With election on horizon, Legault government commits to increasing royalties on water

The Quebec government is moving toward increasing the amount it charges commercial water users, in what amounts to an early campaign promise months before the next election. 

Environmentalists hope move is more than electioneering, and will lead to stronger protection of fresh water

Quebec charges $70 per million litres of water used by bottled water companies, which is a rate far lower rate than Ontario. (George Frey/Getty Images)

The Quebec government is moving toward increasing the amount it charges commercial water users, in what amounts to an early campaign promise months before the next election. 

Environment Minister Benoit Charette is expected to table a proposed law this week that would raise the royalties charged to commercial water users. 

There are few details about the coming legislation, which was first reported Monday by La Presse and later confirmed by Radio-Canada.

Such a bill has virtually no chance of becoming law, given that this is the last week at the National Assembly before the summer break, and the next provincial election is set for Oct. 3. 

As it stands, the province charges $70 per million litres of water consumed for one category of industries, which includes bottled water companies.

Another category of users, which includes pulp and paper mills, mines and aluminum smelters, pays only $2.50 per million litres. In total, the province brought in only $2.8 million in revenue last year from the consumption of 811 billion litres of water, according to budget documents.

The royalty rates in Quebec are far lower than Ontario, which raised the rate charged to bottled water companies to more than $500 per million litres in 2017.

European countries charge far more. Denmark, for example, charges $10,000.

The rates in Quebec have not been increased since they were put into place in 2010.

Environment Minister Benoit Charette is expected to put forward proposed legislation this week that would force commercial water users to pay higher royalties. Critics hope it's more than just electoral politics. (Charles Contant/CBC)

'Smells of election politics'

Philippe Duhamel, a spokesperson for the environmental group Eau Secours, said the move "smells of election politics," given that the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government resisted raising the rate for the past four years. 

Whichever party wins the election needs to make protecting Quebec's fresh water a priority, he said.

"We're basically giving our water away to corporations and users that often pollute the water, which is then rendered unusable for future generations and sent back to the environment," he said.

Quebec has roughly three per cent of the world's fresh water, but environmentalists warn the resource is under increasing strain, particularly in southern Quebec.

"We need a new law that will take into account not just the current situation but what's coming," Duhamel said.

Eau Secours is also pressing the province to force bottled water companies to make publicly available the amount of water they take from the ground. 

Isabelle Melançon, the environment critic for the opposition Liberals, said the CAQ has not made protecting the province's fresh water a priority. 

The decision to table such legislation at the end of session shows they don't take the issue seriously, she said in an interview. 

Melançon had proposed increasing water royalties earlier this year during a legislative committee hearing. The CAQ voted down the proposal. 


Benjamin Shingler is a reporter with CBC in Montreal covering the Quebec election. He specializes in health and social issues, and previously worked at The Canadian Press and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.

With files from Lauren McCallum

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