A post-election opportunity for Manitoba
Finally, we can all breathe out. The big contest is over. We have a new government in Ottawa. Well, not entirely new; in fact, one that strangely resembles the government it replaces. But what the hell.
We also have a new government in Manitoba, more or less, with the departure of Premier Brian Pallister, who everyone agreed was the government. Our new interim prime minister has promised to listen more than talk. Well listen to this: The events in Ottawa and Winnipeg are conspiring to drop a huge opportunity in our knees.
The old government – not the one now moving to Ottawa – was in the midst of a painfully slow birth of a new Canadian Water Agency (CEA). The chief agent for this exercise was, and is likely to remain (as it appears he may be too qualified for a cabinet post), re-elected Terry Duguid, MP for Winnipeg South.
Also, during the recent electoral clash, the New Democratic Party, correctly reading the winds that would see it bail out a minority government, pledged to support the establishment of the Canadian Water Agency. The Liberals bolstered their 2019 pledge with pledges of post-election funding for the agency.
Remember the agency’s model, born in western Canada, inspired by the highly successful Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) and first introduced by the Liberals in their 2019 election platform: this vision was for a western-based institution that would focus on the critical link between water and agriculture, crucial to Canada’s ability to cope with the three to five degree rise in global temperature , now seemingly inevitable, that scientific authorities are finally starting to recognize.
Duguid led a major (virtual) consultation effort last winter to gather ideas on how the agency’s mandate might fit into a menu of water-related functions under the conceptual umbrella modeled after the ARAP. Admittedly, there were some flaws in the dialogue. Preliminary briefing papers prepared by a federal bureaucracy allergic to regional autonomy put less emphasis on the original nature of the Western agriculture-oriented promise.
And by far, the most important feedback has come from the water community – individuals and organizations who do a good job and are dedicated to improving water management in Canada, but nonetheless with a direct but benign interest in the result. Many of the recommendations can and should be incorporated into the agency’s mandate. He should be the team captain for all federal water programs and for internal and external water research. It should also be the seat of indigenous water management.
But there are very good reasons to adhere to the original region-focused model. The most important thing is to replicate PFRA’s success in cooperative federalism. Without strong provincial support, the agency, while useful, will be well below its potential and likely blend into Ottawa’s bureaucracy with the next change of government. When it comes to water, as with most things that affect our daily lives, the rubber that hits the road is on provincial tires.
The agency can and should be the federal standard bearer for climate change adaptation. Right now the government – and I really mean the Liberal government here, which can drive the political bus without fear that another party will overthrow the government and force an election anytime soon – places great importance on mitigation. ; that is to say, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This is important to adapt our economy to operate in a carbon neutral future, giving us a head start and anticipating inevitable global actions. Of course, in the absence of these measures, our efforts will not affect the climate one iota.
The liberal electoral package was not silent on adaptation; in fact, he had a lot to say. But it conveyed the idea that mitigation was the main partner and, therefore, grossly underestimated both the importance and magnitude of the adaptation challenge. Water is the only major environmental component that we can manage for adaptation, and food production is the only sector of our economy that we need to make adaptable.
All of this leads to an opportunity that is knocking hard on Manitoba’s door. We have a promised agency modeled on PFRA, an organization with strong roots in the Prairie provinces and a long-standing positive connection to Manitoba. We have a Manitoba MP who manages the start-up of the organization. To be effective, CAS needs provincial support.
Manitoba must begin to restructure its agricultural water management system. A new CWA needs a strong partnership with one or more provincial governments. Both must take adaptation to climate change seriously.
Perhaps not a marriage made in heaven, but a potential partnership to serve regional and national goals, just as PFRA did in responding to the great drought of the 1930s. But that will only happen if Manitoba takes the initiative, and soon.
Norman Brandson was Deputy Minister of the former Manitoba Department of Environment, Water Stewardship and Conservation from 1990 to 2006.