Politiques sur l'eau douce
Measures whether each province and territory, as well as the federal government, has a freshwater policy and/or law that is less than ten years old.

Overview

United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) seeks to ensure access to safe water sources and sanitation for all, with Target 6.4 specifically emphasizing the importance of protecting freshwater by “substantially increasing water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensuring sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity” by 2030. Moreover, the United Nations has committed to focus on water for the Water Action Decade (2018 to 2028). Its aim is to raise awareness and advance the water agenda. Many countries, including Canada, have committed to focus on water during this decade.

This impact measure serves to assess the degree to which Canadian governments have up-to-date water policies and laws. It is important that freshwater policies be kept current, as such policies set out the vision, direction and measures governments use to achieve the targets of SDG 6, the goals of the Water Action Decade and other freshwater objectives.

This version of the impact measure expands upon the previous version by considering not just whether governments have current freshwater policies but also whether they have freshwater laws that are up to date. In some cases, governments have water policies that are not current (i.e., older than 10 years) but laws that are. This expansion of what is considered in the impact measure reflects the fact that it is not just policies that determine a government’s commitment to freshwater sustainability but also the related laws it puts in place. A policy is considered current if it was set out less than 10 years ago (i.e., in 2011 or more recently). A law was considered current if it was enacted or underwent a major amendment less than 10 years ago.

Of the 14 federal, provincial and territorial governments in Canada, seven have a freshwater policy and/or law that is less than 10 years old. British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, Yukon and the Northwest Territories all have either a current policy or a current law, but not both. The remaining seven governments, including the federal government, have neither a current policy nor a current law (Table 1). The federal government has the oldest policy and law, dating from 1987 and 1985 respectively. One government, Saskatchewan, has no specific law pertaining to freshwater (though it does have a current policy). Three governments (Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador and Nunavut) have no specific freshwater policy; none of them has a current freshwater law.

Direct comparison with the previous version of this impact measure is possible only for freshwater policies, since consideration of freshwater laws was added only for this update. In the period since 2019, one government (Northwest Territories) that had a current freshwater policy has fallen off the list, since its policy was set out in 2010 and is now more than 10 years old. No government has set out a new freshwater policy in the period since 2019.

Status of freshwater policies and laws in Canadian federal/provincial/territorial governments, November 2021

Jurisdiction

Name and date of freshwater policy

Current freshwater policy?

Name and date of freshwater law enactment or last major revision

Current freshwater law?

Canada 

Federal water policy, 1987

No

Canada Water Act, 1985

No

British Columbia

Living Water Smart, 2008

No

Water Sustainability Act, 2014

Yes

Alberta

Water for Life: A Renewal, 2008

No

Water Act, 2000

No

Saskatchewan

25 Year Water Security Plan, 2012

Yes

No specific freshwater law

No

Manitoba

The Manitoba Water Strategy, 2003

No

The Water Protection Act, 2005

No

Ontario

No specific freshwater policy

No

Clean Water Act, 2006

No

Quebec

Québec Water Strategy 2018-2030, 2018

Yes

An Act to affirm the collective nature of water resources and provide for increased water resource protection, enacted 2009, amended 2011

No

New Brunswick

A Water Strategy for New Brunswick 2018 - 2028, 2017

Yes

Clean Water Act, 1989

No

Nova Scotia

Water Resources Management Strategy, 2010

No

Water Resources Protection Act, 2000

No

Prince Edward Island

Watershed Strategy, 2015

Yes

Water Act, 1988

No

Newfoundland and Labrador 

 

No specific freshwater policy

No

Water Resources Act, 2002

No

Yukon

Water for Nature, Water for People: Yukon Water Strategy and Action Plan, 2014

Yes

Waters Act, 2003

No

Northwest Territories 

Northern Voices, Northern Waters NWT Water Stewardship Strategy, 2010

No

Waters Act, 2014

Yes

Nunavut

No specific freshwater policy

No

Nunavut Waters and Nunavut Surface Rights Tribunal Act, 2002

No

 

Our full analysis on this impact measure can be found here.

A 2018 analysis of freshwater policies in Canada

In 2018, a group of Masters students from University of Ottawa*, together with the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW), analyzed the state of freshwater policies in Canada. The study developed a set of nine criteria to assess core water policy documents in provinces and territories for the presence (1) or absence (0) of key commitments and actions under these criteria.

The study was not meant to rank or determine the effectiveness of the polices, but rather to compare high-level direction, scope and commitments across jurisdictions. We recognize each policy is a product of the context and priorities at the time it was established. The nine criteria, adapted from the University of Ottawa report, are as follows (and include a statement on the importance of each criterion):

  1. Watershed-based planning and management: Watersheds are the most appropriate scale for assessing and managing cumulative impacts on water resources and aquatic ecosystems.
  2. Ecological flow needs: Alteration of natural water flow patterns in rivers, streams and lakes poses risks to freshwater species, habitats and ecosystems.
  3. Ecosystem water quality: Water quality is vital to the health of aquatic species and ecosystems.

  4. Sustainable water use and source water protection: Protecting water sources from contamination and over-use is critical to ensuring clean water is available for a variety of human uses including drinking water, recreation, agriculture, and industry.

  5. Climate change adaptation and resilience: Climate change is exacerbating flooding and drought, water quality problems, and loss of aquatic biodiversity. Strategies are needed to build resilience through anticipation and adaptation.

  6. Multi-stakeholder engagement: Actively engaging stakeholders and the public in decision making allows for a wider range of ideas feeding into planning, helps prioritize solutions, and broadens support for implementation.

  7. Indigenous engagement: Indigenous governments and communities have their own water policies based on inherent jurisdiction and traditional knowledge. Crown water policies should seek to work in harmony with Indigenous policies.

  8. Transboundary water governance: Interprovincial and international cooperation is important to ensuring the health of shared waters and watersheds that cross political boundaries.

  9. Data management and accessibility: Evidence informed decision making is strengthened when data is collected, analyzed, and shared in a way that is easily accessed and understood by partner organizations and the public.

Further details of the assessment can be found here.

The results of the assessment are as follows (note, the Federal Water Policy was not assessed):

 

Limitations of the assessment:

  • Only the core, overarching policy document was assessed for each provincial and territorial government.
  • The assessment excludes other supportive policies related to specific aspects of land and water management (i.e. source water protection, fisheries management, etc.). It does not consider these other policy documents that work in combination with, and/or may be referred to in, a core policy document.
  • It excludes legislation (e.g. Acts) and regulations, as well as supplementary documents such as implementation or action plans, and progress reports.
  • The study is not intended as a comparison or ranking across jurisdictions. It assesses the presence/absence of commitments as identified by actionable language, but did not review or comment on the quality the actions or the effectiveness of implementation.
  • Nuances are not accounted for, such as Ontario's Great Lakes Strategy, which is not province wide but an important regional watershed-based policy.

5-Year target for this impact measure: We will work with OLW network to encourage all expiring or non-existent policies to be renewed/created. In five years, we hope to see at least 10 jurisdictions with a public policy on freshwater that is less than ten years old.

Last updated January 2022

* Students at the University of Ottawa, Nancy Abou-Chahine, Albana Berberi, and David Van Olst, under the supervision of Dr. Mary Trudeau, prepared an assessment of freshwater policies across Canada based on a set of criteria that were later adapted for this impact measure.

Note : Les données présentées ici proviennent de nos recherches exactes au meilleur de nos connaissances, compte tenu du temps et des ressources disponibles. On reconnaît qu'il puisse y avoir des erreurs. Ce système de mesure partagé appartient à tous les membres du réseau Nos eaux vitales. Donc, si vous avez des corrections à nous soumettre, ou des idées à partager quant à ce système, n’hésitez pas à nous envoyer un courriel. 

Freshwater Policy|Measures whether each province and territory, as well as the federal government, has a public policy on freshwater that is less than ten years old.
Politiques sur l'eau douce|Measures whether each province and territory, as well as the federal government, has a freshwater policy and/or law that is less than ten years old.
Imagine a Canada where all waters are in good health: