On September 7th the Ministry of Environment released its long awaited “Report on Engagement” - analysis of the comments during its public consultations on plans to “modernize” the Water Act. In its press release the Ministry wrote:
British Columbians care deeply about our water resources and want to ensure provincial water laws are updated to better protect water, now and in the future, according to a new report released today by Environment Minister Barry Penner. …
First Nations organizations, stakeholder groups and individual British Columbians responded with nearly 1,000 submissions to the ministry’s call for public input, and about 600 people attended workshops across the province earlier this year. Their input will inform how the B.C. government takes action on the four key goals of modernizing B.C.’s Water Act …
I’m not going to go into the details, but I will make a few comments about the consultation process.
First, I think that this consultation summary is a pretty impressive review of the 1,000 submissions received, and I’ve been very critical of the government’s failure to include any quantitative analysis in its review of public consultations on the regulation of cosmetic pesticides. By contrast, this summary on the Water Act consultation gives quite a lot of information about how the questions that the Ministry had asked were answered, both as a whole and broken down into “sectors”.
The one gap that leaps out to me in terms of analysis is that it might have been useful to know whether the views of respondents varied between the regions of the province, and if so, how.
Despite a lot of public skepticism about the public consultation, I think that the consultations, and the consultation summary, were well done, and that this supports the view that the Ministry of Environment does genuinely intend to be guided by the feedback it received.
(As an aside, there is no real evidence that our blog post on the failings of the cosmetic pesticide consultation summary, and the significant number of BC Government employees who read it, played a role in the differences between the two consultation summaries. However, I choose to believe that there was a connection – if just because it makes me feel useful.)
Second, I’m fairly happy with the comprehensiveness of what the public told the government. There was strong support for environmental flows, source protection, and groundwater regulation. As well, when the government’s documents didn’t mention key concepts, the respondents added their own comments – raising issues ranging from the precautionary principle to the public trust doctrine.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, the Ministry’s press release indicates that the public is going to have further opportunities to comment on the proposed changes to the Water Act as it is developed:
In response to the high level of public interest and repeated requests for more participation, the ministry will announce additional opportunities to comment on specific Water Act modernization proposals later this year.
West Coast has since had it confirmed from other sources that there will be further consultations, although this may delay the introduction of the new Act (the rumour was that it was originally going to be introduced in Spring 2011, but no guarantees if further consultations are in the mix).
So if you haven’t already done so, it’s crucial you sign the Our Water BC petition calling for a strong Water Act. This will allow West Coast Environmental Law and the other groups involved in Our Water BC to let you know when we have more information about the next round of consultations so that you can participate. It will also strengthen the hand of everyone who is calling on the government to ensure that any amendments to the Water Act improve, and do not weaken, environmental protection.
By Andrew Gage