an entirely unacceptable situation for 25 years—that this is the result of massive undercapitalization of, specifically, indigenous communities, specifically with respect to resources that, in most communities in Canada, we all take for granted. Indeed, if those were removed from us, we would be crying bloody murder.
It is unacceptable that indigenous communities have been in this situation, yet that has been the case, and we must acknowledge it as a country. The shame lies in not doing anything about it.
From the very get-go, and as we traced the arc of the commitment that was made by the Prime Minister as early as the prior election, we realized quite early that the commitment needed to be doubled, in terms of the number of long-term water advisories that we were covering. This posed, obviously, a logistical problem. It's something in which we invested additional sums. We put billions of dollars into that commitment. My officials—and it's too bad I don't have the water team here—have been working relentlessly to address this in a systematic fashion.
Being the former mayor of Meadow Lake, you would appreciate the challenges with water, water infrastructure and wastewater. For every community these are complex issues. Some we have been able to resolve quickly. Indeed, over the course of our commitment, we've lifted 90 long-term water advisories and prevented a far greater number of short-term water advisories from becoming long-term water advisories. It's important to realize that.
Now, you take the unacceptable trajectory—
View Gary Vidal Profile
CPC (SK)
You talk about lifting the 90 long-term drinking water advisories. When I look at the information on the website where you provide that information, you like to talk a lot. I don't mean that derogatorily, sir, but lots of times you talk about lifting the 90 long-term drinking water advisories, but the number of advisories has not been reduced by that many. If you do the math—and sir, I was an accountant for 30 years—there are over 50 that have been added or have been re-added.
Out of the additions, can you tell me how many of the ones that have been added are ones that are advertised as having been lifted and that are now back on? The overall number has not decreased by 90, with all due respect.
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Quite clearly on this, MP Vidal, some that were short and have become long are actually less problematic in terms of lifting. There are some with longer builds—the case at hand being Neskantaga—that have taken some time and are quite complex. I would put to you without generalizing, because it's very important not to generalize, that the ones that have been added to the number—and at some point we should take some time to walk through this, and perhaps the time allotted is not enough—are ones that we are cautiously optimistic will be lifted in relatively short order.
You talked about the website not being updated. Clearly there have been some challenges as communities have locked down—rightly so, to protect their people—and some infrastructure challenges in getting things built. We have been able to do so, and the long-term lifts are a testament to that, but there have been challenges.
We expect to be updating that web page shortly to reflect more detailed information as to where the challenges lie and where the numbers lie, as well, but COVID has placed a challenge on the ability of contractors to get into communities and do all the things we need in order for communities to lift long-term water advisories. Let me stress, it is community—
View Gary Vidal Profile
CPC (SK)
We live in a world where technology and advancements are happening all the time, and I guess just one last quick question is around the approach the department is taking to solving the boil water advisory issue in first nations communities or indigenous communities. Can you identify any kind of new technology or any kind of investigations that are being done in new approaches? In my time as SaskWater chair, there were all kinds of new technologies happening all the time. Could you identify any specific things in that manner that your department is doing to advance this cause?
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
We always work with communities on any solutions and we work in partnership with them for the needs in their communities. Some of these plants are state of the art and reflect the highest technology that is available. Obviously, that requires training and a long-term commitment.
I think what I was getting at the end of my point is that we need to be with indigenous communities for the long run, and that's what we will be. It goes way past any deadline in spring 2021, but for a much longer time to come. Communities as a matter of trust are asking us to do that, and we will be there for them, hence the statement in the Speech from the Throne from the Governor General.
View Jaime Battiste Profile
Lib. (NS)
I think that was an important topic, and I want to give Minister Miller enough time to finish his comments around water, because as a Mi'kmaq person who lives on a Mi'kmaq reserve, I woke up this summer without water, and I know that this has an extreme effect. I've been under boil water advisories and not known, unfortunately, until my son reminded me. I just wanted to give you the chance, before I get into my question, to finish off that piece that you were, unfortunately, rushed through in the last questioning.
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
I guess my point, to conclude, MP Battiste, is that communities have asked us—and it's a matter of trust building and confidence building that is always in question—to be with them in the long run, and the Speech from the Throne underlined not only the critical infrastructure deficit that COVID has laid bare in indigenous communities, but also the need to build that trust and to be with them in partnership in the long run, far past any deadline that the government has fixed.
You and I participated in a great announcement for the Atlantic water board—the name escapes me, and I apologize—
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
—the First Nations Water Authority this summer, which is really groundbreaking in the way that the authority itself is transferred to a first nations-led authority to dictate on their terms what goes on with respect to water in the communities that participated. I think that is key to the way forward, and it is key to addressing a number of the issues that MP Vidal raised in terms of how these plants are built.
View Leah Gazan Profile
NDP (MB)
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My question is for Minister Bennett.
On April 11, 2016, you promised this very committee that your government was committed to putting an end to long-term boil water advisories on reserve within five years. On June 11, 2019, you promised that boil water advisories would end by 2021. Clearly, your government is going to be breaking another promise to indigenous people.
I looked on the website. It has not been updated in terms of boil water advisories since February 15, 2020. That was prior to COVID.
In the estimates, you've allocated approximately $6,832,500 for capital investments. How much of that $6 million will be invested to end boil water advisories?
If you could you limit your response because of the short amount of time, thank you.
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
I would perhaps note that this is a question that most likely should have been directed to me, since Indigenous Services Canada is in charge, in addition to the communities that are affected, in eliminating those boil water advisories.
I believe what you have said to be correct. There have been no public updates since March and perhaps the end of February.
We have continued to invest in ensuring that short-term water advisories do not become long-term ones. Those that are on the list, and indeed the ones remaining, are the most complicated, but I would note that as of December 31, 2019, we've invested more than $1.4 billion with targeted funding to support over 602 waste-water projects, including 276 that are actually now complete. These projects serve about half a million people in first nation communities.
View Leah Gazan Profile
NDP (MB)
I have just one last point. With COVID, we now know that it's more urgent. This is a very clear human rights violation, and wilful. What is your plan? How long is this going to take? This is a life and death matter.
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
We continue aggressively to meet that spring 2021 date that we've set. My team is working around the clock, despite COVID, to keep working on that date. This is community-by-community decision-making, and we are engaged with those communities to ensure that they have the supports they need, even in the face of communities that have decided to close down. We want to make sure that they do have that support for what is best described as an essential service.
View Lenore Zann Profile
Lib. (NS)
Thank you, Chair.
Thank you very much, Minister, for being here again today.
I'd like to move to the issue of water, to drinking water in particular. Co-developing and investing in distinctions-based community infrastructure plans and addressing the critical needs of first nation, Inuit and Métis communities includes working in collaboration with partners to identify public water and wastewater system needs, develop infrastructure capital plans and design, and implement management plans for the operation and maintenance of clean water and wastewater systems. I've always said that clean air and clean water are really human rights. As World Water Day approaches, how does government plan to lift all long-term drinking water advisories on reserve by 2021? What challenges do we need to overcome? How is government going beyond this commitment to proactively work on sustainable water and wastewater systems?
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you for the excellent question. From day one this government, in budget 2016, invested a multi-billion dollar envelope to address the unacceptable long-term water advisory situation on reserves in Canada. To date, we have removed 88 long-term advisories, as well as preventing a number of them. The larger projects, which required buildup time in, you will concede, a very short period for an unacceptable situation, remain to be lifted. We're very confident, with the coming summer...in the coming months to be able to lift a great number of them.
I would remind this committee, because I think it's very important, that as of September 30, 2019, so a few months ago, more than $1.3 billion in targeted funding was invested to support 574 water and wastewater projects, including the 265 that have now been completed. These projects will serve close to half a million people. These are projects that are complex in nature for a variety of reasons—the geological situations, the remoteness of communities—and we are cognizant of that. We have always looked at the indicators and the constantly moving scenario as opposed to simply investing a large amount in infrastructure in 2016. We were constantly engaged with communities that we talked to on a weekly basis to ensure update and partnership. We knew that, and going into budget 2019, we invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the operation and maintenance of these facilities. We knew that these facilities took work and the dedication of people who are now the pride of their community.
There's a lot of work to be done. That's why I've asked my team to focus in particular on the issues we may be facing right now, so that we're not facing them in the spring of 2021, that we remain absolutely committed to.
View Marcus Powlowski Profile
Lib. (ON)
I want to change gear and ask about water supply.
There seems to be an issue with sudden, unpredicted problems with the water supply and the inability to respond quickly to that. For example, the Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario was evacuated earlier this year because of a sudden problem with the water supply.
I've heard this wasn't the case, that there wasn't an inventory of what each first nations community had in their water purification system. When there was a problem, the people in Thunder Bay, for example, who were providing the solutions, didn't know what equipment they had up there. They suggested there ought to be some sort of inventory so that Indigenous Affairs—though I'm not sure who it would be—would know which community has what equipment, so that when there's a problem they're able to rapidly respond.
The second part is that some rapid water purification systems are available. Have you contemplated trying to see if we could use them to respond to these emergencies so they didn't have to do things like evacuate communities?
View Marc Miller Profile
Lib. (QC)
We have a wide variety of measures we can put in place when these issues arise. The very strict standards around water are such that issues arise more frequently. Correspondingly, we respond quickly. If you look at what happened in Fort Severn, we're working quite quickly to thaw the pipe that froze.
These things do arise, and we're ready to act quite quickly.
As to the inventory, if we have a second, I'll let my staff respond to the inventory.
Sony Perron
View Sony Perron Profile
Sony Perron
2020-03-12 11:59
We have a good knowledge of recently replaced or built systems. Sometimes additions or changes are made to old systems and our staff are not aware of that. Often when there is a problem, someone with the technical expertise needs to go there to determine the source of the problem. Is it the pump, the filtration system, a maintenance issue?
So at a distance, we have some information. But to be really honest, when no diagnostics can be done at the local level, we sometimes have to fly someone into the community to try to determine the nature of the problem and the potential immediate and long-term solutions.
Amina Stoddart
View Amina Stoddart Profile
Amina Stoddart
2020-03-10 8:58
Thank you, Madam Chair and committee members, for providing me with the opportunity to address the committee today.
My name is Dr. Amina Stoddart. I am an assistant professor in the Centre for Water Resources Studies in the Department of Civil and Resource Engineering at Dalhousie University.
Together with my colleagues in the Centre for Water Resources Studies, I work closely with communities, water and wastewater utilities, engineering consultants and technology providers within the water sector to investigate and provide solutions to water and wastewater treatment challenges.
For example, I'm currently leading a research partnership with water and wastewater utility Halifax Water to optimize wastewater treatment approaches to ensure compliance with federal regulations on systems for wastewater effluent and investigate and address emerging priorities for wastewater treatment. This wastewater research builds on a long-term partnership in research on drinking water treatment between Dalhousie University and Halifax Water, which I had the opportunity to be a part of as a researcher.
It is well known and accepted that climate change affects water quantity. We see threats to the availability of water through drought conditions as well as scenarios such as flooding and sea-level rise, where we simply have too much water. While water quantity is a concern, one less-visible and poorly understood challenge is the impact that climate change has on water quality.
Historically, the design of plants for water and wastewater treatment has been based on a regulatory compliance approach, where the focus is on ensuring that treated drinking water or waste water is below specific concentrations for various water-quality parameters at the drinking-water tap or at the end of the wastewater effluent pipe. This approach is based on periodic sampling, log books and a narrow view of water quality, as I will describe.
With this approach, there is a notable absence of consideration for the changes in water quality that may occur over time due to climate change. The water quality of our drinking-water source, such as a lake or a groundwater well, plays a pivotal role in the performance of water-treatment plants and ultimately impacts the water quality at our tap. While seasonality is recognized and accounted for in design, long-term changes that subtly transform a drinking-water source are simply not accounted for under present design paradigms. But this is what is happening to our water quality.
In 2017, our team published research that demonstrated an increased operational burden on water-treatment utilities as a result of regional climate changes impacting the water quality at the source over a 15-year period. Our work showed that, because of climate-driven increases in water pH and natural organic matter concentrations, one drinking-water-treatment plant required nearly a quadrupling in treatment chemical dose over a period of 15 years in order to continue to achieve drinking-water-quality standards. These additional chemical costs required more trucks to ship chemical agents and waste from the plant. To put it another way, climate change resulted in poorer water quality in the lake source and increased greenhouse-gas emissions.
To be clear, these water quality changes were subtle on a day-to-day time scale, but when we observed them retrospectively over more than a decade, we observed a large, impactful change in water quality that we do not see reversing but rather accelerating. We are now studying this on a larger scale with Halifax Water and other utilities, including the New York Department of Environmental Protection and Tampa Bay Water as well as academic colleagues in the U.K. The broad consensus is that we have an imminent challenge that exists for both water and wastewater facilities.
To adapt to climate change, utilities will ultimately need to consider modularity in design, and draw from robust data streams to inform operations.
In light of this, our research team has been working toward modular design solutions that can be employed during times of challenging water quality to assist utilities in achieving water-quality goals.
With respect to data streams, conventionally, regulatory compliance is determined on a very low number of water-quality measurements, considering that millions of litres of water may be produced each day. In this framework, a boil water advisory, for example, is often reduced to a few coliform measurements.
As an answer to this, our research team has looked closely into artificial intelligence as a means to provide robust decision-support data to help improve water quality through a risk management approach.
Ultimately, this is not a small task in front of us; however, the potential of a national water agency creates a strong signal that acknowledges the challenge and the need to prioritize water quality for Canadians.
In closing, I want to inform you that as an assistant professor, I am in the very early days of my research career. However, it is clear that the impact that climate change is having on water quality is already profound and will undoubtedly shape and inform my research career.
Thank you again for the invitation. I look forward to future dialogue.
View Scot Davidson Profile
CPC (ON)
Environment and infrastructure go together.
As well, today you said you have made progress on eliminating long-term boil water advisories on first nation reserves.
In my community, the Chippewas of Georgina Island have been living without access to clean water for far too long. An Infrastructure Canada investment was made through the clean water fund to provide service to the south and east sides of the island. That project has already been completed and the long-term advisory is supposed to be lifted this month. These parts of the island still remain on a boil water advisory today.
Will my family and my neighbours no longer be on a boil water advisory on Georgina Island? When will that be, Minister?
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
While I can't personally commit here to a particular day, I'll tell you that it's a top priority of our government. It is unacceptable that there are places in this country where, in particular, indigenous communities do not have access to clean drinking water. We have made significant progress with 87 long-term drinking water advisories that have been eliminated, but there is clearly work to do.
The good news is that we are making the investments. We are working with communities and we need to make progress, because this is all about making sure that indigenous peoples have access to the same quality of life as everyone else.
View Scot Davidson Profile
CPC (ON)
Yes, I am saying specifically here that you're reporting that it's going to be dealt with there, but half the island is still not going to have water service with the investment that's made.
View Catherine McKenna Profile
Lib. (ON)
I can't provide you specifics on that particular project. If you want to come to us.... It's not directly under me, but I agree with you that we need to be looking at how we can have clean drinking water across the country.
Results: 1 - 27 of 27

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