Promise to end boil water advisories on reserves must be kept

Will Prime Minister Trudeau keep his promise to end boil water advisories on First Nation Reserves?

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By Brady Deaton
and Bethany Lipka
Department of Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics
University of Guelph

GUELPH, Ont. Nov. 22, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to reduce boil water advisories on First Nation Reserves. But fulfilling this important campaign promise will require a bridge of trust.

A United Nations study published in 2009 found that First Nations’ reserves were 90 times more likely to be without safe drinking water than non-First Nation households. A 2011 study identified 28 per cent of water systems on Canadian reserves to be under a boil-water advisory.

However, there is a way to bring quality water to many reserves. In a recent article, published in the Journal of Water Resources and Economics, we provide empirical evidence that First Nations that partner with nearby municipalities to supply their drinking water are less likely to have a boil water advisory.

boil waterOur research finds that First Nations’ reserves take advantage of trade in water and sewer services just like many other municipalities do throughout Canada. For example, the York Region contracts with Toronto for drinking water. And the City of Guelph provides sewer services for the Village of Rockwood. In both cases, municipalities voluntarily entered into these agreements and mutually benefit from the partnership.

While it may not be feasible for many First Nations to enter into water servicing agreements with municipalities due to their remote locations, those First Nations that have entered into these agreements appear to benefit.

While not all First Nations that could enter into water servicing contracts will want to, barriers to this option can be diminished.

It is critical to know that investment in physical infrastructure – water lines, for example – must be accompanied by investments in social infrastructure – trust, transparency, and improved communication between First Nation and non-First Nation communities.

This social infrastructure is critical to a successful water servicing agreement. For example, under some service agreements, municipalities agree to allow the contracting municipality to inspect their records at any time during work hours. This access promotes transparency and engenders trust. But such agreements may be more difficult to secure between First Nations and municipalities, particularly if there have been limited historic links between First Nations and municipalities.

But it need not remain this way, and efforts are being made to improve these relationships.

For example, with funding from Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, the Canadian Federation of Municipalities runs the First Nation-Municipal Infrastructure Partnership Program. The program helps to facilitate water servicing agreements between First Nations and municipalities. It provides workshops and other resources – such as agreement templates and case studies – to reduce costs.

Building trust and providing high-quality water services between municipalities and First Nations requires investments in physical and social infrastructure. We can all help by communicating and learning more about each other.

Brady Deaton is the McCain Family Chair in Food Security and professor in the Department of Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph. Twitter@BradyDeatonJr. Bethany Lipka is a sessional lecturer in the Department of Food, Agriculture and Resource Economics University of Guelph. She also received her MSc from this department.

Brady and Bethany are Troy Media contributors. Why aren’t you?

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