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Quebec’s vulnerable water infrastructure hinders adaptive capacity

Bob Sandford’s final tour stop in Eastern Canada was Quebec, where he visited both Montreal and Quebec City, and learned about overarching challenges facing the province in terms of water management and climate change.

Despite Quebec’s rich sense of culture and progressive environmental policies, it too is facing serious water challenges. According to participants, the province’s water infrastructure is in an egregious state due to years of delayed maintenance and neglect. Such vulnerable infrastructure in Montreal and other areas of Quebec is worrying to residents, as extreme weather events can cause, and have already led, to serious economic and ecological damages.

Many of the participants Bob talked to fear that these infrastructure problems will compromise the province’s capacity to adapt to climate change and drive more robust approaches to water management. There was a feeling that ongoing political corruption, amongst other things, has delayed infrastructure renewal.

Given the pervasiveness and importance of this issue, Bob concluded that the province may see coordinated action politically in response to these matters thanks to voter concern. However, the harsh reality is that the time for infrastructural renewal is now, not least for alleviating the risks of being vulnerable to climate change, but to help build the province’s adaptive capacity, and action is needed sooner rather than later.

There was also considerable concern expressed about whether Plan Nord – a provincial plan to develop Northern Quebec’s natural resources adequately considers the fragility of northern ecosystems, and whether effective consultation with First Nations will be achieved. The Premier has said that 50% of landscape will be protected, yet environmental groups such as Nature Quebec think that Plan Nord is simply a boost for industrial and mining activity which, if poorly monitored, might lead to major water contamination issues. Given the province’s poor track record with water infrastructure as mentioned above, participants felt that there is good reason to be concerned.

On a promising note, there has been much consideration given to water quality in the province, and industry and conservation groups have been working hard on addressing ways to improve water quality in the St. Lawrence River.

Bob also met Francis Scarpaleggia, MP for Lac-Saint-Louis and chair of the federal Liberal Water Caucus, on the tour. Francis is a leading Quebec champion for water policy reform, who believes that the federal government must implement a comprehensive water policy to protect and nurture Canada’s water resources.

Bob summed up by referring to one of his colleagues at FLOW, who argues that the biggest challenge we face in water policy reform is that we are distracted by more immediate problems, so we never get to the growing concerns about water policy and reform.

These reforms are going to be hard to achieve in Quebec as politicians there are continually distracted by political problems. Hopefully they will get the message that infrastructure renewal would help highlight and raise the profile of water issues for the province, and help build much-needed adaptive capacity.

Bob’s next stop on the tour is Nelson, British Columbia on Friday November 4th, 2011. Bob will be in Slocan Valley on Saturday November 5th followed by Vancouver and Victoria on November 8th and 9th respectively. He then travels to Edmonton, Alberta on Monday November 21, 2011.

Robert W. Sandford, EPCOR Chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative in support of United Nations “Water for Life” Decade, and author of ACT’s Climate Change Adaptation and Water Governance reports, is touring Canada speaking about water governance policy. Tim Shah, ACT PICS Water intern is reporting on Robert’s progress in this blog.

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