The Evolution of Canadian Water Law and Policy: Securing Safe and Sustainable Abundance

46 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2018

See all articles by Jamie Benidickson

Jamie Benidickson

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: January 23, 2018


Canadian water law has evolved over an extended period of time as a complex mixture of federal and provincial legislation and case law with provincial arrangements influenced by both riparian and prior appropriation doctrine as well as by the civil law tradition of Quebec. The article reviews highlights from the long-term evolution of Canadian water law, policy and institutions following a chronological path from Confederation in 1867 to the present. Three key shifts that have more recently begun to appear in background assumptions of Canadian water law are then identified. In particular, it is noted (1) that general confidence in the abundance of water is giving way to concerns over security and occasional scarcity, (2) that the primacy of human water uses is gradually being moderated by acknowledgement of the importance of environmental flows, and (3) that international considerations may be relevant to a greater degree than previously contemplated. The concluding section of the paper presents emerging policy directions in relation to the legacy of historic water law and policy decisions and the shifting assumptions previously reviewed with emphasis on sustainability, conservation initiatives and watershed frameworks.

Keywords: water law, Canada, water management history, water sustainability

Suggested Citation

Benidickson, Jamie, The Evolution of Canadian Water Law and Policy: Securing Safe and Sustainable Abundance (January 23, 2018). McGill International Journal of Sustainable Development Law & Policy, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2017. Available at SSRN:

Jamie Benidickson (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

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