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A Shared Vision for the Canada Water Agency

Andrew Stegemann & Richard Farthing-Nichol   |   April 2021

Water Pipe_Adobe Stock.jpeg

The federal government is creating a new Canada Water Agency and, as is often the nature of such emerging institutions, many of the details are not yet known. Here is a quick summary of the process to date:

  • The Canada Water Agency was first announced in the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2019 election platform; following the election, the Agency was included in the mandate letters for the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

  • Between May to December 2020, the government sought public input on the Agency through their PlaceSpeak platform.

  • Based on this input, the government released a Discussion Paper in December 2020 which asked for additional, more specific input by March 2021.

  • Now, in April 2021, the government is reviewing the additional input as we await the next steps. A summary paper is expected in May 2021.

Given the threats that waters across Canada face and the resources the federal government could contribute towards water health, the notion of a Canada Water Agency has captured the imagination of the freshwater community. But little is known about the Agency and what it could actually mean for water management across the country. The release of the discussion paper in December 2020 provided a spark and produced a greater desire amongst many to collaborate on a shared vision for the Agency. 

FLOW and Our Living Waters (OLW)—seeing this energy—partnered up to support a collaborative effort, leaning on FLOW's expertise in policy analysis and OLW’s experience convening and facilitating groups within the freshwater community. FLOW and OLW have long seen a need for groups to collaborate on federal water policy issues. We know that freshwater champions across the country do work that is necessarily focused on their home waters, which often leaves little capacity to advocate for federal policy. The prospect of a new Canada Water Agency was drawing groups into the conversation, but their capacity was still limited. When asked how they were responding to the government’s request for input, one person tiredly answered, “off the side of my desk”, which was met with nods of agreement. FLOW and OLW knew there was enough convergence in the water community to create a high-level, principle-based document on what the Agency should be, so we worked to convene and support these willing but capacity-strapped organizations.


Together with a dozen other organizations, we collaboratively created a joint submission that details five cross-cutting foundational pillars that we believe need to be mainstreamed in every aspect of the Canada Water Agency’s development, structure, and operations. Collectively, these pillars embody the water governance and management paradigm shift that is needed to protect and restore the health of fresh water in Canada, a vision that we believed many water champions across the country could get behind. In the end, this belief was borne out: the final document was submitted to the government with an impressive 51 signatories.

We were also pleasantly surprised at the momentum this collaboration created. More and more groups are now asking for an ongoing forum to support federal freshwater policy advocacy. We are taking this request seriously: alongside the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, we are now working on creating a permanent national freshwater forum. Stay tuned for more details in the months ahead!

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