Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa of the NDP says that the provincial hydro and water systems are failing Indigenous communities across Ontario, leading to a lower quality of life.
At Queen’s Park, Mamakwa recently said that Ontarians in the north are being failed by the utility systems, which leaves Indigenous communities without running water or stable electricity for years at a time.
“Several weeks ago, I stood in this house to remark about the tragic suicide of 13-year-old Karlena Kamenawatamin from Bearskin Lake,” said Mamakwa, in legislature in late October.
“I mentioned how Karlena and her family had gone over seven years — seven years — without running water or electricity in their home, a state of affairs that would outrage anyone if this happened to them or their family. Ontario Hydro Remotes had made the decision to cut the electricity to Karlena’s family for reasons beyond their control.”
Mamakwa is continuing to urge the government to support Indigenous-led efforts to increase access to the provincial hydro grid, to offer more social and economic opportunities for isolated northern communities.
“Ontario Hydro Remotes currently operates in 24 fly-in First Nations communities in northern Ontario, but clearly, something is not working,” said Mamakwa.
“We’re working on a comprehensive plan that all of Ontario, and especially northern Ontario, has a reliable energy system that serves both families and isolated remote communities as well,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, Indigenous Affairs and Kenora Rainy-River MPP, in response.
“After more than eight years of my life living and working in these communities, I have seen first-hand the cost and consequences of the lack of energy transmission. It’s also about roadways, technology, and more. Nothing could be more important," added Rickford.
Mamakwa then specifically brought up the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project, which aims to connect 16 remote First Nations communities to the provincial electricity grid, as they are still relying on diesel fuel for power.
Wataynikaneyap Power is well into construction of the power grid to connect communities to the electricity grid. Construction on the grid line began in the summer of 2017, with completion to Pikangikum First Nation expected this fall.
Following the Pikangikum connection, the grid line will head to Pickle Lake by late 2020 – thanks to a $1.6 billion federal investment. Construction on the secondary line to Pickle Lake is slated to begin early next year.
“Better lives and more opportunity for youth in the far north is something I believe all members in this house can support, so that all other Indigenous youth will not have to grow up the way Karlena did.”
Phase two of the plan aims to connect the 16 First Nation communities north of Red Lake and Pickle Lake, in the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation. That work will begin in 2019, with community connections starting in 2021 and all communities connected by late 2023.
The federal government also provided additional $2 million for the Wataynikaneyap Transmission Project Training Program. The program hired close to 200 workers from 22 First Nation communities to fill jobs in the energy sector.
The former provincial Liberal government stressed that connecting remote First Nations in northwestern Ontario to the provincial electricity grid would save six megatons of greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years.
In the district, the Pikangikum community has relied on diesel fuel for close to 40 years, and the generating station has been operating at capacity for over 8 years – causing power outages and generator failures.
Until early last month, over 80 per cent of homes in Pikangikum did not have any running water or sewer service. The longstanding boil water advisory was ended following repairs to the water treatment system. The advisory had been in place since December of 2016.
The federal government continues to say that they will end all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserves by March of 2021. Seventy-one long-term drinking water advisories have now been lifted from public water systems on reserve since November 2015.
Budget 2016 provided $1.8 billion over five years toward water and wastewater infrastructure. These investments have supported 463 water and wastewater projects in 587 First Nations communities, serving 444,000 people.
For more information:
Longstanding boil water advisory lifted
$1.6 billion to local First Nations