Canada may be on the brink of a fresh water crisis and unless Canadians start taking notice, our economy will suffer, concludes a poll commissioned by Unilever, RBC and the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade.
The Unilever RBC Poll on Water Perceptions shows that 80 per cent of Canadians are “confident” that Canada has enough fresh water to meet the country’s long-term needs. Further, two-thirds disagree that Canada has a fresh water shortage problem at all.
The research findings contrast sharply with increased warnings from Canadian NGOs and a report from Environment Canada that asserts Canada faces numerous threats to its valuable, fresh water resources.
“Water scarcity has already constrained economic growth in parts of Western Canada and low lake levels have caused a reduction in shipping loads and reduced water availability for clean hydro-electric power on the Great Lakes, “ says Bob Sandford, chair of the Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade. “With climate change, water quality and availability in parts of Canada will further deteriorate. Our economy will be seriously impaired by the effects of climate change.”
In fact, he adds, the health of our economy is directly linked to the availability of fresh water. Environment Canada estimates that water contributes $7.5 to $23 billion annually to Canada’s national economy.
“While respondents to the poll acknowledged their belief in the importance of water, they also have confidence in Canada’s ability to meet its long-term needs, a finding that Sandford terms “a real disconnect with reality,” Sandford says. “We are seeing more and more incidences of water shortages, infrastructure problems, do-not-water advisories and drier summers. Canadians don’t seem to appreciate that our long-term supply of fresh water is at risk.”
John Coyne, vice president, legal and corporate affairs for Unilever Canada says the company is concerned about the challenges facing Canada’s water supply. Unilever is one of the world’s largest consumer products companies, known for brands such as Becel, Lipton, Red Rose and Slim-Fast.
“We are looking globally at ways to reduce our water footprint both in our operations, the supply chain and consumer use of our products,” he notes.
Shari Austin, vice president, corporate citizenship for RBC says the financial institution is concerned about the implications of water shortages for Canada’s prosperity and economic future.
“RBC has taken a special interest in water, both because it is a threat to the health of people around the world, and because it also is a serious threat to economic development here in Canada,” Austin says.
The survey by Ipsos Reid was conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 30. Key findings include:
- The majority of Canadians believe in the importance of water in Canada. Yet, 80 per cent of Canadians are confident in the country’s long-term supply of fresh water.
- Almost all (97 per cent) of Canadians agree that an abundant supply of fresh water is important to Canada’s national economy.
- Only 10 per cent of Canadians identified global warming and climate change in a list of options as being a threat to Canada’s supply of fresh water and 77 per cent of Canadians could not identify any adverse changes to their water supply.
- 28 per cent of Canadians identified mass removal of water to the United States in a list of options as the number one threat to Canada’s supply of fresh water.
- About 70 per cent of Canadians agree that if a price is not placed on water people will waste it. Yet over 90 per cent of Canadians believe that access to water is a human right and should be free, not be bought and sold like any other commodity.
- Regionally, Canadians living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba were most likely to be confident in Canada’s long-term supply of fresh water (88 per cent), followed closely by British Columbians (86 per cent), Albertans (86 per cent), Ontarians (83 per cent) and Maritimes (82 per cent), while Quebeckers were the least likely to be confident (68 per cent).
- 97 per cent of residents in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, or well above the national average, are confident in Canada’s fresh water supply. In fact, residents living in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (68 per cent) are less likely than the rest of Canada (76 per cent average) to believe that climate change will impact Canada’s supply of fresh water.
- Older Canadians (84 per cent) are more likely than middle aged (79 per cent) or younger Canadians (77 per cent) to be confident that Canada has enough fresh water to meet our long-term needs.
- Overall, Canadians are moderately split on whether fresh water is at least moderately protected by various laws and regulations. More than half of all Quebeckers believe that Canada’s fresh water is not very well protected by laws and regulations.
- The majority of Canadians (90 per cent) living in Quebec and Atlantic Canada believe that climate change will have a negative impact on Canada’s supply of fresh clean water.
- Virtually all Canadians believe that corporations should play an active role in protecting Canada’s fresh water.
- Men (86 per cent) are more likely than women (75 per cent) to be “confident” that Canada in general has enough fresh water to meet our long-term needs.