(Photo: Covered Bridge over the Gatineau River, Wakefield, QC by Michel Rathwell. The Gatineau River is a popular place for local residents and tourists to swim and paddle.)
The summer is a time to swim, paddle and enjoy the marvelous lakes and rivers. As a new resident to the area, I feel so fortunate to swim in places like the Gatineau River or Meech Lake so close to home. These clean waterways are a beautiful reminder of how important it is to protect water for our and future generations.
Despite the myth that Canada has an abundance of fresh water, many people don’t have access to clean water or live near water sources that are at risk from development projects.
Just over an hour north of Wakefield, the Kitigan Zibi community, a member of the Algonquin First Nation, has been under a ‘Do Not Consume’ water advisory for nearly 20 years. Kitigan Zibi has three of the more than 150 water advisories that were in effect in First Nations as of July 2018.
Governments continue to approve projects that threaten clean water. Many of these projects are on the traditional territories of Indigenous people. Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline puts at risk 1,355 waterways on the west coast. Nestlé and other bottled water companies are bottling, exporting and selling water from local communities. Quebec is moving ahead with Plan Nord, a $1.3 billion plan promoting mining, energy and resource projects that could threaten clean water.
Eight years ago, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution recognizing the human rights to water and sanitation. The UN has called on all governments to develop plans of action to implement these fundamental rights, but Canada has yet to take this important step.
This year the Trudeau government tabled Bill C-69, a 400-page bill that makes sweeping changes to Canada’s water, energy and climate laws.
Bill C-69 was supposed to restore protections that were stripped by the former Harper government in 2012. Disappointingly, it fails to implement the right to water and does not require free, prior and informed consent as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Under Bill C-69, the new Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA) maintains the schedule of waterways that the former Harper government created and gives automatic protections to only 97 lakes, 64 rivers and three oceans. The CNWA also creates a confusing second category of “protected” waterways but most lakes, rivers and other waterways do not have the same protections as they did before 2012.
The Gatineau River and most lakes and rivers in La Pêche are still not on the short schedule of waterways and would fall under the second category. What this means is that companies or developers would not have to get government approval for some projects affecting navigation and in these cases, residents will have to raise their concerns directly with developers.
The Trudeau government has pushed the 400-page bill through the House of Commons at an alarming rate, stopping debate at every opportunity.
The Trudeau government has also cut up to $82 million annually from three key water programs since it took power in 2015, raising grave concerns about how the government will protect water with even less funding than the former Harper government.
Water is life. We need the federal government to take bold action to protect water now more than ever. It is up to our communities to learn more, take action and hold our governments to account.
Write your Member of Parliament for Pontiac, Will Amos, to tell him you want a national action plan on water that implements the human right to water and respects Indigenous water rights.
Emma Lui is a resident of La Pêche, and the national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians.
This article originally appeared in the Low Down on August 15, 2018.