Conservative MP retracts comments about First Nations water plants amid criticism

OTAWA –

After coming under fire earlier this week for saying some First Nations are burning down water treatment plants because of the federal Liberal government, a Conservative MP is now retracting his comments.

Saskatchewan MP Kevin Waugh made the claim in the House of Commons on Monday during a debate on the First Nations government’s water bill.

“In my home province of Saskatchewan, I’ve seen reserves burn down water treatment plants because the Liberal government has done little or nothing,” Waugh said, directing his comments toward Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.

He added that it is necessary to “educate people on the reservation to operate these water treatment plants” and blamed the Liberals for not doing more.

Waugh’s office confirmed Wednesday that he was referring to fires on Saskatchewan First Nations in recent years.

A water plant on the Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation was damaged by fire in 2019, and another on the Piapot First Nation burned in 2018.

But no specific cause was reported for any of the fires, and the MP’s office admitted it is not familiar with any specific circumstances, saying it did not intend to make any implications about why the fires occurred.

“MP Waugh was making the point that after eight years of Justin Trudeau and this Liberal government, what we have is a trail of broken promises and countless Indigenous communities without access to clean water,” his office said.

Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said there is no place in the House of Commons for the kind of rhetoric she heard from Waugh on Monday, especially during debate on a bill that seeks to restore the inherent rights of First Nations. Nations.

“The first question coming from the Conservative side of the bench really illustrated the kinds of harmful stereotypes that First Nations have been living with for a long time,” Hajdu told reporters outside the House of Commons earlier this week.

He added that his comments implied that First Nations are destroying their own infrastructure and do not have the skills, dignity or capacity to operate their own water treatment plants.

Hajdu said he would consult with acting Liberal House leader Steven MacKinnon about whether they would ask Waugh to withdraw his comments.

The Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba, said Waugh’s comments reinforced harmful stereotypes about First Nations in an era of reconciliation.

“I urge all Members of Parliament to remember the devastation that First Nations people and communities have experienced at the hands of governments and systems in what is now Canada,” said Grand Chief Jerry Daniels.

“Elected officials must remember the importance of building relationships with First Nations based on kindness and mutual respect to benefit everyone.”

Waugh’s office said his party will continue to work with Indigenous people to ensure First Nations communities have access to clean water.

The long-awaited legislation being debated by MPs seeks to improve water quality in First Nations communities, improve collaboration on water protection and codify a new First Nations-led water commission.

It was introduced in December, more than a year after the federal government repealed First Nations drinking water legislation dating back to Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

The Harper government said at the time that the First Nations Safe Drinking Water Act 2013 was intended to support the development of federal regulations that would improve First Nations access to drinking water and effective wastewater treatment.

But many First Nations said the legislation was ineffective and dangerous, citing concerns about a lack of sustainable funding and infringement on constitutional rights.

Hajdu touted the new bill as the result of immense collaboration and knowledge sharing, although some First Nations rejected that claim when the legislation was introduced.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2024.

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