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LETTERS – 50 years of water woes

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The reason for this letter is perhaps to garner an answer to a question that has plagued residents of Margaree-Fox Roost, and probably many similar communities in Newfoundland, and that is: why are we considered second-class citizens in our own country? Much has been raised on the subject of sub-standard water supply in First Nation communities, and deservedly so. There is no reason I can think of except for, perhaps, gross negligence and mismanagement, why a country like ours should have so many small communities suffering due to a lack of basic services. I have read that “An advisory is considered “long term” when it has been in place for 1 year or more” (Water Challenges in Indigenous Communities – True North Aid). We pay our taxes and yet our community has been under boil water advisories for more than 50 years and this is due mainly to the fact that the water wasn’t being tested prior to this time frame. The same article, stated that “As of October 2019, there are 58 Indigenous communities across Canada under long term drinking water advisories.” While this is terrible, in NL alone, the last statistic I read was there were in excess of 200 communities in NL alone that were under long-term boil-water advisories, using the definition above. A NY Times article (Indigenous Communities in Canada Still Await Safe Drinking Water) stated that: “Despite Mr. Trudeau’s 2015 election promise to eliminate boil water advisories within five years, they remain on 27 reserves across Canada, each lasting at least a year and nearly half exceeding 10.” Our community has been under such threat for much more than 10 years. Why doesn’t the fate of non-Indigenous communities matter? One resident of such an Indigenous community indicated that they “believed most other Canadians would never tolerate what Indigenous people have been forced to cope with.” Residents of our community and many others in the province of NL do have some idea because this has been a major headache for as long as most can remember. According to the results of legal action taken against the federal government by the First Nations communities (Compensation – First Nations Drinking Water), “Canada has agreed to make all reasonable efforts to support the removal of long-term drinking water advisories and will spend at least $6 billion by March 31, 2030, to implement this commitment by funding the actual cost of construction, upgrading, operation, and maintenance of water infrastructure in First Nations communities”.  Additionally, “If you are a member of an Impacted First Nation and lived on First Nations lands subject to a drinking water advisory that lasted at least one year between November 20, 1995 and June 20, 2021, you may be eligible for compensation as an Individual Class Member.” I have to ask, again, why don’t people of our province rate the same consideration? According to the article, Dozens of Canadian Indigenous communities under boil-water advisories one year into pandemic – World Socialist Web Site, the Auditor General of Canada at that time, Karen Hogan, presented a report documenting the total failure of successive Canadian governments, including Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, to provide for Indigenous communities’ most basic needs. “Access to safe drinking water is a basic human necessity,” Hogan said at a news conference in Ottawa. “I don’t believe anyone would say that this is in any way an acceptable situation in Canada in 2021.” The article also indicated that “in the years following the Liberal Party’s election victory, over $2 billion was allocated to improving water conditions for the affected First Nations reserves”. So why is it that non-Indigenous people of Canada do not matter? Do we not fit into the category of “human”? In 2021, it did appear we were making headway with a Special Assistance Grant from the province for the purpose of improving our water system, but that hope died a quick death. Basically, the province provided an amount but then slowly clawed back portions by requiring the local committee to request and cover the cost of permits for work the province itself dictated. In the end it ultimately didn’t matter as the first time the project went to tender it garnered no bids. The request was re-worked and submitted to tender a second time and, on that occasion, only one bid was received. That sole bid was more than twice the amount of the total funds available. After more than four years of trying this route, this was the last nail in the coffin. The governments were unwilling to increase the funding and no bids were going to be even close to the funding amount available. This issue has been brought to the attention of both our MP and MHA but garnered little more than lip service. Our MHA, Andrew Parsons, indicated that he informed our community years ago that he could ensure a functioning water system in Margaree-Fox Roost for approximately $3 million, but we would have to pay the cost. I have no idea in which reality he resides, but it is grossly unreasonable to expect a community of less than 350 people to come up with that figure. Our MP, Gudie Hutchings was of even less help. She seemed to be stuck on some bi-lateral agreement with the provinces in 2016 whereupon they could provide funding for projects such as those we requested. However they could not direct that funding be used for the purposes for which it is intended. In the end it was a complete waste of time. In a moment of frustration, during conversations with both, I did indicate our awareness that our community had little “political capital” by which I meant that any political party, whether Liberal or Conservative, were going to invest millions in an area which, in all likelihood, would give them little more than 100 votes. While they both indicated their assurance “that all Canadians are equal”, I believed this about as much as I believe in the existence of a fairy godmother. Most people recognize the old adage, and most will agree, that the primary goal of an elected party is not to benefit the people they are supposed to serve but rather to get re-elected. With this in mind, we understand the likelihood of a party looking to be re-elected to drop so much financial capital in an area with very little political capital. I’m sure that if you speak to residents of our community, you would hear volumes of anecdotal responses stemming from experiences by our community members. Everything from needing to travel to the Cape Ray area to obtain spring water to the eventual necessity of the community financing a Potable Water Distribution Unit (PWDU) to have drinking water. While it is true that we do have access to clean drinking water, it is similar to that in many third world countries. The residents have to trek to the central community location to fill water bottles to take home. However, this is less than acceptable when we have water coming to our homes but water that is unfit for consumption unless it is boiled, not even recommended for brushing one’s teeth unless it is boiled first. One statistic apparently not taken into account when ascertaining basic needs of our community is the fact that the demographic, like all of NL, is becoming dominated by elderly individuals who have difficulty obtaining the water at the PWDU plant, either because they have difficulty lifting the filled bottles or they no longer drive or they have no one to assist them in obtaining the water. The result is many drink the tap water anyway and suffer the consequences of consuming it. As a former member of the Local Services District Committee, it grows tiresome listening to the continued barbs from residents, especially during those times of the year when our water quality is at its worse. While the committee dealt with the governments, jumping through the hoops, over obstacles placed in our path, the misinformation and the headaches forthcoming, it is difficult explaining to the community why they can still not drink the water coming to their homes or explaining why there are minerals in the water that our system is ill-equipped to remove. They do not wish to hear the excuses, but as the committee is their closest target, its members hear the comments about the committee’s incompetence to provide an acceptable source for water systems that larger communities take for granted. Thanks for your time.

Darrell Park Margaree – Fox Roost

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