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NDP urges federal government to fund water treatment in Nunavut

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MP Peter Julian raises questions after Nunatsiaq News reported deficiencies in sewage treatment plant inspections

Nunavut state water treatment plants received a minute of airtime in parliament on Friday when an NDP MP accused the Liberal federal government of “neglecting to provide clean drinking water to Indigenous communities.”

Peter Julian, a New Democrat from British Columbia, echoed a Nunatsiaq News report published Tuesday, saying only eight of Nunavut's 25 water treatment plants had passed their recent health and safety tests.

The other 17 water treatment plants also had certain health and safety deficiencies, according to test results obtained under Nunavut's Access to Information Act.

The article also cited Nunavut's own strategic drinking water framework, to be released in 2023, which puts the cost of addressing the territory's so-called “infrastructure deficit” in water treatment at $605 million.

“The result is the very real possibility that the drinking water of the people of Nunavut is no longer safe,” Julian said during question time in the House of Commons on Friday.

He called on the government to act “urgently” and provide financial resources to provide clean drinking water to communities in Nunavut.

Jenica Atwin, New Brunswick Liberal MP and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous Services, responded on behalf of the government, calling it “unacceptable” that communities do not have access to clean drinking water.

Atwin said the Liberals had made “record investments” in clean water, but did not say how much money had been spent.

She pointed to the government's track record of lifting 144 long-term drinking water warnings since 2015.

While Julian's question specifically addressed reports of deficiencies at Nunavut's water treatment plants, Atwin's response focused on the government's actions regarding water alerts issued by First Nations communities.

“Ninety-six percent of First Nations still have access to clean water and we will ensure that remains the case, particularly in the north where there are ongoing, region-specific challenges,” Atwin said.

She noted that there are “ongoing challenges” specific to the north, without specifying them. Atwin said the government will work with them “on an Aboriginal and Inuit-led solution.”

The question-and-answer battle between Julian and Atwin in the House of Commons lasted about one minute and nine seconds, according to a video that the NDP included in a press release it issued after the exchange.

In that press release, Nunavut MP Lori Idlout, a member of the NDP caucus, was quoted as saying: “The Liberals sat back and waited while Nunavut’s infrastructure fell apart.

“Our government must act now and provide Nunavut with the resources it needs to end this crisis before people get sick.”