Can P3 models help First Nations water crisis?


By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

In September, First Nations in the Maritimes made headlines for delivering clean water to Potlotek First Nation, a Cape Breton Míkmaq community experiencing a water crisis. Eskasoni First Nation alone delivered 20,000 litres, a commendable act of generosity and solidarity.

Water quality is an ongoing problem for First Nations across Canada. At any given time, over 100 communities can be under a boil water advisory. Atlantic First Nations are more problematic, as 21 East Coast bands operate water systems that are considered high risk. These communities face aging infrastructure, lack of training for operators, and a funding shortfall from Indigenous Affairs.

The Conservative government passed the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act in 2013 and created regulations the following year. The Act creates enforceable quality standards, but issues of water delivery and governance remain.

The Liberal government has pledged $1.8 billion over five years for on-reserve infrastructure to address health and safety needs, ensure proper facility operation and maintenance, and end long-term drinking water advisories.

Atlantic Solutions

Simon Osmond, a senior policy analyst with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations, has suggested the idea of a First Nations Water Authority (FNWA) for Atlantic bands. The project, called the First Nations Clean Water Initiative, would involve a public-private partnership (P3) model.

According to the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, the plan would require bands to temporarily cede the land and assets tied to water systems to the FNWA. In turn, the Authority’s engineers, operators, and First Nations board would oversee water and wastewater operations. Under the P3 model, FNWA would sublease the land to a private company over a 25-year agreement.

This idea faces organized opposition. The Council of Canadians raises fear on reserves about these models and argues against private-sector solutions to First Nations water crises. But their complaints are unfounded, since P3 delivery models operate on a spectrum, falling quite short of full privatization.

The Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships has released a report showing how P3s could significantly help address the infrastructure gap on First Nations, on water and wastewater treatment as well as other core areas.

Indigenous communities in Atlantic Canada should not ignore the benefits of these models in delivering such an essential service.

Commodity conditions push equalization into uncharted territory

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-2-38-07-pmHistorical price of oil (WTI) 2007-Present. Source:

By Marco Navarro-Génie, President and CEO

The notion of fairness among Canadians and our beliefs to help one another are going to be tested in the months ahead when some of the implications of the collapse in commodity prices become known. This collapse will have enormous effects on richer western provinces working their way through equalization calculations.

Close to 18-billion are at stake, over half of which go to Quebec in normal circumstances.

But the new economic conditions lead us into uncharted territory, and present more questions than there are answers for them as of yet

To this reality, the federal government is introducing its new carbon tax idea. Answers to some of the basic questions former Finance Minister Joe Oliver raises here need addressing before we venture into taking yet more money out of peoples pockets.

Nova Scotia’s First Nations need to balance environment and economy

549d36a7d160fad1a1969168f8ecd10f.jpg(photo source: Joanne Dussault)

By Joseph Quesnel, AIMS Fellow

This past Monday, First Nations in Nova Scotia celebrated the 30th annual Treaty Day celebration. Mi’kmaq chiefs promoted the ideas of reconciliation between the provincial government and Indigenous communities. In particular, progress was noted on the education file where Mi’kmaq culture and history were better integrated into the school system.

On this important occasion, bands across Atlantic Canada should heed the words of other First Nations who have learned to balance the pressing need for economic development in the resource sector with environmental protection.

Recently, Sipekne’katik band members near Stewiacke, N.S staged a sit-on in an area where Calgary-based AltaGas plans to store natural gas in three underground caverns near Shubenacadie River. The protesters are concerned about the release of brine in that river.

The government conducted years of consultation and environmental review with the local Indigenous group, as well as with neighbouring residents. Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil also said he was quite satisfied that the Crown had met its obligation to consult the Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia.

It seems bands all over Atlantic Canada have adopted a default position of opposing projects outright in the oil and gas sector even when they are the result of extensive consultation. Some bands in Nova Scotia have even expressed concerns with potential tidal power projects. In New Brunswick, this comes in immediate opposition to new shale gas exploration and new mining projects.

Atlantic chiefs should listen to bands attending a conference recently concluded in Calgary, Alta by the Indian Resource Council that focused on breaking the pipeline logjam among Indigenous communities.

“The energy industry has allowed our people a ladder to employment, to partnerships,” said Blaine Favel, conference chair. “We have to balance our concern for the protection of Mother Earth and our opportunity to protect our children and relatives that need to work today.”

Nova Scotia communities who celebrated Treaty Day should try to find this balance and be realistic in their conditions. Otherwise, they are missing their chance at prosperity.