Applying participatory model to Prince Edward Island’s upcoming legislation
In the first part of this article we described key features of participatory and collaborative approaches to water governance.
What we require now is both a commitment to a participatory process in the development of the Water Act and related policies, and the incorporation of collaborative models of governance in the Water Act itself. It is essential to “widen the funnel” so that the valuable input of engaged citizens will have a meaningful role in deliberating about options and formulating the emerging policy.
It is also important to recognize that whatever legislation, policy, regulations and governance structures we develop will be grounded in particular values and ethics. Water is a human and ecosystem right and socio-ecological good. Our goals and rationales must be based on this value and included in the legislation. All-important “stakeholders” must be represented and democratic processes respected. Governance models and implementation strategies must further promote these principles and values.
Some form of a Water Governance Board is an excellent idea, incorporating multiple stakeholders, shared decision-making, transparency and public accountability. There are examples of boards in California, in Europe, and in Canada that reflect such collaborative governance. It would be the work of the policy development group to research the range of options in developing structures suitable for P.E.I.
Any models of governance must have an important role for watersheds, and there are many illustrations of how this can be done (http://www.polis
project.org). Watershed groups can make many decisions, while government retains its essential regulatory and enforcement responsibilities.
A Policy Development Group would provide a format where a broad range of ideas are articulated and negotiated in the development of policy and structures. Such a group requires multiple stakeholders, shared decision-making and active public participation.
The Coalition For The Protection of P.E.I. Water believes that the key goal of the Water Act should be the restoration and preservation of healthy aquatic ecosystems. It is imperative to recognize that water is a right for both humans and ecosystems. In Ecuador, nature (Pachamama) has rights embedded in its constitution, and parties can be sued on behalf of Pachamama if they infringe on these rights. A Policy Development Group must include people who recognize the importance of such rights who could “speak for nature.”
That group would include representatives from the Coalition, watershed groups, First Nations, and from the water and watershed scientific community. Certainly there are other “stakeholders”– government officials and policy developers, those whose livelihood is intimately connected with water, and others who will also be included. A shared commitment to such ecological goals is essential in all members of such a group that develops our policies about water and its governance.
The Water Act consultations have been an important step in public participation. We encourage the EAC to take the next bold steps in this process by developing democratic and participatory forms of water governance: First, by including engaged citizens committed to the health of ecosystems as members of the Policy Development Group that develops the Act, and then by developing collaborative structures of governance, like Water Boards, that will carry forth this work.
By Catherine O’Brien and Don Mazer (guest opinion)
Catherine O’Brien and Don Mazer are members of The Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water (peiwater.com)