The Government of Canada is committed to safeguarding our country’s freshwater resources for generations to come. No resource is more important to Canadians than fresh, clean water – our lives and livelihoods depend on it.
Freshwater management in Canada is a shared responsibility between federal, provincial, territorial and Indigenous governments. The Government of Canada works cooperatively with other orders of governments to leverage partnerships and incredible expertise that exists within Canada to safeguard freshwater resources. Below are some examples of collaborations:
- Federal-provincial-territorial collaboration on water: The Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) is the intergovernmental forum in Canada for discussion and joint action on environmental issues of national concern. It is composed of environment ministers from the federal, provincial and territorial governments. CCME has established a Water Management Committee that works on delivering water activities that are of interest nationally. For example, the CCME develops Canadian Environmental Quality Guidelines to provide a scientific basis for making effective decisions regarding the protection of freshwater resources in Canada.
- Protecting major watersheds. The Government of Canada has decades of experience undertaking watershed protection initiatives in collaboration with provincial governments, Indigenous communities and stakeholders. Canada is committed to working and collaborating with others to restore and protect our freshwater resources through arrangements such as the Canada–United States Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the Canada–Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health, the Canada–Quebec Agreement on the St. Lawrence, and the Canada–Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin. In 2017, we invested $70.5 million to protect the Great Lakes and the Lake Winnipeg Basin. Of this investment, $44.84 million over five years was provided to the Great Lakes Protection Initiative in order to take action to address the most significant environmental challenges affecting Great Lakes water quality and ecosystem health. This funding supports efforts to address priorities of reducing phosphorus loadings to Lake Erie, assessing and enhancing the resilience of Great Lakes coastal wetlands, evaluating and identifying at-risk nearshore waters, reducing releases of harmful chemicals, and increasing public engagement through citizen science. A total of $25.7 million of the Budget 2017 investment was also provided to the Lake Winnipeg Basin Program. We have invested in a wide range of projects that focus on actions to reduce excessive nutrients – like phosphorus – from entering the lake, as well as projects that enhance collaboration throughout the basin, and that support Indigenous engagement on freshwater issues.
- Supporting domestic and international water boards. Domestic inter-jurisdictional water boards have been established to focus on specific water issues that have implications for more than one province or territory. These boards include the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, Prairie Provinces Water Board, Mackenzie River Basin Board, and the Lake of the Woods Control Board. In addition, the Government of Canada supports 15 Canada-United States water boards and committees through the International Joint Commission (IJC), by providing science and expert advice. The IJC prevents and resolves disputes between the United States and Canada regarding lake and river systems along the border (under the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty).
- Monitoring water quantity and quality. Environment and Climate Change Canada’s (ECCC) National Hydrological Service (NHS) is the primary operator for the hydrometric monitoring network, which is collaboratively managed and cost-shared with provinces and territories (approximately 2800 active monitoring stations). The NHS is also responsible for water management of international and domestic transboundary water in partnership with the IJC and the provinces and territories. In 2019, the Government of Canada invested $89.7 million to modernize the NHS to support earlier and more accurate information about freshwater resources. This investment will help to ensure the sustainability of the Government’s water-monitoring networks, which in turn will help prepare Canadians for water-related disasters like flooding and droughts. In addition, ECCC’s Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance program activities are accomplished in collaboration with provincial and territorial governments. The objectives of the program are to disseminate timely information on water quality to the public, government agencies, industry and the scientific community. ECCC also oversees the Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators program (CESI). The CESI program provides freshwater data from federal, provincial and territorial governments to track Canada’s performance on key environmental sustainability issues, including pressures on freshwater regional ecosystems, and water quality and availability in Canadian rivers.
Canada’s federal legislative framework for freshwater management consists of several legislative instruments that provide the federal government with powers to address freshwater issues across the country, both directly and indirectly. As well, the provinces and territories have significant jurisdiction over water resources within their boundaries and play a core role regarding water management.
Federal legislation for freshwater management addresses the key areas of federal jurisdiction. The management of cross-boundary water flows ensures water quantity issues are addressed, while pollution prevention provisions protect water quality in fish-bearing and migratory bird habitats. As well, in this area of shared jurisdiction, the federal legislative framework allows for cooperative collaboration on fresh water with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples and international partners.
Pollution prevention is a fundamental element of the federal freshwater legislative framework. The Fisheries Act includes provisions prohibiting pollution that could be harmful to fish and other aquatic life. Regulations under the Fisheries Act impose conditions, including effluent limits, on the release of deleterious substances and effluent into water; and can include environmental effects monitoring requirements for facilities. Similarly, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, protects against pollution on land or in water that could be harmful to migratory birds. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 is an important federal law aimed at preventing pollution and protecting the environment and human health. It authorizes action on a wide range of environmental and health risks that directly impact water resources, including, for example, water pollution, toxic substances, and waste.
In the Prime Minister’s mandate letter, water features prominently. The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change has been asked, with the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, to create a new Canada Water Agency to work together with the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, local authorities, scientists, and others to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean, and well-managed. Parliamentary Secretary Terry Duguid is responsible for advancing this commitment. While the mandate of the Canada Water Agency has not yet been defined, and will be the subject of engagement, the Canada Water Agency presents an opportunity for greater collaboration in Canada to protect freshwater resources. The Mandate Letter also committed the Government of Canada to develop further protections and take active steps to clean up the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg, Lake Simcoe and other large lakes.