Who will tackle First Nations waterworks? (Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal – April 27, 2015)

Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal is the daily newspaper of Northwestern Ontario.

Trust Ontario’s Liberals to take a swipe at the feds in a provincial budget, but we got the point.

Last week’s big document by Finance Minister Charles Sousa notes that 30 Ontario First Nations remain under boil-water advisories, something that is primarily a federal responsibility.

In most communities in the province, clean drinking water is a given and a basic right, but at too many First Nations — both remote and road-accessible — it remains elusive.

In Sousa’s budget, the province acknowledges a long-term plan is needed to rectify this deplorable situation, but is light on details.

Every so often, First Nations will try to highlight faulty drinking water plants, or the fact that hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent each year on endless bottled-water relief programs.

Then, as part of an enervating back-and-forth routine, the federal government will say that money is indeed allocated every year for infrastructure, including waterworks.

Yet the problem continues. In some communities the water coming out of the tap looks filthy. Has Prime Minster Stephen Harper ever seen this water first-hand?

And is it not a cruel irony that this situation festers in a country that boasts an abundance of natural resources, including sparkling fresh water?

Last week, in the wake of the federal budget, First Nation leaders noted there was nothing specifically earmarked within $248 million for aboriginal programs to set the stage to get these problems fixed once and for all.

The Chiefs Of Ontario said it was “shameful” for Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford to promote the budget when so many reserves in his Kenora riding are unable to turn on a tap without worrying the water will make them sick.

Rickford knows this too well, having worked in remote First Nation communities as a nurse.

Surely there is someone in government, somewhere, who wants to tackle this problem head on, to marshal the necessary engineering expertise and know-how. We cannot expect First Nations do this by themselves. How many civil engineers live on a remote reserve?

Last week, Hawaiian aboriginals protested the proposal to build the world’s largest earth-bound telescope at the site of the Mauna Kea summit — “the connecting point to the rest of the universe.” Aboriginals say it is sacred ground.

Earlier this month, Canada committed $243.5 million to the $1.5 billion project over 10 years. How on earth a government that only this year managed to balance its books came up with that kind of dough is anyone’s guess.

Just water off their back, one supposes.