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Canada votes 2021: What could the federal government do to improve access to services in remote First Nations?

Many northern and remote First Nations are plagued with boil water advisories and lack of access to services like health care. What are the federal parties saying to address the situation
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Boil water advisories in remote First Nations is one of the topics that has come up during this federal election. (Supplied/Pexels)

With election day on Sept. 20, the time to make a decision is upon us. To help you parse where the party’s stand on the issues of the day, we sent a questionnaire to the candidates of the four parties with a member in Parliament, as well as the People’s Party of Canada candidates.

Issues we polled the candidates on were climate change, affordable housing, Laurentian University and the post-secondary sector, the opioid crisis, Indigenous issues, vaccine passports, corporate taxation, universal basic income and mental health supports.

Questionnaires were sent to all candidates, though not all candidates chose to participate. As well, some candidates did not answer all questions provided.

Nickel Belt Riding

Northern and remote First Nations are plagued with boil water advisories and lack of access to services like health care. What will your party do to enhance services to struggling First Nations?

Andréane Chénier, NDP

Greater Sudbury and Nickel Belt is located on the traditional lands of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and also includes the traditional lands of the Wahnapitae First Nation, Mattagami First Nation, Whitefish First Nation and is home to a number of Indigenous people from across Northern Ontario and Canada. For too long, the federal government has been talking about action, while leaving Indigenous people living in our region behind. Indigenous people have never been a priority for Liberals and Conservatives. New Democrats fight for people, and we believe in action, not words. The ongoing underfunding of services, infrastructure and housing in Indigenous communities must end.

Here are a few things that we commit to in our Northern Platform: 

  • Co-develop a National Action Plan for Reconciliation and a National Council for Reconciliation to set the terms of a new, better relationship between the federal government and Indigenous peoples. 
  • Stop fight compensation for residential school survivors and Indigenous children to court. 
  • Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 
  • End discriminatory funding of child welfare systems as well as action to promote and resource Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services. 
  • Invest in health care, including mental health and addiction treatment, and take a social determinants of health approach. 
  • Develop a National Suicide Prevention Action Plan to help address the suicide epidemic in some First Nations in the North 
  • Implement the Calls for Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls for Justice of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry. 

Craig Gravelle, Green Party

We must do a lot to enhance services to struggling First Nations. The Green Party will institute a GLI as recommended in the MMIWG report and invest in ending boil water advisories and increasing access to high-quality health care services.

Marc Serré, Liberal Party

I acknowledge there is still more work to do to advance reconciliation and ensure our Indigenous communities have the support they need. Since 2015, we have lifted 109 long-term water advisories, including reaching the milestone of lifting 105 water advisories this past April, matching the number in place when Liberals committed to eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves, a testament to five and a half years of real progress. We are supporting the expansion of the number of family doctors and primary health teams in rural communities, by increasing by 50 per cent (from $40,000 up to $60,000 over five years), the maximum debt relief that family doctors, residents in family medicine, nurse practitioners, or nurses are eligible for the under Canada Student Loans forgiveness program. Provide $3.2 billion to the provinces and territories for the hiring of 7,500 new family doctors, nurses, and nurse practitioners.

Sudbury Riding

Northern and remote First Nations are plagued with boil water advisories and lack of access to services like health care. What will your party do to enhance services to struggling First Nations?

Viviane Lapointe, Liberal Party

In 2016, there were 156 boil water advisories in First Nations communities across Canada. Today, only 32 communities are still under boil water advisories, and there is a plan in place and a budget commitment for each one of those 32 communities. It will be done!

In all, the federal government has earmarked more than $6 billion to fix these First Nations water issues. This problem has been decades in the making, and the fact that it is taking this long to clear them up says more about the enormous scope of the problem than this government’s commitment to resolving it.

Since 2015, more than $45 billion has been earmarked for Indigenous programming, most of it for closing social, economic and health gaps. Spending matches capacity and progress is being done as fast as is humanly possible. This money will be invested to:

  • Confront the legacy of residential schools. 
  • Continue our work to eliminate all clean long-term drinking water advisories. 
  • Action to confront systemic racism against Indigenous peoples, especially in the justice system and health care. 
  • Launch an Indigenous Urban, Rural, and Northern Housing Strategy. 
  • Protect the wellbeing of Indigenous children and families

Going forward, a re-elected Liberal government is committed to rebuilding our relationship with Indigenous Peoples with over 150 active negotiation tables, with more than 500 communities representing over one million Indigenous people, to support their visions of self-determination.

Colette Methé, People’s Party of Canada

All Canadians should benefit from equivalent services wherever they live. It’s unacceptable that some indigenous communities have no drinking water. Ottawa spends a lot of money on Indigenous programs but there’s very little evidence that this money has helped Indigenous communities. A People’s Party government will ensure that Indigenous communities take more ownership of the services they receive in partnership with Ottawa and other levels of government.

David Robinson, Green Party

This is a challenging question. Treaties promise a degree of sovereignty and indigenous communities are demanding increasing autonomy. Governments have to respect these rights and desires, and support the communities as they develop the economic capacity to provide these services for themselves. A Green government would respect Indigenous sovereignty over self-governed lands and supports the full implementation of treaties and other self-government agreements between Canada and Indigenous governments. At the same time we can't simply accept that some of our people are living in intolerable conditions. A Green government would be prepared to respectfully negotiate funding a `levelling up' of the conditions for indigenous people.

Ian Symington, Conservative Party

The fact that many Indigenous communities still lack safe drinking water is a national  shame. Clean water is essential to human health and well-being and making meaningful  progress must be a priority for any government. Canada’s Conservatives will:  

• Recognize safe drinking water as a fundamental human right and end long-term  drinking water advisories. 

• Target high-risk water systems.  

• Work with Indigenous communities to find new approaches, such as regional or  coalition-based governance, that will help ensure water systems investments are  protected and continue providing clean drinking water in the long term. Indigenous peoples and all Canadians should expect their government to recognize  Indigenous and treaty rights and to work together with Indigenous peoples as nation-to nation partners to resolve long-standing challenges. 

Recent events have illustrated the  scale of the obstacles that Indigenous peoples have faced throughout Canada’s history, and Canadians are more determined to move forward with reconciliation than ever  before. At this singular moment in Canada’s history, it is crucial that our efforts are  focused on durable solutions that make a real and meaningful impact on the quality of  life of Indigenous peoples. Recent reports, including the Truth and Reconciliation  Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women  and Girls, have identified significant gaps in opportunity and outcome between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. All levels of government need to engage with Indigenous peoples to make meaningful progress in closing these gaps. Canada’s Conservatives believe in building a true partnership to ensure a just and secure place for thriving, self-determining Indigenous nations within the fabric of Canada. 

Nadia Verrelli, NDP

Greater Sudbury and Nickel Belt is located on the traditional lands of the Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and also includes the traditional lands of the Wahnapitae First Nation, Mattagami First Nation, Whitefish First Nation and is home to a number of Indigenous people from across Northern Ontario and Canada. For too long, the federal government has been talking about action, while leaving Indigenous people living in our region behind. Indigenous people have never been a priority for Liberals and Conservatives. New Democrats fight for people, and we believe in action, not words. The ongoing underfunding of services, infrastructure and housing in Indigenous communities must end.

  • Here are a few things that we commit to in our Northern Platform: 
  • Co-develop a National Action Plan for Reconciliation and a National Council for Reconciliation to set the terms of a new, better relationship between the federal government and Indigenous peoples. 
  • Stop fight compensation for residential school survivors and Indigenous children to court. 
  • Fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 
  • End discriminatory funding of child welfare systems as well as action to promote and resource Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services. 
  • Invest in health care, including mental health and addiction treatment, and take a social determinants of health approach. 
  • Develop a National Suicide Prevention Action Plan to help address the suicide epidemic in some First Nations in the North 
  • Implement the Calls for Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Calls for Justice of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Inquiry.