A Model Act for Preserving Canada’s Water
Canadian Water Issues Council (CWIC)
February 02, 2008

There are few public policy objectives that command greater consensus in Canada than the principle that Canada should not permit the bulk removal of freshwater from its natural basins. It is a principle that is agreed to by all major political parties and is supported by the great majority of ordinary Canadians. While Canadians may disagree over whether or not our water resources are adequately protected by existing laws, they do not in general disagree with the proposition that Canada’s water resources should be protected. The debates on water during the negotiations for the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988 and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1993, as an example, centred not on whether we should be protecting our water resources, but on whether these trade agreements did or did not increase the likelihood of bulk water removals.

While there continue to be debates about the implications of NAFTA on Canada’s water resources, in a sense these distract from the real issue of whether Canada is doing all it can to protect our water resources, given the potential constraints of NAFTA and the multilateral obligations of the World Trade Organization. A number of recent reports argue strongly that this is not the case, that our freshwater is at growing risk from bulk removals and that federal action is needed on the issue.

This paper focuses on the real public policy question at issue: Are there options available to Canada to deter bulk water removals that are both consistent with Canada’s trade obligations and desirable from other public policy perspectives? The Canadian Water Issues Council (CWIC) believes that such options exist, and moreover should command wide support from all political parties and diverse groups in civil society. This paper is offered by CWIC as a starting point to help build consensus among Canadians on the matter. It describes a model federal statute to preserve Canada’s waters from bulk removal, a statute that would be both consistent with Canada’s trade obligations and respectful of the roles of different levels of government within Canada.