TFN and Delta concerned over federal water bill
A federal bill aimed at improving drinking water in First Nations communities has raised serious concerns from both the Corporation of Delta and Tsawwassen First Nation.
If passed, Bill S-8, The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, could require the municipality to be responsible for providing safe drinking water and waste water to Tsawwassen First Nation, Sean McGill, Delta’s director of human resources and planning, told council Monday night.
And although TFN is a Treaty First Nation, they have the ability to opt in as an aboriginal government.
“We don’t have the ability to recover any costs, bylaw or otherwise, on First Nations,” said McGill.
The federal bill unfairly punishes municipalities located next to First Nations communities, said Coun. Robert Campbell.
“The implications are that this could be brought about at the expense of the local community that is adjacent or nearest to a First Nations community and that’s just not fair,” he said.
The real concern from Delta’s perspective is the sewer issue, which could be tied in as a responsibility of providing safe drinking water.
TFN currently has two sources of water, one provided by a Metro Vancouver main at 52nd Street, and another Delta main at Highway 17, which is metered and provided under a water servicing agreement.
But neither TFN or Delta have the sewer infrastructure in place to accommodate TFN’s growth needs, and are waiting for Metro Vancouver to come up with a plan.
“Metro Vancouver has to come up with the solution, not Delta,” said Delta chief administrative officer George Harvie.
But TFN isn’t exactly thrilled about the federal bill either.
Tom McCarthy, policy and intergovernmental affairs manager at TFN, says there’s a “trojan horse” for First Nations groups who join in the Water Act.
“If you choose to opt in to the legislation, the federal government can override your final agreement,” he said.
TFN is a member of the Land Claims Agreements Coalition, a Treaty First Nations organization which includes the Nisga’a Nation, which made a formal presentation before the Senate last May expressing concerns over the legislation.
The Nisga’a opposed the previous incarnation of the water act, Bill S-11, which died on the order paper when the 2011 election was called. The Harper government reintroduced the legislation in the Senate as Bill S-8 on Feb. 29, 2012.
The biggest concern among Treaty First Nations is that they can opt in to the bill but may not be able to withdraw if the federal government modifies a negotiated agreement, which the Nisga’a called an odious example of interference into aboriginal government’s decision making.
“It mirrors what the municipalities are saying, too,” said Doug Raines, chief administrative officer for TFN. “Within the limitations of the bill it looks like this could be forced to have to provide services to adjacent First Nations land.”
McDonald said this “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t appeal to Delta or TFN, who have enjoyed good relations and cooperation. He said it’s important to maintain the good will and respect that’s been shown by both local governments.
TFN’s chief administrative officer Doug Raines said opting into the Act in its present form isn’t being contemplated.
“TFN has always felt that’s the far better way to deal with issues, is to deal neighbour to neighbour,” he said.