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Apology demands for Conservative MP who claimed First Nations burned down water plants

Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld Conservative MP Kevin Waugh rises during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday April 13, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Piapot First Nation is demanding an apology from a Conservative MP after he said First Nations are burning down water treatment plants because they're frustrated with the Liberals.

Chief Mark Fox and his council say they reject Saskatchewan MP Kevin Waugh's statements as "grossly disrespectful," and are calling for a formal apology and retraction of the "baseless claims."

Waugh made the comments during debate on a First Nations water bill last week, leading to swift pushback from First Nations and the minister of Indigenous services.

"In my home province of Saskatchewan, I have seen reserves burn down water treatment plants because the Liberal government has done little or nothing," Waugh said, directing his comments toward Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu.

He added there needs to be "education provided for people on reserve to operate these water treatment plants," and blamed the Liberals for not doing more.

A water plant in Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation was damaged by a fire in 2019, and another in Piapot First Nation burned down in 2018.

Fox said investigations into the fire in Piapot First Nation identified that it was caused by a propane leak.

No cause of the fire in Carry the Kettle Nakoda Nation was reported. 

Waugh walked back his comments a few days later, with his office conceding he is not familiar with any specific circumstances.

"MP Waugh was pointing out that after eight years of Justin Trudeau and this Liberal government, what we have is a trail of broken promises and countless Indigenous communities that don't have access to clean drinking water," his office said.

It wasn't enough for Fox.

"These statements from the MP are not only without merit, but deeply disrespectful to the people of Piapot First Nation and all First Nations committed to the stewardship of our lands and resources," the chief said in a statement.

"They shift focus away from the actual issues we are facing regarding infrastructure and resource management, and should not be overshadowed by such ill-advised and misinformed political rhetoric."

Waugh's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last week, Hajdu said there's no place in the House of Commons for the kind of rhetoric she heard from Waugh — especially during debate on a bill that seeks to restore First Nations' inherent rights.

"The first question coming from the Conservative side of the benches really illustrated the kinds of harmful stereotypes that First Nations have been living with for a very long time," Hajdu told reporters outside the House of Commons.

Hajdu said she would consult with interim government House leader Steven MacKinnon on whether they would ask Waugh to withdraw his comments.

The Southern Chiefs Organization, which represents 34 First Nations in southern Manitoba, said last week that Waugh's remarks reinforced harmful stereotypes about First Nations in an era of reconciliation.

Grand Chief Jerry Daniels urged all MPs to remember the legacy of colonialism in Canada, and to "remember the importance of building relationships with First Nations based on kindness and mutual respect to benefit everyone."

The legislation being debated at the time of Waugh's initial comments seeks to improve water quality in First Nations communities, improve collaboration on water protection and codify a new First Nations-led water commission.

It was tabled in December, more than a year after the federal government repealed legislation on drinking water for First Nations that dated back to Stephen Harper's Conservative government.

Hajdu touted the new bill as the result of immense collaboration and knowledge-sharing, though some First Nations pushed back on that assertion when the legislation was introduced.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2024 




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