GN needs to ante up to end boil water advisories

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Since the beginning of June, residents of Rankin Inlet have been quietly grumbling about having to boil their water before drinking it.

It’s not uncommon for temporary boil water advisories to get issued in the region’s largest community — especially in the spring. But now that current one has stretched into its fourth week, people are getting fed up and are voicing their concerns in check-out lines and Facebook pages.

While I can attest to the frustration of having to boil water to be able to drink it, four weeks pales in comparison to the four years during which Whale Cove has spent searching for alternatives to whatever is flowing from their taps.

During the most recent sitting of the legislative assembly, it was learned that it could be at least another two years before Whale Cove residents can drink from their taps again.

In response to a question from Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main, Lorne Kusugak, the minister of Community and Government Services, said the territorial government hopes to install a new water treatment plant in the hamlet by 2021.

That happens to be the deadline the federal Liberals have set for ending long term boil water advisories across Canada.

That the territorial government is planning to hit that target for Whale Cove is all fine and well. But it also begs the question: would Iqaluit or Rankin Inlet have to wait six years for clean water if faced with the same situation?

It all comes down to numbers. In his response to Main, Kusugak said the government will have to look into how expensive a new water treatment plant is before proceeding.

The irony is that the government has already poured money into a Band-Aid solution that hasn’t worked. The filtration system installed last year was supposed to solve the problem, but it couldn’t keep up with demand. As a National Post story revealed earlier this year, this has been a common issue across reserves in Canada, where the Liberals have been quick to declare an end to an advisory, only to see their solutions fail.

What is even more shocking in Whale Cove’s case is that the hamlet was able to organize a deal, in which the local Co-Op provides free drinking water to residents through a reverse osmosis system it uses to filter tap water.

But when the hamlet passed the bill on to the territorial government they refused to pay.

The fact that Whale Cove’s administration is now considering taking the government to court over the bill shows how little trust the community has in the territory’s leadership.

All that is to say, if Whale Cove had 4,000 residents instead of 400 would the territorial government ante up?

As both the SAO and mayor of Whale Cove pointed out, when faced with the choice of funding a smaller community or a busy regional centre, the territorial government tends to favour the former.

It may be understandable from a logistical and financial point of view.

However, you cannot put a price on the right to clean water, without which none of us can survive. Of course, the territorial government downplays the severity of the advisories, saying they are just meant as a precautionary measure. But if that’s the case, then why issue the advisories all?

While it was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals who made the promise to end boil water advisories, the responsibility for delivering clean water rests with the territorial government.

If the GN wants to show that its acting in good faith, the least it can do it pay the outstanding bill to the Co-Op.

To do otherwise would only reinforce the belief that the government values the well-being of residents in smaller communities less than those in larger ones.

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