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Federal election 2015: Kenora, Ont., candidates talk First Nations water quality

Candidates running in the Kenora, Ont., riding say they'll push for safe drinking water for First Nations communities, like Neskantaga, where residents have had to boil their water for more than 20 years.

Kenora, Ont., riding candidates say if elected, water quality in First Nations communities will be addressed

Ontario is home the majority of community-wide boil water advisories in the country, including these 10 First Nations in Northern Ontario. They have been without safe drinking water for more than a decade. (Google Maps)

Candidates running in the Kenora, Ont., riding say they'll push for safe drinking water for First Nations communities, like Neskantaga, where residents have had to boil their water for more than 20 years.

Yesterday, First Nations leaders in Ontario met in Toronto and called on all federal party leaders to address the state of water and health services in aboriginal communities.

The bad water in Neskantaga is being blamed for illnesses and other health issues, such as sores and rashes.

New Democrat candidate Howard Hampton said there is money to fix the problem, but it's not being spent.
Former Ontario NDP Leader Howard Hampton is running in the Kenora riding. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

"The money was there, the money is still there and the money needs to be used to address these issues."

Hampton said work needs to start immediately.

Hampton said it was a "great travesty" the Department of Aboriginal Affairs had money in its budgets to address the problem, but chose not to spend it, instead handing it back to the federal Ministry of Finance.

"I think it's equally shameful that you have federal and provincial governments talking about 'oh, we're going to develop the Ring of Fire,' meanwhile, this community, which sits almost at the heart of the Ring of Fire is told, 'yeah, but we can't afford safe, clean drinking water for your community,'" said Hampton.

The Green Party's Ember McKillop said it's hard to believe nothing has been done.
The Green Party's Ember McKillop. (Martine Laberge/CBC)

"I'd be pushing for money that had been recognized as being necessary to run First Nations reserves adequately way back with the Kelowna Accord," she said.

"We've signed the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People and we need to uphold that, and that would be an important first step is ensuring that people have access to clean water and sanitation," she said.

The Liberals' Bob Nault said spending more on infrastructure will help communities like Neskantaga.
Kenora riding Liberal candidate Bob Nault. (bobnault.ca)

"Their deficiency in infrastructure is caused by a lack of funds and a lack of resources and a lack of working relationships with the federal government," he said.

"My job, of course, as an elected MP, is to change all that," sid Nault.

Nault said he'd be looking at just under a year to get started on the work, owing to the fact it would be a major infrastructure spend, which would need to be part of a budget, which typically gets passed in late winter-early spring, meaning funding could roll out in the next fiscal year.
Conservative cabinet minister Greg Rickford. (Riccardo De Luca/Associated Press)

In an e-mailed statement, Conservative candidate Greg Rickford said money has been spent improving water quality in communities in the riding, and across the country.

He added he will continue to work with Neskantaga's leadership to deliver on the community's priorities.

"I will continue to deliver on the priorities of First Nations communities and we understand that all First Nation communities deserve to have access to safe, clean drinking water."

Rickford also said that another important issue is ensuring First Nation communities have well-trained and certified water treatment plant operators. 

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