What happened to McGuinty water legislation?

By MPP Toby Barrett

Four months ago I questioned the provincial announcement of new water legislation. Now that the Legislature has risen with no debate of the government’s proposed water bill, I have further questions.

After much fanfare in this Spring’s Throne Speech and Budget, and the introduction of the Water Opportunities Act to coincide with Walkerton’s 10th anniversary, government walked away without debate. What I see, to date, is a ‘pump and dump’ strategy with government now leaving no opportunity for public input.”

What will Mr. McGuinty’s water bill add up to? We know that former Health Minister David Caplan’s water and sewer private member’s bill would have added an extra $600 a year to water bills. As well, the Environment Minister was musing about carbon and road taxes.

Clean water is essential to the health and success of a thriving and prosperous Ontario, but there are already laws and regulations that cover much found in the Water Opportunities Act.

Our former government was already enacting water legislation, regulation, and the recommendations of Justice O’Connor. We put forward the Sustainable Water and Sewage Systems Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act some eight years before this bill came along.

Beyond Ontario, many feel the world is facing a water crisis because of climate change, pollution, and population growth of such magnitude that close to two billion people now live in water-stressed regions. Further, it is suggested that, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water scarcity.

The world’s population has tripled in my lifetime, but water consumption has increased sevenfold. By 2050, after we add another three billion to the planet, humans will need an 80 per cent increase in water supplies to produce food.

Technology is one answer to the challenge of water conservation. But alone, technology is not enough. Much of the current water wastefulness is political in its origins. Pricing, public policy and economics are critical to any solution.

Technology will be instrumental to future success in achieving sustainability in water management. Desalination, microfiltration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet light are some of the approaches that can be deployed to attain this goal in the face of droughts, climate change, population shifts, and the demands of either affluence or poverty. New technology will also facilitate the deployment of cost-effective distributed or decentralized systems to supplement traditional, large-scale treatment works.

That said, I do question the need for absolute legislation. I question whether existing water regulations and water management initiatives couldn’t be used to achieve the same clean water goals. I question whether development and demonstration of technology requires an act given the existing Ministries and agencies presently in place to foster innovation.

So what do we have, aside from a lot of questions?

A water bill timed to be introduced on the anniversary of Walkerton that does little to address clean water? A water bill that argues for conservation, but does little to support the key causes of water waste? A water bill that puts in place legislation whose goals could already be met by present law?

Given the fanfare over what this bill is supposed to deliver it all seems rather underwhelming.

Water is the one element so basic, yet so essential to individuals, business and industry that it requires both our protection and our promotion. Ontario can do better.