Posted by: Vicki Burns | April 5, 2011

Canada Needs a National Water Policy – How The European Union’s Example Could Help

In the 3 years that I’ve been working on water issues, I’ve heard repeatedly that we need to develop a national water policy which includes consistent standards, objectives and harmonized approaches to our water quantity and quality issues across Canada. Recently I’ve become aware of a very helpful report completed by Émilie Lagacé,  Shared Water-One Framework.

Water – essential for all life

Émilie is a Walter and Duncan Gordon Fellow who was mentored by FLOW. She  studied at Oxford University  and a couple of years later returned to work in Europe at the time that the E.U.’s Water Framework Directive was being transposed into national legislations across the E.U. She was well positioned to interview many stakeholders in Europe and then to continue that process in Canada. Her report explains what the Water Framework Directive is all about and gives some excellent reasons why Canada would do well to emulate this approach.
I was very interested to learn how the European Union representing 27 different countries with numerous different languages and cultures could manage to come to agreement on water policies and then to actually agree on how to harmonize their approaches. Apparently, the leadership of the European Parliament was known to be very progressive and very “green”. Around 2000 when the Water Framework Directive was put together there was a shift from policies that focussed on human needs to policies that targeted protection of the water environment. There were some real champions in key positions who understood that protecting the environment would ultimately protect the human needs.
The E.U.’s Water Framework Directive includes some very meaningful consequences for not meeting the agreed upon objectives. One example of this is the European Court of Justice imposing a fine of 58 million Euros on France for not complying with fisheries regulations. That speaks volumes to me – they really are serious about these regulations. I’m not aware of anything remotely close to that in Canada.
It seems to me that although we can’t copy everything in the Water Framework Directive, we can use it as a working model to create something similar in Canada. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel. So how can we bring about a national water strategy and policy in Canada? What are the barriers and who needs to be involved to make this happen?



  1. Harper’s Government has turned over the controls on water export to the individual provinces and has included our ground water (aquifers) in the mix.

    No one else on this earth has allowed their ground water to be exported.

    Any water plan that comes out now will have to do with forcing consumer prices up so that the water can be traded under NAFTA if Harper gets elected again.

    Consider Iggy appears to be on side with this I can only assume we will be no better off with him.

  2. While I agree that the EU has made some outstanding advances on all emvironmental fronts, which Canada should emulate, I wouold not endorse any concrete connection with them. The CETA discussions underway are not in our interests and we must not let water get on the table in any fashion. The EU itself is somewhat in disarray with member countries dropping like flies into financial difficulties, with many wondering if they should get out. Canada surely has the expertise to start constructing such sstrategies and policies without their help. All we need is the right people at the top and the govermental guts to begin. Lower down the ladder. we should start asking questions of our potential MPs and make our voices heard. Maybe in Manitoba we should challenge Ms Christine Melnick, our Minister of Water Stewardship, to lead the way by ensuring that our own provincial water policies are developed,enforced and strengthened and get the support of all Water groups across the Provinces to lobby Ottawa to do the same at the federal level. The Council Of Canadians is a very active group, who are constantly working on water issues at home and abroad.We could ask them to take the lead. This election should be a time to start making waves literally and get the Strategy Policy suggestion out there? We can all do our best by passing the idea along to all our water contacts and encouraging each other to do something.

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