An audit into Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller’s department found they spent billions on new water plants without ensuring First Nations had properly-trained managers to run them. "We are working on a cascade of priorities," said Miller.
"There are not enough resources to address all vulnerable systems," wrote an Evaluation Of The Water And Wastewater On-Reserve Program. Since 2016, Cabinet budgeted $2.1 billion to upgrade First Nations utilities and pledged another $1.5 billion last year, reported Blacklock's.
Auditors acknowledged the goal is for First Nations people to have reliable and sustainable public water and wastewater systems in their communities. They wrote that all people are entitled to basic public health provisions though most communities do not have the breadth of that expertise internally.
Auditors surveyed 221 utility managers and visited six First Nations in British Columbia, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. "Even with the additional funding provided in 2016 and subsequent funding, there are not enough resources to address all vulnerable systems," said Evaluation.
The report said only 74 percent of water managers and 66 percent of sewer managers on First Nations were adequately trained, reported Blacklock's. Evaluation blamed high staff turnover, low pay, "community remoteness," lack of "advanced education," and a shortage of "certified back-up system operators."
The department is responsible for 725 water plants and 450 sewage systems in First Nations across Canada. Parliament pays eighty percent of costs though the department "falsely supposed that communities possess available funds for the remaining twenty percent," reads the report.
"Insufficient operation and maintenance funding poses immediate risks to infrastructure and undermines its longevity," continued the report, adding: "Too many water and wastewater systems are considered to be at medium or high risk for failure."
Cabinet also acknowledged earlier this year it would not meet a March 31 deadline to eliminate all boiled water advisories on First Nations.
"Insufficient operation and maintenance funding contribute to the occurrence of drinking water advisories and long-term drinking water advisories," said the report. Only 51 percent of First Nations sewer plant operators said their systems "were comparable to that in non-First Nation communities."
Miller said on December 2 that he bears the responsibility for this and "he has the responsibility and the duty to get this done."
"This was an ambitious deadline from the get-go," he added. "When we say that it was an Ottawa-imposed deadline or it was a deadline we set, those communities were not able to say what time was reasonable nor was their planning done."
"This needed to be fixed yesterday. It should have never happened in the first place."