Life after Bill 5

DUC focuses on bringing wetland conservation back to the table

Bill 5, the Surface Water Management Act, was poised to protect Manitoba’s wetlands, support healthy and sustainable landscapes and set a powerful example for other provinces dealing with similar environmental issues. © DUC

Spring paints a vivid picture of the diversity Canada’s wetlands deliver. The meadowlark’s cheerful song signals the return of migratory creatures of all shapes and sizes. Creeks that feed our rivers babble their seasonal songs as snow melts under the warm sun. All around, water flows and life returns to the greening landscape.

In Manitoba, we hoped to be celebrating the gifts of spring with the enactment of Bill 5 – pioneering legislation that would support and enhance this natural diversity. Officially called the Surface Water Management Act, Bill 5 was poised to protect Manitoba’s wetlands, support healthy and sustainable landscapes and set a powerful example for other provinces dealing with similar environmental issues related to drainage, water quality, flooding, drought and more.

Despite almost 10 years of lobby work, research, planning and public consultations that reached out to every Manitoban, Bill 5 didn’t make it past the floor of the Manitoba legislature. We were successful in garnering a broad base of support from our partners, and even all three political parties. Unfortunately, the Bill fell victim to pre-election political agendas.

But there’s no time for disappointment in the world of conservation. This setback reminds us that, as defenders of diversity and guardians of wild places, perseverance and positivity are the best uses of our energy. Realities like rising flood waters, algae blooms, invasive species and climate change motivate us to re-focus and get back to work. There are many positive outcomes from Bill 5 that we can build on and bring back to the table with even stronger conviction.

Perhaps the most significant win is the way Bill 5 united members of Manitoba’s conservation community. As biologically diverse as wetlands are, so are the people whose lives are affected by them. Lobby efforts brought together agricultural producers concerned about overland flooding on their land. Cottagers became interested in improving the health of Lake Winnipeg. Rural municipalities began looking for effective land and water management solutions. All parties gained something in the process, and the momentum created within this community is only continuing to build.

For us, Bill 5 reinforced the reality that public policy is the backstop for our conservation work. It’s the most powerful way to effect change in both the short and long term. This is the kind of work the country is looking to us to champion. As a conservation leader with 78 years of history and success, this is exactly the kind of work we’ll continue pursuing. With your support, we’ll be back. And with a newly elected provincial government, we’re confident so will effective wetland protection legislation for all Manitobans.

-Greg Siekaniec, Chief Executive Officer

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