Canada Water Agency facing early challenges

When mandates were handed out to Canada's new government, an important (and somewhat surprising) order was given to the Minister of Environment. It requested that they work alongside the Minister of Agriculture to establish a new federal water agency. 

The mandate letter said:

"With the support of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, create a new Canada Water Agency to work together with the provinces, territories, Indigenous communities, local authorities, scientists and others to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed."

At the Freshwater Alliance, we have been tracking this mandate closely. We worked with our colleagues at the Our Living Waters Network to submit a letter on our initial thinking around the mandate and its opportunities. We are participating in the network's Federal Water Strategy Team, and we've met with several government Ministers and Staff tasked with supporting the agency's establishment.  The challenges in realizing this mandate are not few.

At the top of the list is a clear reluctance to step into an area that is often viewed as "provincial jurisdiction".  However, what I might call our "hodge-podge" of provincial legislation around water could use some federal standards and alignment. A federal agency has tremendous potential to offer guidance on important opportunities to align water legislation across the country. This ensures that all residents of Canada have equal access and equal rights to clean, fresh water. 

Timing has emerged as another priority. Many partners have suggested that any water agency in Canada needs to be co-designed and co-developed alongside indigenous nations. This is a request that we have supported. We know this will take time. There are immediate pressures - specifically around the impacts of climate change and access to water for food production - that we believe have been a driving force in this mandate. There has to be a way that we can go slow to get this right, not risk it being tossed to the wind in a next government, and get moving on some immediate priorities. Let's look for the win win win.

Let's be honest, we were surprised to see this in the mandate.  It hasn't been something that we've been advocating for. Many across our community have been advocating for the: Development of a new water strategy; Revitalization of the Canada Water Act; Advancement of nature-based solutions to climate change; and Federal leadership in filling freshwater data gaps. All of these elements could have a roll in the mandated water agency, and this is an additional challenge.  There is a lot that the agency could do, and many stakeholders are positioning to lead the way.... the question over the coming weeks and months is: what do we need it to do? 

What do you think are the priority needs for a newly established Canada Water Agency?