As It Happens

Conservative MP calls on feds to help fund Shoal Lake road: no new money

In a press conference this morning, Conservative MP Joy Smith called for a federal commitment to the construction of the Shoal Lake 40 Freedom Road.
Community elder Grace Redsky from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation performed a water healing ceremony at a man-made channel made to support Winnipeg's water system which has cut them off from the mainland Thursday, June 25, 2015. The Winnipeg and Manitoba governments each committed to fund a third of a proposed road from Shoal Lake 40 to highway 1 so the community can have year round access. The federal government refused to commit. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

Shoal Lake 40 has been under a boil-water advisory for 18 years. The First Nations community was cut off from the mainland a century ago after an aqueduct was built to supply Winnipeg with fresh water. Community leaders have long advocated for a road to provide reliable access to the mainland and allow for the construction of a proper water treatment plant.

In a press conference this morning, Conservative MP Joy Smith called for a federal commitment to the construction of the Shoal Lake 40 Freedom Road. Smith claims that Steve Bell, a local singer, brought the long-standing issue to her attention.

"I then started researching it...I went out to Shoal Lake...I talked to Chief Redsky and everybody... it was clear to me, without a doubt, that road had to be built," Smith tells As It Happens guest host Peter Armstrong.

The lack of drinking-water is just one of the problems facing the isolated community. Smith explains that without access to the mainland, "if someone gets sick, there's no way of getting across unless you go on a winter road or across the ice...several people have lost their lives crossing that water."

She admits that "clearly the road gives them access to everything...I mean it was so clear and so I took on the cause with Steve Bell -- I said 'we really need this to happen.'"

The attention is welcomed -- but it is long over-due. Smith has been a Member of Parliament for a decade. When pressed by Armstrong she reasons, "all I can say is when I found out about it, I gave it as much attention as I could...there are so many issues throughout the country."

Smith will not be running for re-election this fall but she insists that the timing did not influence her decision to speak out.

She points to her work with human-trafficking as an example of her commitment but also of the slow-moving bureaucratic process.

"When I started with the human-trafficking, nobody would pay attention, nobody knew about it...I had to bring the victims in but they had touched my heart because I actually worked with them."

Conservative Member of Parliament, Joy Smith. (CBC)

After billions of dollars spent in infrastructure investments leading up to the campaign, Armstrong questions why none of that money was allocated to the road.

Smith admits, "that's one of the reasons why I spoke out...I just felt like saying 'whoa, there's something we've missed here and we need to make sure this happens.'"

In May 2014, a commitment in principle was made by all levels of government to fund the design of the road. The city of Winnipeg and province of Manitoba have gone beyond that pledge and each confirmed their share of additional funding for the 30 million dollar construction of the project. The federal government has not. 

At one point in our pre-recorded interview, Smith says the following:

"The province committed to $10 million. The city committed $10 million. You know this is what I was calling on our government to do. And, Greg Rickford called me just a short time ago and said 'yes, the government was going to do that."

Our producer called Smith back for clarification. It turns out that isn't true. Smith confirmed she misspoke. We have since edited the mistake out of the audio.

The federal Conservative government has not committed any new funding to Shoal Lake.

For more on the community's 18-year-long boil water advisory, read this.