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Why spend money on elections—when boil-water advisories persist?

$600 million, three angry debates, and 13 million votes later, we're back to where we started: a Liberal minority.

Given that the snap election period was 36 days long — the shortest possible election period under federal law — it worked out at around $16.9 million per day. Per CityNews, this made it the priciest election Canada has ever seen. And for what?

In Maclean's, Shannon Proudfoot described it as the following:

It was, in perhaps the most grizzled and depressing way, a very grown-up campaign well-suited to an exhausted world that still cannot be rightly called post-pandemic. There were no starry eyes here, no thought that better is possible, no crowds surging on a wave of hope that maybe this time would be different. This was the election version of a marriage of convenience: grim, but gets the job done.

The fact that this government is open to spending such large amounts of money with nothing to show for it makes it all the more strange: how could seemingly easy-to-fix problems like boil-water advisories still persist, even after Trudeau made a promise to fix it back in 2015?

In the English-language federal leaders’ debate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the following statement about boil-water advisories in Indigenous communities: “When we came into office, there were 105 long-term boil-water advisories. We lifted 109 of them.” As advisories have been lifted, more have taken their place, and this government is no where close to resolving the problem three elections later.

Remember that back in the 2015 election campaign, Trudeau promised to end all long-term boil-water advisories within five years. Elected with a majority that year, the Liberals chose March 2021 as their deadline. By October 2020, after the Liberals had been reduced to a minority government, and Trudeau began slipping. When asked twice to confirm the commitment and timeline to complete it, Trudeau would only say that the federal government will keep working to lift the outstanding advisories “as soon as possible.”

“We recognize there's lots more work to do,” Trudeau said . “We will continue to work extremely hard to lift those long-term boil water advisories as soon as possible.”

Soon after, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller conceded that the government would not meet it, citing a range of factors, including pandemic-related construction delays. Fifty-nine “long-term drinking water advisories” remained in place.

RoseAnne Archibald, Ontario Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations, wasn't having it.

“We would have zero boil water advisories if they had done enough,” she said. “No community in Canada should be suffering under a boil water advisory, not in this day and age.”

“This is another in a long, long, long list of broken promises to First Nation communities,” added Charlie Angus, the NDP MP for Timmins—James Bay.

The thing is: they evidently could have done enough. This government has spent more than any in history—yet they only seem to do so when it's politically convenient for them. An election? Sure, let's spend millions. Indigenous drinking water—well, only if it can garner us some votes. It's shameful.

Melissa Mbarki, a policy analyst and outreach co-ordinator at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said it best:

"If this is possible for rural areas why isn’t it possible for all Indigenous areas? Why isn’t the federal government implementing this technology? It is a disgrace so many Indigenous areas are still on boil-water advisories. This has to be rectified."
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