Trudeau repeats pledge to establish Canada Water Agency in Winnipeg, but no one can say where it will go

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday reannounced the new Canada Water Agency, which will protect the country's freshwater supply and be headquartered in Winnipeg.

Ottawa will spend $85.1M over first 5 years, then $21M ongoing to support agency

A man in short black hair and wearing a suit speaks at a podium, outside with green leaves behind him. At his side, to the right in the photo, is a bald man in a suit.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at Wednesday's announcement as Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham stands by. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday reannounced the new Canada Water Agency, which will protect the country's freshwater supply and be headquartered in Winnipeg.

"This province is home to over 100,000 lakes and rivers, with water flowing in from the Rockies and the [United] States, all the way out to Hudson Bay," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday, overlooking the convergence point of two of those rivers — the Assiniboine and Red — at The Forks in Winnipeg.

"It only makes sense that it's [the new agency] here."

But he had no answer when asked where in the city it will be located or when it will be up and running.

"We are working with the municipality on physical infrastructure and location," Trudeau said.

He then spoke about climate change and attacked the Conservatives, under then-leader Stephen Harper, for cancelling the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, which had been in place to help farmers during times of drought.

A news release accompanying Trudeau's announcement said the federal government will spend $85.1 million over five years on the water agency, then $21 million ongoing thereafter.

The agency will work with provinces, territories, Indigenous Peoples, local authorities, scientists and other partners to find the best ways to keep Canada's fresh water safe, clean and well-managed for everyone, the release said.

"This is the planet that young people will be inheriting and it's up to all of us to protect it," Trudeau said.

The creation of the independent departmental agency was first mentioned in the 2023 federal budget in March.

It's not known how many employees will be based at the Winnipeg headquarters.

Mayor Scott Gillingham said the agency will serve as an economic engine and create hundreds of jobs but offered no other specifics.

WATCH | Prime Minister's announcement on the Canadian Water Agency:

Canada Water Agency to be established in Winnipeg

4 months ago
Duration 2:09
Winnipeg has been officially chosen as the headquarters for a new Canada Water Agency. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Wednesday at The Forks. This year's federal budget called for the national agency to be located in the city, but the details on a location are still being worked out.

He doesn't know where the agency will be located but hopes it will be downtown.

"The agency will share the latest freshwater science, to serve as a major data hub and to fund watershed initiatives through the federal government's renewed Freshwater Action Plan," said Winnipeg MP Terry Duguid, parliamentary secretary to the minister of environment and climate change.

Manitoba is "a province that experiences every conceivable water challenge that we face in Canada," so it's appropriate the agency is located in Winnipeg, he said.

The province is also built on hydroelectricity, Gillingham said.

"The reason this city exists is because of the forks of the two rivers located right behind me," he said.

A man in dark hair and a suit looks off to the right of the photo frame. A male teen with black hair and glasses stands at the left of the photo while another student, wearing a white hooded sweatshirt stands at the right.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tours The Forks with high school students in Winnipeg on Wednesday morning. (CTV pool feed)

The Canada Water Agency will now be part of this legacy, he said.

One of the first priorities of the agency is to modernize the Canada Water Act, Trudeau said.

"The threats and realities facing our environment have changed since it was written in 1970. Updating this act is about ensuring we have the tools to work with the provinces and territories on protecting and restoring shared waters."

As stewards of these lands and waters for millennia, consultation and co-operation with Indigenous Peoples will be critical, the release said.

Trudeau said the agency will also focus on addressing all remaining long-term drinking water advisories, an issue on many First Nations.

Prior to his announcement, Trudeau walked with local high school students as they were all given a guided tour of native plants at The Forks.

Evening town hall

Later in the day, Trudeau appeared at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg, where he took questions on a range of topics from affordability to health care to reconciliation.

When asked by Billie Schibler about the federal government's response to addictions and rampant deaths from drug poisoning, the prime minister called out some politicians and governments for their unwillingness to implement supervised consumption sites, which aim to reduce drug overdose deaths and mitigate the spread of blood borne diseases.

A man with dark hair sits at a table covered in a dark tablecloth in front of a row of people sitting on risers. Behing them all is a Canada flag.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fielded questions on a range of topics on Wednesday evening at a town hall at the University of Winnipeg. (CBC)

"There are some politicians who are folding back on simple common sense and fear and say, well you know these are just bad people or the approach doesn't work because, unfortunately it's continuing and harm reduction hasn't worked well," he said.

"It has. It is saving lives."

A woman with long grey hair in a flowery shawl stands among a group of people with a microphone in her hand.
Billie Schibler, speaking at the town hall, asks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau what his government is doing to address widespread addictions issues in Canada and rampant deaths from toxic drugs. (CBC)

Trudeau also weighed in on recent calls to remove some books from libraries in Brandon, Man., warning voters that they shouldn't take their Charter rights for granted.

"I would love to tell you that no Canadian government would ever let that happen. But I can't. I can tell you my government will never let it happen," he said, with applause ringing out throughout the auditorium.

The itinerary for Trudeau's visit also included appearances in the two Manitoba ridings — Portage-Lisgar and Winnipeg South Centre — where byelections are to take place on June 19.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

With files from Rachel Bergen and The Canadian Press