Ralph Goodale

Your member of parliament for


Ralph Goodale

Your member of parliament for



Remarks to the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage

Going forward, the annual flood and fire losses, will run in the order of a billion dollars each year. It's only smart to try to get ahead of that curve. 

Notes for Remarks by
Minister of Public Safety & Emergency Preparedness Canada

to the 


Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
August 13th, 2018


Good morning everyone!

Distinguished guests.  Ladies and gentlemen.

Let me begin by thanking Elder Joe Quewezance for his prayer to get us started.

As we gather today on the territory of the Indigenous peoples of Treaty #6 and in the homeland of the Metis, it is my great pleasure to bring you greetings and good wishes from Prime Minister Trudeau and the Government of Canada.

To all of you who have “come from away” – from around the world – welcome to Canada.  Welcome to my home province of Saskatchewan and to this beautiful City of Saskatoon.

Our thanks to the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage for bringing the meetings of this important global organization back to Canada once again, and specifically to Saskatoon, for critical discussions about issues like Climate Change, the impacts upon water and agriculture, and what we all need to do about that.

Canada is steward to 20% of the world’s fresh water potential, and Saskatchewan boasts 42% of all of Canada’s arable farmland.  So we get it.

Because of the importance of agriculture to Saskatchewan and to Canada, and the importance of water to agriculture, many willing partners have come together to help sponsor this event.  We collectively need to have the very best knowledge about water, and we need to motivate ourselves and others to make certain this precious resource is as safe and secure and well utilized as it possibly can be.

To that end, through my federal Cabinet colleague, Navdeep Bains, the Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification, the Government of Canada is contributing $15,000 to support this conference.

In Saskatchewan, we are proud of our province and all of our idiosyncrasies:

Of all Canadian provinces, Saskatchewan is the easiest to draw, but the hardest to spell.

Our Saskatchewan geography is flat, but a bit jumbled.  Our town of Southend is in the north.  North Portal is in the south. Eastend is in the west.  And Westbend is in the east.

Virtually alone in Canada, Saskatchewan stands stoutly every year against the scourge of Daylight Savings Time.

But we produce the world’s richest potash and uranium.

And we’re inventive.  Saskatchewan invented Girl Guide Cookies.  We also invented the automatic bank teller machine, and the cobalt bomb for treating cancer, and air-seeding technology, and the Cinderella Crop of canola, and the concept of universal public Medicare.  And more.

Our lives and our character have been shaped by the vast prairie landscape around us.  That means big horizons and ambitious goals, but also big risks.

Our parents and grandparents learned all about that in the 1930’s – the Dirty Thirties – a decade of drought and depression when environmental disaster on the prairies extracted a heavy toll.  Those generations learned (and always remembered) that no commodity – not oil or potash or uranium or grain – none of them is as precious as fresh, clean water.

Out of the Dirty Thirties, two very good things emerged.

One was a prairie-based federal government agency known as PFRA – the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration – which thrived for 75 years as a world-leading centre of knowledge, expertise, innovation and practical action on soil and water conservation and development.

When the City of Winnipeg had only a few days to prevent the Red and Assiniboine Rivers from inundating their community – they called PFRA.

When the US Army Corps of Engineers had to manage the worst flooding in 300 years along the Mississippi – they called PFRA.

When the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization needed a water development program in Northern Africa – they called PFRA.

It was, quite simply, the best!

The other really good thing to come from the Dirty Thirties was the South Saskatchewan River Project – and yes, it was built by PFRA.

It took 20 years of political debate and planning, and then 10 years of construction.  For a long while, Gardiner Dam was the world’s largest earth-filled structure.  The lake it created, Lake Diefenbaker, is 140 miles (225kms) long, with a shoreline running 500 miles (800kms).

The project supplies safe, fresh water to more than 60% of Saskatchewan’s population.

It creates huge opportunities for parks and recreation.

It supplies clean, green hydro power to the Saskatchewan grid.

It provides the infrastructure for both flood-proofing and drought-proofing.

And it introduced irrigation into Saskatchewan agriculture, leading to rural diversification and value-added growth.

The project opened 51 years ago, in Canada’s Centennial Year, 1967.  Now fast-forward half a century to this present day.

Sadly, we are making practical use of only a tiny fraction of the potential offered by the South Saskatchewan River Project – we have only just scratched the surface.

Sadly as well, the brilliance of PFRA was dismantled by myopic government decisions in 2012.

Ironically, because of Climate Change, we are probably facing more serious soil and water issues today than those that led to the creation of PFRA in 1935.

For the prairies, one of the prime manifestations of Climate Change is more frequent, more severe and damaging storms, dumping a year’s worth of precipitation in just a day or two, and then alternating with years of significant drought.  So the debilitating cycles of floods and droughts are likely to intensify.

We need the brainpower to do the science, collect the data, analyze it correctly and inform the public and decision-makers at all levels.  That’s what your International Commission is constantly doing.  And without our Canadian repository of wisdom and strength in PFRA, we are fortunate to have people and institutions like John Pomeroy and the Global Water Institute at the University of Saskatchewan and Dave Sauchyn and the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative at the University of Regina.

I also want to commend the work of the Canada-Saskatchewan Irrigation Diversification Centre at Outlook, the Saskatchewan Irrigation Projects Association, the Saskatchewan Association of Watersheds, Ducks Unlimited, private innovators like Clifton Engineering, the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce, and others who have been diligent on water-related issues.

We have, beyond doubt, the research and knowledge base to be well informed.  I am more concerned about our ability to muster the political will to shape a clear bold vision of what we need to accomplish over the medium to long term.

There are those who still don’t believe that Climate Change is real, or that human behaviour has anything to do with it, or that our Canadian portion of the problem is big enough to prompt significant action here.  And in government budget-making, there is always huge pressure to fund projects that bring quick political gratification, rather than longer term objectives.

But consider this – under the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement which the Government of Canada has in place with all Canadian provinces and territories, we have spent more in the last five or six years, cleaning up the wildfire and flooding consequences of Climate Change, than we spent in the entire previous history of this program stretching back to 1970.

Going forward, the annual flood and fire losses, we are told by the Auditor General, will run in the order of a billion dollars each year.

So it’s only smart to try to get ahead of that curve.  We can do that, in part, by investing up-front in water development and management infrastructure – for both flood-proofing and drought-proofing, and for greater water-based economic and social growth, in agriculture and beyond.  And it needs to tie together both the major “built” projects on the scale of Gardiner Dam AND landscape management initiatives to preserve and restore the natural wetlands that hold water and mitigate flood risks.

I am happy to say that in the Government of Canada’s 12-year investment plan for Infrastructure of all kinds across our country, we have earmarked more than $25 billion for Green Infrastructure.

Some 5-billion of that is already flowing to community water and wastewater projects and public transit.  Another $9-billion will be transferred to provinces and territories for their priorities.  The federal government will administer a national fund of $2-billion, specifically for Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation to be distributed to major transformational projects across the country, selected on the basis of need and merit.

In other words, we’re looking for the best BIG infrastructure ideas to make provinces like Saskatchewan and industries like agriculture truly more resilient and less vulnerable to the consequences of Climate Change, while building economic and social growth.

Water lies at the heart of this ambition.  And I’m hopeful that your deliberations here will help us in Saskatchewan to scope out a water vision that will be truly transformational – to change for the better the way we live our lives.  Let it be nothing small.

Thank you all for coming to Saskatoon.