Critipeg: Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis

Photo by Thomas Pashko

Maude Barlow, ECW Press,
293 pages, Sept. 19, 2016

Author and activist Maude Barlow has been banging the drum in the name of Canadian and global environmental justice for the past three decades. In addition to authoring or co-authoring 17 prior books, she serves as the national chairperson of the Council of Canadians, an activist organization, and a variety of other international councils and watch groups.

Her latest book, Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis, focuses on the growing threats to Canada’s renewable water. The timing of the book’s release feels pertinent. 

Water rights and safety have long taken a backseat in the larger environmentalist conversation, given short shrift in favour of discussing air pollution, carbon emissions and rising temperatures. In light of the 2016 Dakota Access Pipeline protests, water protection has gained increased prominence as an urgent environmental topic.

The threat to clean water, of course, is inextricably tied to those other environmental concerns. Boiling Point is a concise, informative guide to Canada’s water crisis, its many facets and how they connect to concerns like oil pipelines and the Alberta tar sands. The book is a great primer on these issues. 

Readers who are unsure about why pipelines are controversial or confused about what exactly tar sands oil is being used for will find complete yet digestible answers to these questions. Lest detractors should whine that it’s anti-oil propaganda, Barlow points to and sources hundreds of news pieces and scholarly articles, a refreshing break from the post-fact Trumpian dystopia that is 2017.

Even the notion of the water crisis itself, which may strike potential readers as dubious (“Didn’t they say in school that Canada has 20 per cent of the world’s water?”), is explained in terms as accessible as they are alarming. Barlow’s first order of business is explaining what constitutes renewable water safe for human consumption, how little we have, the myriad ways in which we’re damaging it and the shocking lack of measures we take to protect it.

That lack of safeguards is one of the more infuriating details explored. While Barlow takes steps to avoid being overtly political, preferring to state clean facts rather than editorializing, those facts serve as a sober reminder of just what an absolute disaster the decade-long reign of the Harper Conservatives was for Canada. 

While some of his more controversial moves reached a high profile (his attempt to destroy the Experimental Lakes Area project comes to mind), the extent to which the Harper administration razed environmental regulations to the ground and the undeniable racism and discrimination with which they targeted Indigenous opponents to the measures (which was validated by a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2016), is a shameful blight on our present reality.

Barlow is measured in her appraisal of our current government. While admitting that the infrastructure Trudeau inherited is a ruinous post-Harper catastrophe, she still points to his tendency towards the pre-Harper norm of federal environmental policy, which is less overt hostility than inaction and indifference.

Barlow’s final chapter offers hope by outlining the steps we can take to combat our water crisis. Sadly, that hope comes at the end of what amounts to an encyclopedia of watery dread. Here’s hoping many Canadians read Boiling Point and demand the necessary action.

Published in Volume 71, Number 15 of The Uniter (January 12, 2017)

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