Top News

P.E.I. opposition parties question why act doesn't declare water a human right

Green Party leader Peter Bevan-Baker prepares his notes just before a session of legislature this week.
Green leader Peter Bevan-Baker says he believes the province missed an opportunity to show leadership by not including a declaration of water as a human right in the new Water Act. (Guardian file photo)

The province is moving forward with a significant bill aimed at protecting P.E.I.’s water supply, but Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker questions why it does not include a declaration of water as a human right.

Calls for such a declaration to be included in the much-anticipated Water Act were made during some of the lengthy consultations that preceded the bill, including calls from the P.E.I. Coalition for the Protection of P.E.I. Water.

But while the Water Act does include a lengthy statement outlining the intended purpose and goals of the bill, it does not go so far as to declare water a human right.

Bevan-Baker says this is a missed opportunity.

“Without water, life becomes literally impossible, so enshrining that as a right in legislation ensures that nothing we do will remove that access to water for future generations,” he said.

“That’s why it’s important.”

The act does include a number of statements defining the purpose of the act to ensure P.E.I.’s water supply is protected, monitored and regulated in a transparent manner based on scientific evidence. It also affirms as a goal that “present and future generations shall have sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for domestic purposes.”

But Bevan-Baker questioned Environment Minister Robert Mitchell Wednesday on why this affirmation did not go one step further to state it as an actual right of access for Islanders.

Mitchell said the decision was made that the statements included in the goals and purposes section were felt to be sufficient.

“I know there are various sections in (the act) that border on suggesting that access to water is a right, but it never actually explicitly states that so I wondered why and I didn’t really get a compelling answer to that question.”
-Peter Bevan-Baker

“This was something we felt covered everything we needed to cover, and that’s something we will continue to address when we need to or when we have opportunities into the future.”

Bevan-Baker continued to press Mitchell to explain what the objection was to leaving out an explicit declaration of water as a human right, suggesting a possible amendment to the act.

Jim Young, director of environment for the department, said the notion of including a declaration of water as a right was raised in a report by the province’s environmental advisory council as far back as October 2015.

But after looking at similar legislation across the country, the decision was made to go forward instead with statements that essentially offer the same legal protection without including an explicit declaration.

“We went through all our legal people that we have, whether it’s legal services, legislature council office, and asked them… do these types of descriptions cover what has been suggested. And their answer to us was, yes it’s a very good start.”

Opposition PC MLA Brad Trivers also suggested strengthening the wording of the act, moving away from “goals” to “ensuring” that present and future generations of Islanders will have proper access to sufficient safe drinking water.

“Did you consider making it stronger and saying, ‘The purpose is to ensure these things happen’ not to just have the goal of making them happen?” Trivers asked.

Again, Mitchell argued his position that the current wording goes far enough.

In the end, Bevan-Baker says he decided against trying to amend the bill because, without government’s support, he believed it would be an exercise in futility.

“We take water for granted,” Bevan-Baker said.

“I know there are various sections in (the act) that border on suggesting that access to water is a right, but it never actually explicitly states that so I wondered why and I didn’t really get a compelling answer to that question.”

Recent Stories