March 14th is the International Day of Action for Rivers when communities across the world are celebrating rivers and raising awareness of the need to protect and restore rivers. “The Green Party has continually tried to raise the need for strong policy and legislation to protect our rivers,” said Green Leader Elizabeth May. “In particular, I mourn for the mighty Athabasca River which has been so desecrated by the toxic outpourings from the oil sands. Canada has stewardship of over nine percent of the world’s freshwater. It is our responsibility to protect it and keep it clean.”
“Canada is continually at risk of capitulating to pressure to export our freshwater south of the border. Trade agreements, including NAFTA, have left us susceptible to a loss of control over our water. The current Federal Water Policy that emphatically opposes large-scale exports (bulk exports) of our freshwater must be maintained,” said May. “That is why I urge Members of Parliament to support Bill 267, the Private Members Bill from Francis Scarpellegia, to ban inter-basin transfers.”
Bill C-267 calls for a pan-Canadian prohibition against inter-basin transfers, banning water removals across natural basin boundaries and protecting Canada against the possibility of a NAFTA challenge. In the 2008 Speech from the Throne, the Harper government promised to introduce similar legislation that would prohibit inter-basin transfers within Canada but they have since reneged on that promise and refuse to support Mr. Scarpellegia’s bill.
To protect our freshwater ecosystems and their ecological services (e.g. as habitats for fish and freshwater species, as domestic water supplies for energy-generation and recreation, as sources of water for irrigation and other economic uses), the federal government has to use its powers, including the Fisheries Act, and its role in inter-jurisdictional water sharing. This is especially important when considering the changes in quality and quantity of Canada’s freshwater that will occur due to climate change. The Great Lakes’ levels will fall, resulting in higher concentrations of toxic chemicals and other pollutants; B.C. rivers will become over-heated, preventing salmon spawning; and farmers will face increasing drought. The Athabasca River is already experiencing significant declines in flow and water quality due to climatic impacts and tar sand developments.
“Watershed protection should be a priority of the federal government,” said May. “We must guard against efforts to weaken environmental legislation as sustainable management of our rivers is crucial.”