Overhauling federal freshwater legislation

Water Security for Canadians Initiative works to modernize water law and governance in Canada

Published On: July 27th, 2020

Water is a shared resource that crosses jurisdictional boundaries, both geographical and bureaucratic. Effective management and governance of water requires robust prediction, coordination, collaboration, and oversight. The federal government is uniquely situated to play this role, yet federal leadership has withered over the past several decades. For example, the Canada Water Act has not been modernized since it was passed in 1970, and measures to implement its provisions have not been funded effectively since the early 1990s.

Working to address this gap, the Water Security for Canadians Initiative brings forward actions for federal policy and institutional reform and the modernization of the Canada Water Act. With the recent federal commitment to establishing a Canada Water Agency, a number of reports and events are helping to drive the dialogue, including the 2019 concept note Water Security for Canadians and the inaugural Water Security for Canadians Initiative event in Ottawa. In January 2020, POLIS hosted a webinar that contributed to the subsequent development of a Policy Options article, release of a policy discussion paper, and a policy dialogue led by Global Water Futures and the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW). This dialogue explored Canadian water issues and how by creating a Canada Water Agency the federal government could better address the emerging national water crisis.

Establishing a Canada Water Agency—a new body that could greatly improve collective capacity to address current inaction and enhance federal water leadership—is an important goal, but the broader effort argues that it will not be sufficient on its own. Rather, it should be the first step toward deeper legislative and policy renewal that focuses on modernization of the Canada Water Act, including emphasis on co-drafting and co-governance with Indigenous nations.

The Water Security for Canadians Initiative lays out clear options for modernizing federal freshwater leadership, with the foundational idea that an effective Canada Water Agency and a modernized Canada Water Act are critical to three urgent national priorities: building resilience to cope with climate change, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and ensuring effective water governance.

When renewing the Canada Water Act, the federal government must:

  • Ensure amendments address both current and future water issues.
  • Include provisions to enhance transboundary watershed planning.
  • Undertake a legislative co-drafting process with Indigenous nations.
  • Enshrine the Canada Water Agency and its supporting pieces.
  • Support a comprehensive review of federal water policy and law.

The partner organizations of the Water Security for Canadians Initiative, including POLIS, anticipate ongoing dialogue and discussion with federal government staff and ministers as well as the broader water community over the coming months, as we continue work towards a modernized approach to water law and governance in Canada.