Cross-Canada Checkup: A Canadian Perspective on Our Water Future

Submitted by Caroline Lumosi | published 22nd Apr 2014 | last updated 5th Jan 2023
Vancouver city

Executive Summary

To date, water resources have been overused and their true value has been underappreciated in Canada. In light of current and forthcoming challenges, including the significant consequences of a changing climate, it is becoming increasingly clear that a new paradigm of water management and policy will be needed in this country. This report offers a perspective on current and emerging water challenges and priorities across Canada through the presentation of issues heard and discussed at the Forum for Leadership on Water’s (FLOW) national discussion series tour “Northern Voices, Southern Choices: Water Policy Lessons for Canada,” held in fall 2011.

Bob Sandford, a leading Canadian water expert and co-chair of FLOW, travelled across the country to share lessons learned from the Northwest Territories’ recently drafted Northern Voices, Northern Waters: NWT Water Stewardship Strategy. The goal of the tour was to develop a sense of how the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy could serve as a model for water policy reform in the rest of Canada, and to hear from southern Canadians on the critical water challenges they are facing. Various water experts joined Bob Sandford at many of the tour stops to offer regional perspectives on water challenges, and to comment on the main messages of the tour.

This document elaborates on the water challenges facing Canadians and reports on what Bob Sandford heard from the panellists and audiences during the course of the two-month, 16-city tour. Each province and territory faces a unique set of water-related challenges and concerns; however, the tour revealed themes that cut across provincial and jurisdictional borders, illustrating the interrelatedness of many water issues common to all Canadians regardless of geographical location:

  • The Northern Voices, Northern Waters: NWT Water Stewardship Strategy provides a useful example for water policy reform for southern Canada, and beyond.
  • Integrated resource recovery—redesigning our infrastructure systems in an integrated and holistic manner to maximize the recovery of “value” from solid and liquid resource streams—is becoming a key feature of urban development in British Columbia.
  • It is important for Alberta to engage with the NWT to determine how best to manage water quality and quantity in the Mackenzie Basin, which is shared by both jurisdictions.
  • In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, both flooding and water shortages due to droughts are having ongoing
    and serious impacts, regularly resulting in millions of dollars in damages.

  • Ontario’s 2010 Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act is a model for how jurisdictions can approach water conservation in an innovative fashion.

  • Sea level rise, combined with severe storm surges, will have increasing impacts on infrastructure and
    property in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.

Across the country, the example of the NWT Water Stewardship Strategy galvanized public opinion around recognition of the need for a national water strategy, and inspired communities to improve cooperation and collaboration regarding water resource management. The panellists and audience members at each tour stop produced fruitful discussion on how each province can make progress on water policy reform and ways the federal government could exhibit leadership.

We must shift the narrative and action on Canada’s most precious resource to one that ensures prioritization of water allocations for environmental flows, conservation of water for future generations, and collaborative decision making processes. We must create a new national vision for understanding the value of water and for using it in the wisest and most sustainable way possible, now and in the future.


Baltutis,J.  and Shah, T., 2012Cross-Canada Checkup: A Canadian Perspective on Our Water Future. Published by the University of Victoria’s POLIS Project on Ecological Governance and Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT).