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6th November 2023
Liberal MP Terry Duguid, also the government’s special advisor for water, said legislation formally establishing the agency is still expected to be introduced by the end of the year.

Published Oct 27, 2023 at 3:10pm
Davis Legree

When does an agency become an agency?

In May, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Winnipeg to launch the Canada Water Agency (CWA), but, over five months later, a physical site for the CWA has yet to be selected and the legislation needed to formally establish it has yet to be introduced.

In an exclusive interview with iPolitics, the federal government’s special advisor for water said the CWA is still on track to be up and running by next spring.

“It will initially be co-located with the Environment and Climate Change Canada offices in Winnipeg,” said Terry Duguid, the Liberal MP for Winnipeg South and the government’s resident water advocate. “But it’s in progress.”

“We will be launching the agency formally in the spring.”

The feds have committed to bringing forward the necessary legislation by the end of the calendar year. Duguid said requisite “internal government processes” involving the Treasury Board are nearing completion, which will allow the relevant bill to be introduced in the imminent future. That being said, in the interim, details are scant with regards to the role the CWA will play, as well as what exactly the agency will look like.

BACKGROUND: Trudeau launches Canada Water Agency, receives mixed response from advocates

Duguid said the CWA would be a stand-alone agency, separate from other government arms like Environment and Climate Change Canada, which will be led by a “deputy minister or head of agency” who will report directly to the environment minister.

He also said the entire purpose of the agency could be summed up in a singular word — partnership.

While he never explicitly mentioned the recent Supreme Court ruling on the federal government’s Impact Assessment Act, he acknowledged that provinces and territories have “jurisdictional concerns” at the moment with regards to the environment. On Friday, Duguid wanted to emphasize that the CWA will not regulate Canada’s abundant freshwater resources, but rather convene the relevant parties to ensure everyone is on the same page and understands the need to better protect water.

“26 federal departments and agencies touch freshwater and there isn’t the coordination we need,” said Duguid. “The Canada Water Agency will work with other levels of government, provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous governments, and other stakeholders to bring folks together…and better manage and protect freshwater.”

“It is not a regulatory agency. It is a collaboration agency.”

The Liberals have been working towards creating the CWA for several years. This year’s budget saw the feds allocate $85.5 million to getting the Winnipeg-based agency off the ground. While reaction from water advocated at the time of this spring’s announcement was decidedly mixed, Duguid remains confident that the CWA will play a necessary role moving forward.

“Water is an issue that spans disciplines. It spans different jurisdictions — federal, provincial, municipal, indigenous — we all have a responsibility for freshwater protecting and managing it,” he said.

“This will be a Canada water agency for the next 50 years, not the last 50 years.”

Updating the Canada Water Act

Trudeau has previously said the CWA’s first priority will be updating the Canada Water Act, which has gone practically untouched since the current prime minister’s father passed the legislation in 1970.

“It needs to be modernized,” said Duguid. “Indigenous Rights and climate change are now front and centre issues. This is a very different era than 50 years ago.”

“We’re going to bring a climate lens to the legislation because climate change and the water crisis are really the issues of the 21st century, and so our legislation needs to reflect that.”

In the Canada Water Act, neither climate change nor Indigenous peoples are mentioned a single time.

Currently, the House environment committee is exploring the issue of freshwater, recommencing a similar study initiated in 2021 that was cut short by that year’s federal election. The committee has heard from several witnesses and received briefs from environmental organizations, some of which have called for a modernized Canada Water Act.

In a brief submitted to the environment committee, Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC) said the law was “considerably outdated” and “overdue for modernization to address emerging and urgent issues.”

“The current system, leaves Canada lacking contemporary federal leadership to either address urgent issues or effectively conserve and protect our waters,” read the brief.

Among the changes suggested by DUC include “broadening the scope of the Act beyond water quality to focus on water sustainability” and including a “commitment to United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).”

The committee will continue its study on Tuesday, when members are scheduled to hear from senior bureaucratic officials from several government departments.