Conservatives response to First Nations water problems ‘a crime’, Howard Hampton says – by Jody Porter (CBC News Thunder Bay – August 28, 2015)

NDP, Liberals say Grassy Narrows state of emergency highlights Conservative neglect

The state of emergency over water quality concerns at Grassy Narrows First Nation is a “shameful” situation created by Conservative neglect, according to the NDP.

The First Nation, located about 100 kilometres north of Kenora, Ont., declared the emergency this week over potentially cancer-causing chemicals found in its local tap water.

The water treatment plant in Grassy Narrows First Nation is missing basic parts and has not functioned properly since it was built about a decade ago, according to Deputy Chief Randy Fobister.

“It’s a crime that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs Canada sent back almost a billion dollars of funding that could have been used to address these safe, clean drinking water problems,” said Howard Hampton, the NDP candidate in the Kenora riding. “But the Harper Conservatives decided it’s not a priority.”

Lapsed spending

Hampton was referring to the so-called lapsed spending by Aboriginal Affairs over the last five years on social services that was revealed in Privy Council Office documents obtained by CBC earlier this year.

Aboriginal Affairs did not meet CBC’s deadline for responding to questions about the situation at Grassy Narrows.

The campaign office for Conservative candidate, Greg Rickford, sent a written statement to CBC.

It said, in part, “since 2006, we have invested approximately $3 billion to complete more than 220 major projects and funded maintenance of over 1,200 water and wastewater treatment projects.”

The statement also said federal officials are reaching out to Grassy Narrows to see how they can be of assistance.

Dozens of boil water advisories in Kenora riding

There are more than two dozen First Nations in the Kenora riding with boil water advisories. Ten of those communities haven’t had safe drinking water for more than a decade.

Bob Nault is the Liberal candidate in the riding, and a former minister of Indian Affairs. He said his party’s promise to nearly double Canada’s spending on infrastructure would help solve the problems.

“We’ve just made a very large announcement yesterday of massive infrastructure dollars being put into our economy and one of those is water and waste water treatment plants,” Nault said.

The Green Party’s Ember McKillop said she is “absolutely astounded” that Grassy Narrows is in such “dire straits”, especially because of its long history dealing with mercury contamination.

McKillop said the Green’s health policy makes a commitment to clean water for all communities by 2020.

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