Mr. Speaker, during the first hour of debate on this bill, members raised the issue of drinking water in indigenous communities, which is a problem we need to solve as quickly as possible.
Although this bill does not address the issue directly, I hope that all communities in Canada, including rural and indigenous communities, will benefit from its expected outcome.
This bill is designed to ensure that Canada’s drinking water standards are the best in the world. It calls on the government to regularly assess Canadian standards against those of the highest standards in the most economically and technologically advanced countries, countries like our own.
With respect to the situation in indigenous communities, we recognize how complex this issue is. A number of factors have made it difficult for this problem to be resolved properly so far. For instance, there is some competition between indigenous and non-indigenous communities when it comes to hiring trained operators. We hope that the funds set aside in budget 2017 to resolve the matter will give indigenous communities the resources they need to attract trained operators, or ensure that the operators are not attracted by other jurisdictions.
Investments are certainly needed, and the funding allocated in budget 2017 should help improve the situation as well as help maintain existing systems. Some communities actually have decent systems, but they have not been able to maintain them because there was not enough money.
Some people would have liked to see the bill go even further by creating a rigorous national legal framework to regulate all the emerging contaminants that are becoming increasingly common in our drinking water. However, that is not the approach I wanted to take in drafting this bill. Rather, the bill seeks to trigger a process for the development of standards. Improving the process will lead to standards as high as the highest standards in technologically and economically advanced countries like Canada.
This is somewhat like the Senate reform undertaken by the government. Sometimes, very small actions can have a much larger impact by changing the dynamic of a particular process. That is what is happening with the Senate. The small action we took is changing the character of the Senate.
Why not establish specific, legal standards for all contaminants? We do not want to start a jurisdictional war between the federal and provincial governments. We know that water management is a provincial responsibility. Furthermore, although such an approach sounds good, it could lead to some unintended consequences. The problem right now is not that there are not enough standards regarding bacteria. The problem has to do with management.
Drinking water management across Canada is very decentralized. If we can improve how drinking water is treated, we will be better able to fix the problems in rural regions and indigenous communities.
On the weekend, I saw that indigenous communities in the Atlantic provinces want to create some sort of regional agency to manage drinking water in those provinces. That is a good idea. That is the direction we should go if we want to fix this problem in the long term.