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Our Water (2021)

Q&A with Elizabeth May

Elizabeth May, Green Party MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands, is an environmentalist, writer, activist, and lawyer, who has a long record as a dedicated advocate — for social justice, for human rights, and for the environment. She spoke with Mediaplanet on the vital role of water in Canadian society, and the importance of effective water policy and management of water resources for all Canadians.

In your view, just how important of a role do water resources play in Canadian life?

Canadians have no life without clean, accessible, fresh water. Ecosystems depend on water — on our wetlands, watersheds, and hydrological cycles. So too do many of our economic sectors, such as agriculture and tourism.

Due to the climate crisis, water also represents a threat — through flooding as well as from droughts. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of water resources.

Access to clean water in Indigenous communities is still lagging behind the rest of Canada. What needs to be done to ensure equitable access to water for all Canadians?

Indigenous peoples have the sovereign right to control their water resources. This is the core of the issue. Decisions from the national bureaucracy of what was the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development failed utterly to deliver on the fiduciary responsibility of the government of Canada. Indigenous peoples must have access to safe and clean drinking water with full empowerment for training and maintaining the water infrastructure in their control.

Canadians have no life without clean, accessible, fresh water… It is impossible to overstate the importance of water resources.

The federal Government is working to establish a new Canada Water Agency. What actions do you hope to see this new body undertake to protect Canadians and our water resources?

We’ve lost the capacity we once had. In the 1980s when I worked at Environment Canada, the Inland Waters Directorate had 1,250 employees and a budget of some $60 million. This has all but disappeared. We need to re-establish robust fresh water science, regulation, monitoring, and policy.

The creation of the Canada Water Agency is the most exciting development in more than two decades, but the reality is that we once had this capacity. We’re now rebuilding our ability to protect, conserve, and enhance our water resources.

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