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How does the Liberal Party’s platform fare on water issues in Canada?

The Liberal Party launched their platform this past Sunday. The following are highlights on their platform on water issues.

National Water Policy

The Liberal party noted that they “will work with the provinces, municipalities and stakeholders to develop a new Canadian Freshwater Strategy, the first comprehensive federal water policy in over 20 years. It will address growing challenges such as ground water contamination, new measures needed to combat drought and flooding, as well as better water consumption efficiency. The objective of the Strategy will be to preserve Canada’s freshwater heritage for the generations to come.”

Canada’s last federal water policy dates back to 1987 and treats water as a commodity. We need a national water policy based on the principles of water as a human right, a commons and a public trust.

Bulk Water Exports

The proposed Canadian Freshwater Strategy “will include protecting our water resources from being subject to bulk exports.” The Council of Canadians calls for a ban on bulk water exports including loopholes such as those in the Great Lake Compact. Although the Compact bans water diversions, it permits diversions that include water as a “product” and allows bottled water corporations the right to extract water from the Great Lakes in containers of 20 litres or less.

There has been increasing pressure to export water to the United States in the last several years, including detailed proposals from right-wing think-tanks in both the United States and Canada.

Great Lakes

The platform outlines that “A Liberal government’s focus on freshwater will also bolster efforts to clean up key water basins by investing $100 million, rising to $125 million annually, to:

  • Restore degraded and threatened areas across the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence region
  • Support efforts to clean up Lake Winnipeg, which suffers from excess levels of phosphorus and nitrogen.
  • Advance research and improve efforts to protect freshwater ecosystems from invasive species such as the Zebra Mussel.”

We applaud the Liberal party’s funding allocation for restoration of the Great Lakes, clean up of Lake Winnipeg and strategies to address invasive species. The Conservative budget had allocated a mere $10.5 million to the Great Lakes this year. However, we call for increased funding dedicated to the Great Lakes over the next several years which would include cleaning up areas of concern and priority zones, inventory of how much water is in Canadian lakes, research/calculation of total water withdrawals, wetlands protection, and research and inventory on pollutants that are not covered by Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement or the National Pollutant Inventory.

Water and Wastewater Infrastructure

It is encouraging to see that the Liberals’ infrastructure priorities include “municipal infrastructure, particularly for water and sewers to meet local needs and reduce pollution.” However, the platform failed to outline any funding commitments. In November 2007, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities released the report, Danger Ahead: The Coming Collapse of Canada’s Municipal Infrastructure, which highlighted that $31 billion was needed upgrade deteriorated water and wastewater infrastructure. As well, a recent Environics Research poll indicated that 78% of Canadians support the federal government spending $31 billion in federal budgets over the coming years for urgently needed maintenance and upgrading of water and waste water infrastructure.

The Liberal platform also promised to “cancel the Harper government’s Public Private Partnership Infrastructure Fund” stating that “in its two years of operation has only delivered eight percent of the funds allocated to it. Instead, we will invest in affordable housing. A dedicated fund is not necessary for P-3s, and in fact this one accomplished virtually nothing.” In 2007, the Federal government lumped all infrastructure investments into the Building Canada Plan and included the Public Private Partnership (P3) Fund. The P3 Fund was the only source of new funding in this plan and explicitly promoted privatization of essential services including water and wastewater.

What’s missing?

Despite the UN’s recognition of the right to water and sanitation as legally binding last year, the Liberal party fails to recognize water and sanitation as a human right in their platform. Sadly, they also fail to mention the appalling state of drinking water and wastewater services on First Nation reserves.

The platform does not mention the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) being negotiated between Canada and the European Union. CETA is the most far reaching trade agreement to date and threatens to include Canada’s drinking water and wastewater services in the countries commitments. For our report on how this could privatize Canada’s drinking water, click here.

Acting on the CSR Advisory Group’s recommendations by “adopting Canadian CSR standards, and setting up an independent ombudsman office to advise Canadian companies,” as well as considering and investigating selected complaints is a definite step forward. However, the Liberal platform failed to address environmental abuses by mining companies within Canada. There was no mention of Schedule 2, a loophole in the Metal Mining Effluent Regulation (MMER) of the federal Fisheries Act that allows metal mining corporations to use lakes and rivers as toxic dump sites. While Fish Lake in British Columbia was saved last fall from be destroyed under Schedule 2, on the same day, the Harper government gave Terrane Metals Corporation permission to destroy two creeks outside of Fort St. James in British Columbia for an open-pit gold and copper mine as part of the Mt. Milligan project.