MONTREAL, QC-The Quebec government's proposed legislation,
Bill 92, will abolish all private property rights to water and
result in a massive transfer of wealth from Quebecers to
government, concludes a new report from independent research
organization the Fraser Institute.
"Bill 92 ignores the power of market forces in favour of
government force. If the legislation is enacted, it will rob
Quebecers of their property rights and discourage investment in
the province," said Jean-François Minardi, Fraser Institute
senior policy analyst and co-author of the report,
The Government's Groundwater Grab: An Attack on Property Rights
"Nearly half of Quebec's population relies on groundwater
from private wells for drinking water. This legislation is an
attack on these property rights."
The proposed Bill 92 declares both surface water and
groundwater to be "part of the common heritage of the Quebec
nation" and off limits to appropriation "except under the
conditions defined by law." This legislation, if passed, will
empower government regulators to dictate who may use water, how
much they may use, and how they can use it. Additionally, the
government has indicated that it plans to impose water
royalties following the passage of the legislation.
But Minardi and co-author, Diane Katz, Fraser Institute
director of risk, environment, and energy policy, argue in the
report that Quebec's water resources are not threatened and
there is no need for such extreme, interventionist
"Quebec contains 20 per cent of Canada's freshwater land
area and it's estimated that the renewable reserves of
groundwater in Quebec's inhabited regions totals 200 trillion
litres," Katz said.
"Regulations already exist that prohibit bulk water
withdrawals and diversions. This proposed legislation is simply
an expansion of government power over water use. This is in
contrast to legal precedence in Quebec that suggests landowners
have rights to groundwater beneath their property."
The report traces the history of water regulation in Quebec,
pointing out that Quebec has had regulations covering water
diversions for more than a decade. It also finds that the
proposed legislation is riddled with vague and arbitrary
provisions and grants virtually unlimited powers to the
minister of sustainable development, environment and parks.
Such overzealous regulation offers no guarantee that water will
be apportioned wisely. Instead, it promises to politicize every
aspect of water use and dissuade industrial investment.
Interestingly, the legislation also exempts water withdrawn
to be marketed for human consumption, if packaged in Quebec in
containers of 20 litres or less. Quebec's water-bottling
industry is undergoing rapid growth and currently generates
sales of $75 million a year.
Minardi and Katz suggest that rather than additional
regulation, the government should look to property rights and
market mechanisms, which have historically been more effective
at managing resources than government regulations.
They write that a water market would allow farmers,
industry, municipalities, and even environmental groups to buy
and sell water rights as dictated by supply and demand. The
prices would reflect the true value of water with far more
accuracy than any government royalty scheme and thus better
encourage efficiency and conservation.
"Well-defined property rights to resources such as water are
fundamental to giving people the proper incentives for
sustainable management of resources," Minardi said.
"As it is now structured, Bill 92 is an attempt by the
government to establish water as a public resource and to
terminate the rights of private property owners."