Ecological governance and dealing with P.E.I.'s Water Act issues

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
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Screen shot of the Water Act white paper

By Catherine O’Brien and Don Mazer (guest opinion)

The process of developing a Water Act for P.E.I. has created widespread and enthusiastic participation by the public. The Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) and government provided a wide range of opportunities for input so that citizens have had a chance to be heard. They were responsive to a range of public concerns about transparency, scheduling and time constraints on the process. The results have been heartening - well attended sessions, and thoughtful and articulate presentations from a variety of groups and individuals across a number of sectors. The undertaking thus far, with its valuable public contributions regarding how we think about water, reflects the potential for a participatory democratic process in developing our Water Act and policies and for all water governance on P.E.I. We are now waiting for the initial report from the EAC.

What happens next? “The Participatory Model of Water Governance”

It is essential to build on this productive and positive consultation experience in the steps to come. First, ongoing and meaningful public involvement is needed in the development of the new Water Act and policies. Second, the Act and policies should be grounded in more collaborative approaches to water governance.

The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development (1992) reflects the origins of such an approach. “Water development and management should be based on a participatory approach, involving users, planners and policy-makers at all levels.” Decisions are taken at the lowest appropriate level, with full public consultation and involvement in the planning and implementation of any activity that affects water(

Several models of governance and decision-making have emerged in recent years that reflect such participatory approach: “decentralized collaborative watershed-based governance,” “delegated water governance partnerships” among others. Common components of these models are multiple stakeholders, shared decision-making and active public participation.

It is important to distinguish between the ideas of water “management” and water “governance.”  Water management is often grounded in centralized decision making with the government as the principle stakeholder.  By contrast, water governance reflects: “the range of political, organizational and administrative processes through which interests are articulated, input is absorbed, decisions are made and implemented, and decision makers are held accountable in the development and management of water resources and delivery of water services.”


POLIS, a BC research and sustainability institute, has done extensive work on the idea of “ecological governance” and applied this idea to watersheds.

“Ecological governance means embedding the environment in all levels of decision-making and action – from the personal to the global. It means thinking about our cities and communities, our forests and watersheds, our economic

and political life within a new paradigm that treats the environment not as an add-on or afterthought, but as all-encompassing and all pervasive.  

“Ecological governance is thus about democracy and community. It is also about the natural world within which our communities exist and interact, and which sustains us.” ( )

Ecological governance reflects the necessary shift in thought that can help us to address our issues with water more holistically and sustainably, grounded on guiding value of restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems.

In the second part of this two-part series, we will discuss how we might move toward a participatory model of water governance on P.E.I.


Catherine O’Brien and Don Mazer are members of the Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water (



Organizations: Environmental Advisory Council, Sustainable Development, Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water

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