Okanagan Eco-Noggin  

The politics of water

NDP veteran MP Charlie Angus recently demonstrated everything that is wrong with Canadian politics and First Nations water issues.

While speaking in the B.C. Interior, Green Party leader Elizabeth May floated the idea of having SNC-Lavalin serve community service by providing water-treatment engineering to First Nations communities, according to Huffington Post.

In principle, the idea would solve two problems:

  • improve water infrastructure for First Nations communities
  • punish the engineering firm in a way that would save jobs.

Is this a great idea?

Probably not, but for reasons that Ms. May would not be reasonably expected to realize. As a consultant who has worked for a few companies like SNC, I can tell you that an unintended consequence of this proposal would be low quality of work associated with those projects.

Consultants do their best work when they are fully engaged with a client and they have some long-term ownership over the project.

Assigning engineers and scientists to “punishment” projects would almost certainly result in low-quality work – precisely what needs to be avoided if we are to improve First Nations water infrastructure.

Nevertheless, Ms. May deserves credit for at least trying to come up with novel ideas to address both of these issues. Clearly, the status quo is not working for many First Nations water systems, and the first step to addressing the issue is to open the table for discussion.

Unfortunately, First Nations water is a third-rail topic, and politicians are quick to use any statement about this issue as weapon with which to bludgeon whichever opponent dares speak about it.

Case in point: Angus, who rushed to Twitter to condemn Ms. May’s idea, saying he was “appalled” that Ms. May would propose “privatizing” First Nations water.

His statements epitomize all that is wrong with politics. As a 15-year MP who is heavily involved in First Nations issues, he knows full well that most, if not all, water infrastructure projects in Canada are carried out by consultants.

This applies to municipal and federal contracts, on and off reserves. Having SNC or any other consultant engineer water systems does nothing to “privatize” water. If this were the case, virtually all water in Canada would have been privatized decades ago.

Additionally, it strains credulity to accuse Ms. May of wanting to privatize water. While I don’t endorse or even agree with many of the Green Party’s positions, their platform on water conservation, and not privatization, is unambiguous.

It takes an obscenely high level of political opportunism to suggest otherwise.

If politicians cannot float ideas to improve First Nations water infrastructure without immediately having their ideas distorted for political gain, we will be stuck with the status quo forever – this is not a very progressive approach for the NDP to take.


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About the Author

Jerry Vandenberg is an environmental scientist and owner of Vandenberg Water Science. He lives in the Okanagan region where he is also a paid-on-call fire fighter.

He can be reached at (250) 491-7260; [email protected]; https://www.linkedin.com/in/jerry-vandenberg/

Website: www.vws.ltd


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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