TORONTO - Ontario's governing Liberals need to clean up their own act on drinking water before embarking on an ambitious plan to export its homegrown clean-water technology, NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Tuesday.
The government is talking about selling clean-water technology overseas when many Ontario communities are still under boil water advisories, she said.
"If the people of this province can't get clean water to drink, then we should look after that first before we're focusing on taking these technologies around the world," Horwath said.
In Monday's throne speech, the government promised legislation to help the province cash in on the $400-billion-a-year global demand for clean-water technology.
It claims the upcoming Water Opportunities Act would make Ontario a North American leader in the development and sale of new technologies and services for water conservation and treatment.
But in 2008, Ontario had 679 boil-water advisories - more than any other province or territory. Some have been in place for years, the NDP noted.
Calls to the government for the most recent numbers were not immediately returned.
"I don't have a problem with clean-water technology. I think that's a fine thing to do," Horwath said.
"But let's use that fine thing to take care of the people here at home."
Environment Minister John Gerretsen wouldn't say whether there would be any additional funds devoted to cleaning up drinking water in this month's budget.
"We're always working with communities to make sure that these boil-water advisories will not be necessary in the future," Gerretsen said.
"We've taken some very significant steps in that regard by providing some capital funding, for example, to all of the wastewater facilities along the Great Lakes that were still involved in just primary sewage treatment to upgrade them to secondary treatment."
The legislation outlined in the throne speech will address a "wide variety of issues," including how the province can better conserve water, he added.
But some skeptics say the idea is also a clever ploy by the Liberals to embarrass the Conservatives in next year's election over the tainted water tragedy in Walkerton 10 years ago.
The Liberals brought up the scandal almost immediately after question period began Tuesday.
When Opposition Leader Tim Hudak launched into his first question about the "tired, same-old, same-old" throne speech, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan quickly fired back.
"It spoke of a clean water strategy, and I'd remind the member opposite that this month marks the 10th anniversary of Walkerton, an anniversary that brings back a lot of memories to a time that that member would (not) like to go back to," Duncan told the legislature.
The crisis left seven people dead and thousands ill after the town's water supply became polluted with deadly E. coli bacteria in 2000.
A public inquiry into the deadly contamination placed part of the blame on cutbacks in water testing, as the Tories under former premier Mike Harris cut some $200 million in funding between 1995 and 1997 and slashed staff by 750.
Those findings were widely seen as contributing to the defeat of the Tories in 2003.
Hudak, who was a minister in the Harris cabinet, wouldn't say whether the ghost of Walkerton would hurt his party ahead of the 2011 provincial election.
"They have not brought forward any plan whatsoever, and this is a government that has now been six years in office," he said.
Hudak said the Liberals have consumed the legislature with debates over the Lord's Prayer in the legislature, banning plastic bags in the province, and ensuring lawns are pesticide free.
"I think any of these topics that they claim are new are last-minute conversions as they head towards an election campaign."