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The Big Questions: Water

In Canada, there is no national strategy to address urgent water issues, nor is there much federal leadership to protect our water resources from becoming polluted or privatized. Dozens of First Nations still have Drinking Water Advisories despite the federal government’s promise to solve these water issues by the spring of 2021. Successive federal governments’ cuts to public water funding have put municipally-owned water infrastructure under threat of privatization. We need federal politicians who value water as a public good, not a commodity.

Below are key questions about water issues that we urge you to ask your local candidates.

1) How will you ensure that First Nations finally get the resources and power they need to provide clean drinking water on reserves?

After decades of shameful neglect, the federal government has recently made progress in ending Drinking Water Advisories on reserves. To resolve the dozens of advisories that remain, the federal government must prioritize working with First Nations and break through the red tape.

This drawn-out inertia has been a product of colonial systems that have deprived Indigenous communities of local control over governance, projects, and infrastructure. A new approach is necessary, one that involves true nation-to-nation relationships, the sharing of power and resources, and the acceptance of First Nations sovereignty in decisions that impact them.

Politicians need to end Drinking Water Advisories on reserves and ensure that communities have the tools and power they need to protect their water in perpetuity.

2) Will you champion direct federal funding for municipalities to invest in much-needed water and wastewater infrastructure projects?

Municipal water and sewage infrastructure has suffered from a lack of investment and maintenance for decades, and the estimated cost of this backlog is more than $50 billion. Most municipalities cannot afford these crucial investments without federal support and are under pressure to privatize their water systems through public-private partnerships (P3s). P3s have proven to be more expensive in the long run and undermine democratic control of our critical infrastructure because corporations are less accountable than elected officials are to the people who need the water.

The Bank of Canada is perfectly positioned to help municipalities secure safe drinking water without being gouged by corporate profiteers. Instead, the federal government created the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), a federal loan program for municipalities that requires borrowing municipalities to engage in P3 projects with private investors.

Politicians must invest in and uphold publicly owned and operated water utilities, and resist infrastructure privatization.

3) Do you support giving the Canada Water Agency a strong regulatory mandate?

The federal government has not yet finalized what powers it will give the new Canada Water Agency (CWA) so that it can achieve its mandate of protecting surface water and groundwater. But industry players are busy lobbying decision-makers to prevent the new agency from having any regulatory or enforcement powers that might affect their future profits. 

We need strong federal oversight to fill the gaps created by budget cuts and deregulation carried out for years by previous provincial and federal governments. To truly protect water from climate change, pollution, and poor development decisions, the CWA cannot focus only on initiatives like education and incentives – it must have a strong regulatory mandate.

4) Who do you think should decide how highly radioactive nuclear waste is managed and disposed of?

Many existing and proposed nuclear power facilities and nuclear waste sites are on the shores of the lakes, rivers, and oceans across Canada. There is a risk that nuclear waste could leach into groundwater and even surface water that communities depend on.

The federal government has been letting the nuclear industry manage its own radioactive waste for years with minimal oversight – one of the many examples of corporate capture in the country. At the same time, the federal government has been subsidizing the development of dangerous nuclear technology with no plan to safely dispose of the additional waste created over the coming decades. 

Industry won’t regulate itself. We need strong, transparent, and effective federal oversight of the nuclear industry to avoid leaving a radioactive legacy to the generations that will come after us.