Policy Initatives

APC is working with AFN and ECCC to deliver important messaging about policy developments with the Safe Drinking Water Act for First Nations, the Long-term Water and Wastewater Strategy, and the creation of a Canada Water Agency.

Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act Repeal & Replacement

In 2013, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (SDWFNA) came into force despite objections from First Nations across Canada for lack of meaningful engagement and consultation with First Nations, as well as insufficient resources to enable First Nations to comply or implement the regulations. Through the direction of the Chiefs-in-Assembly, a First Nations-led Engagement Process for Safe Drinking Water Legislation was mandated following extensive advocacy for the repeal and replacement of the SDWFNA.

As part of the Safe Drinking Water Class Action Settlement Agreement, the Government of Canada committed to making all reasonable efforts to introduce legislation to repeal the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act by March 31, 2022, and to develop and introduce replacement legislation, in consultation with First Nations, by December 31, 2022.

On April 28, 2022, the proposed repeal of the Act was introduced in Parliament as a related measure in Budget Implementation Act, No. 1. The Bill received royal assent on June 23, 2022, formally repealing the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.

The Assembly of First Nations is working with Indigenous Services Canada on a Joint Working Group to develop a Draft Framework to support the replacement of the SDWFNA by the end of 2022.

Brief Timeline of the SDWFNA

  • 2010 – Under then Prime Minister Harper, the federal government introduced Bill S-11: An Act Respecting the safety of drinking water on First Nation lands, but was rejected by First Nations
  • 2011 – National Assessment by Neegan-Burnside found 39% of drinking water systems as “high risk”; 34% as “moderate risk”
  • 2012 – Bill S-8 was introduced as a revised version of the previous – several issues with the bill and it dies on the ‘Order Paper.
  • 2013 – Canada reintroduces Legislation with Bill S-11, it is passed as the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.
  • 2015 – New Liberal government committed to end all long-term boil water advisories by 2021 and to conduct a full review of legislation that conflicted with rights, inconsistent with the principles of good governance, or made no public policy sense; such legislation would be repealed.
  • 2017 – Chiefs pass Resolution 26/2017: Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. Repeated the call for repeal of the SDWFNA and immediate cessation of the federal government’s engagement sessions for amendment of the Act, and instead called for the federal government to develop in partnership with First Nations the next steps in engaging with the SDWFNA.
  • 2017 – Chiefs pass Resolution 88/2017: First Nations-led Engagement Process for Safe Drinking Water Legislation. Directed the AFN to establish a joint Working Group comprised of AFN Chiefs Committee on Housing and Infrastructure and their regional technicians, federal representatives, legal counsel for AFN and the federal government, and other experts, as necessary, to co-develop a draft framework for new legislation.
  • 2017 – Federal government announces a First Nation-led process to engage on the SDWFNA
  • 2018 – Resolution 01/2018: First Nations Led Process to Develop New Federal Safe Drinking Water Legislation. Took this process even further and mandated the AFN to immediately communicate to the federal government that, in keeping with the Government’s commitments to reconciliation with First Nations, a joint legislative co-development process and mandate will proceed in full partnership with First Nations, including the development of a Joint Working Group on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations.
  • 2018 – Resolution 26/2018: Support for a First Nations Safe Drinking Water Legislation Preliminary Concepts. AFN Preliminary Concepts document endorsed by Chiefs
  • 2018 – MC to Cabinet for repeal/replacement co-developed but not accepted by PMO (October 5, 2018).
  • 2019 – AFN facilitated regionally led engagements on the SDWFNA through the direction of the Chiefs-in-assembly.
  • 2021 – The government of Canada commits to repeal and replace the Act.
  • 2022 – Formal repeal of the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.
  • 2022 – Ongoing engagement and draft framework

Problems with the SDWFNA

  • Did not consider 2006 Expert Water Panel Findings “regulation alone will not be effective in ensuring safe drinking water”
  • Adequate resources for O & M, training etc. are more critical to ensuring safe drinking water than regulation alone
  • The federal government must close the resource gap and has a legal duty to consult with First Nations
  • Offers weak protections to aboriginal and treaty rights and fails to acknowledge First Nation jurisdiction over water
  • Fails to address the resource gap
  • Excessive immunity provisions for the Crown
  • Fails to respect First Nation authority and concerns
  • Provides unreasonable broad powers to delegate “any person” to almost any aspect of drinking water provision, monitoring or enforcement
  • Does not provide for any practical or legal issues of “borrowing” from the provincial regimes
More Resources on the SDWFNA
Outline of the co-development process for a new Federal Bill on Safe Drinking Water for First Nations.
Discussion of water futures and how legislative reform can sustain the rights and health.
Summary report on the outcome of AFN regional engagements on the SDWFNA held in 2019.
Preliminary concepts underpinning the FNSDWA. For discussion purposes only.

The Creation of a Canada Water Agency

Freshwater management in Canada is important and complex, with implications for society, the environment, public health and safety, the economy, and more. In 2019, the Government of Canada committed to establishing a Canada Water Agency (CWA) to “work together with the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, local authorities, scientists and others to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed.”, which lead to a series of regional engagements lead by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). These engagements are ongoing and are meant to collect feedback to shape the responsibilities and functions of the CWA. It is expected that by 2022 the CWA will be formally established.
Resources on the CWA
Discussion paper from the Government of Canada introducing the CWA and calling for feedback.
FAQ about engagement with Indigenous Peoples on the CWA from the federal government.
A synthesis of what the federal government heard from the public and other stakeholders on the creation of CWA.
A synthesis of what the federal government is hearing form Indigenous Peoples on the creation of CWA.

Long-Term Water and Wastewater Strategy

The Federal Government committed to ending Long-Term Water Advisories in First Nations communities across Canada, but the question of “what will happen after that?” has been raised. The Assembly of First Nations is working with the federal government to answer this question with researched and appropriate policy.
Resources on the Long-Term Strategy
Synthesis of what AFN heard from participants in their regional engagements on the Long-Term Strategy. Covers key themes and preliminary concepts.