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Canada’s Government Falls; Controversial Water Bill Dies with It

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Canada is facing its 41st federal election, its fourth in seven years, after a vote of no-confidence for the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday caused the Governor General to dissolve Parliament.

On the afternoon of March 25, 156 opposition MPs, including all of the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloquistes who were present in the House of Commons at the time, stood to support a motion of no-confidence, the Globe and Mail reported. Harper declared the new election would be held on May 2.

In a historical move, the motion also declared the government to be in contempt of Parliament for what MPs said was its refusal to share information that would help opposition members assess legislation put before them, the Globe and Mail said.

Halted in its tracks along with Harper’s administration is a bill, one among several to die with the government, that regulates drinking-water standards on Canadian reserves, the Globe and Mail reported. First Nations groups have opposed Bill S-11, known as the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, because they say they do not have the wherewithal to make the changes, and it does not address their water problems anyway, given that many communities don't even have running water.

“We have serious concerns about a bill that provides no meaningful role for First Nations, that provides no resources and yet potentially transfers liability to First Nations,” said Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn A-in-chut in a statement. “We must change the orientation of this bill, put a clear focus on delivering safe drinking water and ensure respectful processes are established to end the vulnerability of First Nations.”

At the same time, Atleo has been touched by the scandal revolving around former Prime Minister’s aide Bruce Carson, who allegedly courted him and lobbied INAC in attempts to get First Nations contracts for a water-filtration company that employs Carson's fiancée, Michele McPherson, a 22-year-old former escort who stood to gain millions from a deal.

Bill S-11 is what Carson was capitalizing on when allegedly cajoling government and aboriginal leaders to buy water filtration systems from H2O Global, the citizens advocacy group Council of Canadians said on its campaign blog.

“Currently, 114 First Nations communities are under drinking water advisories. Some private water companies see this as a business opportunity and aggressively pursue new ‘markets’ in First Nations communities,” the group blogged on March 18. "And rather than providing the funding needed for First Nations water infrastructure needs, the Harper government has instead seen privatization as a quick fix for the water crisis in First Nations communities and has promoted public-private partnerships through its federal budgets.”

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Atleo told CBC News that he has met with hundreds of companies who profess to have solutions to First Nations water-quality problems, but tells them to speak directly the communities.

Although Harper’s government was already on shaky ground, the scandal, which has been dubbed "Harper's Watergate," may have played a role in the no-confidence vote. The Carson story, broken by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN), has gripped the nation, and the award-winning network preempted its regular newscast on Friday to bring viewers a special edition of its investigative news show, APTN Investigates.

APTN reported on March 18 that e-mails written by Carson indicated he told H2O Global that he had an in with Atleo after they talked about the product a few times last year.

“The former Harper advisor said he planned to help Atleo scrap the Indian Act in exchange for his support in promoting an Ottawa-based water company named H2O Pros, which later created an entity called H2O Global Group to deal with Indian Affairs,” APTN reported. “ ‘The AFN need my help getting rid of the Indian Act—so all of this will work together,’ ” wrote Carson in a July 26, 2010, email to company officials, according to the network.

A few days later, Atleo announced he would like to see the Indian Act go within five years. When Carson's alleged misdeeds became public earlier this month, Atleo issued a statement saying said he had in no way, shape or form endorsed H2O Global.

“The AFN wants to be very clear that there was no professional or business arrangement between Mr. Carson and the AFN or National Chief; and further that the AFN and National Chief did not endorse, promote or support any product, service or company with which Mr. Carson is or was involved,” he said in a March 17 statement. “In fact, the AFN became aware in October 2010 that Mr. Carson and his representatives were making claims to that affect and we moved immediately to make him and his colleagues stop. We considered the matter closed.”

However, APTN's report showed that their contact didn't end there. The two, accompanied by McPherson and Atleo's wife, dined together on Valentine's Day. Now Atleo, Harper and other politicos are distancing themselves from Carson, who is being investigated by the RCMP and has taken a leave of absence from the 12-member Alberta oil sands environmental-advisory panel.

View APTN's original story: