More than 100 First Nation communities across Northern Ontario will benefit from just over $13 million in federal and provincial funding to help ensure all have access to clean water.
In an announcement on Oct. 10 at the Fort William First Nation band office, MP Patty Hajdu, minister of employment, workforce development, and labour, along with MPP Bill Mauro, minister of municipal affairs, announced a total of $13.3 million in funding for water, wastewater, and storm water infrastructure in 116 First Nation communities.
“It’s about making sure that everybody has an equal access to quality of life, those foundations that make healthy communities are so important,” Hajdu said.
The federal government’s investment of $8.8 million comes from the clean water and wastewater fund, and will cover 50 per cent of the cost for 235 projects. The provincial government’s investment of $4.4 million will cover 25 per cent, with First Nation communities covering any remaining costs.
“Provincially, we have brought about $270 million new dollars over two years into the clean water/wastewater fund,” Mauro said. “So now municipalities, First Nations, local services boards that apply and are successful will at most have to come up with about 25 per cent of the project costs. Previously it might have been as high as 50 per cent.”
The funding will be used for infrastructure projects ranging from septic system replacements to water treatment plant upgrades.
“Helping smaller communities is where it is most important, who perhaps would not have been able to fund a 50 per cent share of the program," Mauro said.
Mauro added that it was important to clarify the language for possible projects to include things like culvert replacements and minor road work, because some small communities may not have an entire water or wastewater system in place.
Fort William First Nation will receive $138,000 in funding for projects that include installation of new storm water pipes, extension of the Little Lake Road water main, and extending water distribution for fire protection improvements.
According to Michele Solomon, Fort William First Nation councillor, improvements to water systems will help the growing community continue to add more houses.
“Housing is key,” she said. “If you want to grow your community, you need to have the ability to grow your water system, your storm water safety system. Without infrastructure, you’re unable to really grow that. We were at a point in Fort William First Nation, in order to have a new housing project, you really have to look at what is really involved, and infrastructure is key to all of that.”
Solomon added that the community continues to see growth and in order to encourage members who do not live on reserve to come back, infrastructure improvements are needed for further expansion.
But for other communities who have been under boil water advisories for years at a time, Solomon said this is a big step forward in improving the quality of life.
“It’s a great announcement for First Nations across the province,” she said. “I’ve been in communities who have been on boil water advisories for many years at a time and it’s a really unfortunate situation that in order to do anything you have to boil water. This is really great news for many communities.”
Hajdu agreed that water and access to clean water for First Nations communities is something that has been talked about in Canada for a long time and this announcement is a step in the right direction.
“It’s a tangible expression of reconciliation,” she said. “This investment is about making sure we start that work of bringing things to First Nations people have an equally quality of living as every other Canadian.”