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The Elephant in the Room

Posted on July 27, 2012

Gord Mackintosh at the Canadian Water Summit. Photo: Kerry Freek

In farming, a revolving door of policies and regulations competes with heavy sunk costs and pressures to produce. Farmers can’t afford to wait to incorporate efficiencies, so they make the most of what they’ve got. “Farmers are endlessly inventive,” said John Kolk, a speaker at this year’s Canadian Water Summit (CWS), held on June 28 in Calgary.

Kolk, a farmer well known in Alberta’s agricultural scene, was just one of many representing Canadian leadership in the face of a changing political environment. Delegates also heard from the Blue Economy Initiative and the Council of the Federation’s Water Stewardship Council. They learned about countless provincial and municipal initiatives, and saw strong movement on water issues from corporations like IBM, BASF, and MolsonCoors.

As the final panel of the day explored Canada’s opportunities for water leadership in a global context, one delegate asked what we were all thinking. Where was the federal government? With their noticeable absence from this “national” summit, the feds sent a message that spoke louder than any token speeches might have done.

Recent decisions to make significant changes to the Fisheries Act and to close the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), for example, have also sent strong messages about the Harper agenda. At the CWS, Manitoba’s minister of conservation and water stewardship, Gord Mackintosh, spoke frankly. “Closing the ELA is much more than a symbol of backtracking,” he said. “I’m very concerned about the U-turn at the federal level.” (Read more about Mackintosh’s remarks on the topic here.)

As the feds back away from water and environmental responsibilities, it’s falling to the provinces, municipalities, NGOs, and corporations to pick up the slack. The exciting news is that the summit’s speakers and delegates—a rich mix of those very people—spent the day proving that they are moving forward, with or without the feds.

Can we define a Canada that is a good steward of its water resources without the participation of our national government? Maybe, if we adopt the same approach as Canada’s farmers. Kolk said that resilience and innovation is what gives farmers their staying power; that survival is about finding ways to cope even in times of great stress.

So, let’s take a page from his book—if the feds aren’t cooperating, we must find ways to cope, move forward, and spread the message about water stewardship. If we want things done right, maybe it’s best to do them ourselves.  WC

Kerry Freek is Water Canada’s editor. This note first appeared in Water Canada’s July/August 2012 issue.

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