AT LAST, A CANADA WATER AGENCY TO KEEP OUR WATER SAFE
INTERVIEW WITH PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, TERRY DUGUID
The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - I have with me on the phone Terry Duguid. He's the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Climate Change and Environment Canada. Thanks for doing this.
Duguid - It's great to be with you,
WT - In a past speech, you said that this new Canada Water Agency you are proposing will be similar to the PFRA. And I don't think most Canadians know what PFRA is and would not know why a similar agency would be set up for water. Can you explain some thinking around that?
Duguid - Sure, the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency or PFRA, was founded in the depths of the Great Depression during the dirty 30s when prairie soil was blowing away and governments realized that they needed to come together and literally save the prairie landscape because we were in a drought cycle. Some of the agriculture going on during those days was not done in the appropriate way. So literally, there was the Dust Bowl, the dirty 30s, and great poverty.
The Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency was set up to introduce good land and water practices. And they were incredibly successful in assisting farmers, in carrying out agriculture in a more sustainable way so that the soil didn't blow away.
There were some areas that were not appropriate for planting crops, but more for grazing. And they led a little bit of a revolution on the prairies that really saved the prairie landscape and allowed for agricultureresulted in community growth. That agency was in place in the 1930s until about 2012, when the Harper government decided that they would dissolve it.
The FPRA was beloved by farmers, provincial governments had no issue with it, and one of its secrets of success is that it wasn't a regulatory agency. It was a collaborator, a source of local knowledge and best practices in agriculture. They ran a nursery so you could plant trees along water courses to ensure that erosion wasn't taking the soil away.
The Canada Water Agency, I would say, is inspired by the spirit of the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency, but we want to take that spirit to the whole country, although we just released our discussion paper yesterday and we're embarking on consultations early in the new year. We want to hear from people, what their vision for a Canada Water Agency would be. We see it primarily as a source of funds, a source of knowledge, it will be a collaborator, a convener, not a regulatory agency, and it will work with provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous governments and stakeholders to better manage and protect our freshwater resources.
WT- You might have touched on my next question, but I'll go ahead and ask it anyway. Some of the opinions I've garnered today around this new agency are concerned that if you don't have the ability to table legislation and to change things at the highest level and pass bills into law, why do this at all?
Duguid - Again, I would I take some lessons from the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Agency, a good example of was a very mature federal institution that used its knowledge, its collaborative ability as power. Water management is a bit of a mess in our country because it's very fragmented. The federal government has responsibilities, the provincial governments have responsibilities, and Indigenous governments have jurisdiction and responsibilities. And then, of course, there are all the stakeholders, the agricultural community, conservation authorities, so it requires a coming together and coordination. And, that's something that legislation is not going to do. We have good legislation on the books to protect fish, to protect fresh water, but a lot of things fall through the cracks because we're simply not working together. And there are examples of where we are working together, where there is no legislation. We have the Great Lakes St. Lawrence community, the agreement between provinces and the federal government on managing those water bodies. It is done in a cooperative spirit. We need to do more, of course. So, I would respectfully disagree with these comments. You know, we can do a lot together when we do things collectively.
WT - In every press release and all the backgrounders I read about the water agency, it is said that Métis, Inuit, First Nations will be directly involved. I personally know a fair number of chiefs that have said to me that their issues around water don't really get addressed and they're wondering what's going to be different with the Agency compared to the status quo going in.
Duguid - I'm from the province of Manitoba. where we've had hydro developments in our North, where First Nations and Métis were not involved in the development of those hydro projects and the results have been very, very disastrous for communities and, you know, the impact on these communities is a terrible legacy. So, we need to do things differently. First Nations, Inuit and Métis need a seat at the table, and they are going to have a seat at the table. In our discussions, we are going to be working very closely with the national and regional organizations. We have already reached out and they have reached out to us saying that they want to be involved. But Indigenous governments, Indigenous communities absolutely must be involved, most of our water courses are in their traditional territories and they must be partners in this enterprise going forward. We are in a quite different era where we all need to work together, including with our Indigenous communities. We're absolutely committed to that and the discussion paper makes that very clear.
WT - Just to insert a quick follow-up to that. If a Métis, Inuit or First Nation has an issue, that has not been solved yet, would you tell them to bring it to you, and you can get them involved in the process and help with these issues?
Duguid - Yes, absolutely, we have met with a lot of the Indigenous groups already; the Southern Chiefs Organization that is led by Grand Chief Jerry Daniel, this incredibly forward thinking group is talking about establishing an association with the water authority. It is just an idea whose time may have come. And so, a Grand Chief is putting ideas like this on the table for a broader discussion, there is much room for the creative ideas that are going to come from our Indigenous communities, or other stakeholders involved. I mean, we are a water nation, 20 percent of the world's fresh water lies within the borders of Canada. We take it for granted, we have not been good stewards of our water resources the way that we could be. And I think we particularly have a lot to learn from the First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities for whom water is life, water is the very depth and breadth of their communities.
WT - I've noticed that the ancillary department to Climate Change and Environment Canada on this initiative is Agriculture Canada, and I can certainly see why they would be involved in a water agency. I'm just curious to find out where mining is in and around how this agency works. Because, if I look at the extraction up in Fort Mac, if I look at mines across the country, is there no seat at the table for the mines?
Duguid - We are at the early stages of determining what a Canada Water Agency will do. The purpose of the agency is obviously to solve problems and to work across jurisdictions to do so, as the TFRA did over the last 70 years. Most solutions involve getting local people together to get the best knowledge, to get the best traditional knowledge and to put that knowledge to work to solve problems. Agriculture Canada is named in the Minister's mandate letter as being a supporter of the development of the Canada Water Agency, recognizing the important role of agriculture in water management, but all our departments will have input into the agency and mining is certainly an important sector.
You know, twenty departments and agencies play some role in water management and protection in our country. And, within the federal family, there isn't a lot of cohesion and coordination. So, we at the federal level need to get our house in order, as well.
WT - In the last webinar that you did, you brought up flooding and emergency preparedness and I got the impression that you felt there was a large data gap on what we know about flooding and how emergency preparedness can react to floods, is that an accurate statement or did you mean something else?
Duguid - Well, I think on the issue of data, the provinces sometimes use different measures. I think on flooding, some of those measures are consistent, but the issue is more one of data management or data interoperability, to use a fancy word.
Some of our data is in file folders and in filing cabinets, some on a floppy disk and then sometimes on laptops. And we must find a way for the entire country to have a common database so that we can manage floods, we can manage nutrient flows into our waterways, which are polluting our waterways and interfering greatly with drinking water quality and our fisheries. So, data is a particularly important area where we believe the federal government will play a role in data sharing, and data interoperability. Currently Natural Resources Canada is totally responsible for flood mapping, the Environment department is responsible for flood forecasting, so you have these different pieces of the flood equation in different departments and maybe the connections aren't always the best. We can do better on floods, what we can do better on drought, we can do better on managing pollution by having a common set of information, common data that we can share with everyone in the country, including Indigenous governments.
WT -For my last question, I want to cover a little bit about the Water Act. If memory serves me well, the Water Act has not been modified or amended for some 30 years. Will the Water Agency be looking at suggesting amendments to the Water Act down the road and then a legislation would be tabled? Is that how you see it or do you see it as never touching the Water Act? And collaboration is the sort of modus of this.
Duguid - Well, yes, I think you're right. The Canada Water Act hasn't been revised in decades, and I know there's a lot of interest in reviewing it and seeing what changes need to be made. The same, I would say, goes for our Canadian Water Policy. I think the last review was in 1986. So, these pieces of legislation, these policies are certainly due for review. I would imagine the Canada Water Agency would play a role in that. But again, I think that's going to come out more clearly in the consultations this year from water experts, some of whom designed our water policies and the Water Act - which I believe is actually 50 years old, this coming year. It was established in 1971.
As a general comment, I would say that we are a freshwater nation and we take our water for granted, while our indigenous people never have. And we need to up our game in so many ways and we are going to do it in part by creating a Canada Water Agency. We are also going to do it by investing in freshwater management and protection for the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg, for water bodies across the country. The federal government cannot do this alone however, as in many cases, it just doesn't have the jurisdiction. But what we can do with the federal government, as we have seen during the pandemic, we can convene the premiers, we can harness the best science and, of course, when appropriate, we can fund initiatives which really can make a difference, as we are doing during the pandemic. So I think, we need to carry over the kind of cooperative spirit that we've seen during the pandemic into areas like water management to manage and protect this freshwater. This precious freshwater resource that we are so blessed with for our children, and our grandchildren for several generations to come.
WT - That was Terry Duguid, the parliamentary secretary for Climate Change and Environment Canada. Thanks for joining us today.
Duguid - My pleasure.
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