VANCOUVER — Following public promises to end long-term drinking water advisories affecting First Nations, limitations in the federal bureaucracy prevent it from fully addressing the crisis, according to Reconciling Promises and Reality: Clean Drinking Water for First Nations, released today.

The David Suzuki Foundation report assesses the federal government’s progress toward ending the 91 long-term drinking water advisories on public systems by 2021. Despite a clear commitment from the minister of Indigenous services, the report gives government a failing grade on eight of the 14 indicators developed to assess its progress.

“The federal government is taking important steps to address the First Nations drinking water crisis, but falls short of the strides needed to realize its crucial promise,” the David Suzuki Foundation’s Alaya Boisvert said. “Thousands of people in First Nations communities across Canada continue to live without access to clean drinking water. Some have gone without for decades.”

According to the report, these factors need clarifying:

  1. The extent to which existing source water protection plans are developed and implemented
  2. How budget allocations and spending shortfalls are addressed
  3. Whether regulations will be developed that hold the federal government accountable to First Nations for safe drinking water

“This is a fundamental human rights issue that should concern everyone living in Canada,” David Suzuki Foundation CEO Steve Cornish said. “Resolving this crisis is part of our path toward reconciliation.” The report recommends that the government improve its processes by:

  • Investing in and sharing successful models of First Nations-led approaches to resolving drinking water advisories, including developing and implementing source water protection plans
  • Ensuring expedited, but sound, processes to upgrade systems — including adequate and transparent funding for operations and maintenance
  • Developing legislation and regulations impacting First Nations’ right to clean water with First Nations as equal partners

Despite the problematic prognosis, the report also reveals innovative solutions emerging from communities leading on ending drinking water advisories. “Providing access to clean, safe drinking water can be complicated.

The solutions differ depending on the circumstances,” Jim Brown of the Lytton First Nation of the Nlaka’pamux Nation said. Brown served as operations and maintenance manager for 35 years and band councillor for 22. “We found a state-of-the-art, mobile solution by involving the federal government, private companies, three universities and Nickeyeah community members. Thanks to this ‘Circle of Trust,’ today our residents enjoy clean, safe drinking water.” The 2016 federal budget included $1.8 billion in new funding to help resolve the drinking water crisis. But a December 2017 Parliamentary Budget Officer report found these new investments into waste and water infrastructure represent just 70 per cent of what is needed to end all First Nations DWAs across Canada by 2021.

The complete Reconciling Promises and Reality report is available at

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For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:  

Alan Worsley,, 604-600-5341

Note to editors: The full report, executive summary and a fact sheet are available to all media.