News Feature | April 21, 2016

In Trudeau Era, Canada Tries To End 21-Year Boil-Water Notice

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made a pledge to end longstanding boil-water advisories plaguing the country’s aboriginal people.

Before he assumed office, Trudeau said, per CBC News: "We have 93 different communities under 133 different boil-water advisories. A Canadian government led by me will address this as a top priority because it's not right in a country like Canada. This has gone on for far too long."

Now the nation is trying to end its longest-standing boil-water advisory, which has dragged on for 21 years.

Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett traveled to Neskantaga this month with a message: “We’re going to deal with this water thing,” she said, according to TB News Watch. “We’ve now got $8.4 billion in the platform that together with your chief and grand chief we’re going to figure out how to do this fairly.”

The funding is a long time coming.

“Two days before her arrival, Bennett’s ministry granted $411,000 for the design phase of Neskantaga’s water treatment plant. That came three years after a federally funded feasibility study deemed the project worthwhile,” the report said.

Bennett weighed in positively about the effort.

“I’m pleased we can get on with the design phase and pleased the community thinks that can be done by the early fall. I’m pleased that by the ice road next winter, they’ll be able to bring up the materials that they need,” she said. “Obviously, it’s about getting the right design so there’s always a negotiation in terms of making sure we’re following the science and the best possible approach but that’s what we’re hoping for.”

Bennett spoke to residents who are living under the boil-water advisory, according to TB News Watch:

Doreen Moonias and her daughter Jocelyn Shewaybick spoke publicly to the minister on the difficulties Neskantaga residents face due to their inadequate water supply. Shewaybick has eczema, which makes her skin susceptible to rashes and inflammation. Her skin itches but bathing in the water makes it worse. Skin creams in excess of $100 have helped Shewaybick’s skin to recover but the cost to her family is unsustainable. Moonias gave Bennett photos showing Shewaybick’s badly damaged skin as Moonias pleaded with the minister to help her family.

Some critics have questions the feasibility of Trudeau’s water promises.

Charlie Angus, a member of Parliament focused on indigenous and northern affairs, told CTV News last year: "There are some gaps, and some questionable gaps," Angus said. "For example, they made a promise to end the boil-water advisories on reserves in five years, they've talked about the infrastructure crisis on reserves... Reconciliation doesn't happen with just big words. It happens on the ground in communities."

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