SARM concerned about creation of new Canada Water Agency

·4 min read

The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities is worried about a proposal to create a federal water agency. In a press release issued Thursday, SARM said the creation of a Canada Water Agency (CWA) causes concern and raises questions about how the overlap of federal regulations will impact provincial rules.

“We are concerned it's mostly because the overlap of jurisdiction because the province has jurisdiction over water right now. The Water Security Agency and is the agency that the municipalities work with. It's really important we have a good relationship with the WSA,” SARM President Ray Orb said.

Earlier Thursday according to a report from CJME radio, Regina Mayor Sandra Masters put out a press release expressing interest in locating the head office of the CWA in the city. SARM recognizes the benefit but opposes the agency as a concept according to Orb.

“We are not against the location, I mean Regina, it would mean jobs, we understand that. We are just opposed to the establishment of this agency worrying about cross jurisdiction issues,” Orb said.

According to SARM's release they will not support a bid for a head office of an agency they are not in favour of. ORB said the CWA has been on his organization's radar for some time but the release from the Mayor of Regina spurred the timing. Orb said on Thursday he planned to talk with Mayor Masters later in the day.

According to CJME, four post-secondary institutions are also supporting the bid, these includeThe University of Regina, the First Nations University of Canada, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Saskatchewan.

Orb maintains the new layer of bureaucracy is not necessary at this time.

“Now we are seeing the federal government — they are saying we need a federal water agency and we don't think we do. We are surprised, not so much that they are talking about it but there is no budget for it for one thing, the feds have never said that this is what they want to spend money on. At this time you want to spend money on things that are really important in this crisis,” Orb said.

Orb gave the example of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) which also has an office in Regina and how it took time to remedy issues with bureaucracy.

“We have since remedied those issues, some of that is through federal legislation where they have allowed us to work with DFO as far as getting culverts installed and things like that. It is not as bureaucratic as it was before. But we are worried about more red tape, more expense, more delays on projects, those are all big concerns to us,” Orb said.

The launch of public consultations to help establish the new Canada Water Agency began in May, 2020 and consultation on the Canada Water Agency Discussion Paper closed on March 1, 2021. Indigenous engagement will continue throughout 2021. According to a release about the consultations, the Government of Canada is establishing the Canada Water Agency to find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean, and well managed. The Canada Water Agency will be established in close collaboration with provinces, territories, Indigenous Peoples, and other partners. The discussion paper seeks Canadians’ input to help identify freshwater priorities for the federal government and build on the federal government’s existing activities to enhance freshwater management, while avoiding duplication and respecting areas of provincial and territorial jurisdiction. The Government of Canada hosted a virtual national freshwater policy forum in January and a series of regional forums in February to provide further opportunities for Canadians to participate in consultations.

SARM's release explained that municipal infrastructure repair and replacement is critical to the safety and well-being of the public and industry using that infrastructure and it is imperative that such projects be completed in a timely and cost-effective manner.

According to SARM, an increased level of bureaucracy will only increase the costs and length of approval processes for municipal construction and maintenance projects involving water or near water.

“We have said this all along we don't feel we need to have layers and layers of bureaucratic red tape when it comes to approvals of our projects because we need to get them done in a timely basis. There is funding available, we are trying to get more funding, but we also need the projects to go ahead faster,” Orb said.

Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald