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This chapter reviews Canada’s approach to drinking water governance, focusing on the regulations, policies, practices and institutions related to the management and provision of drinking water. This review is significant given Canada’s highly decentralized approach to water governance. We critically evaluate the implications of decentralization for drinking water safety, examining both the uptake of voluntary national guidelines across Canadian jurisdictions, as well as application of day-to-day microbial risk assessment and management practices in various agencies in two provinces (Ontario and BC). Learning from these analyses, we identify a high degree of variability, specifically: (1) variation in the uptake of national Drinking Water Quality Guidelines across provinces and territories; and (2) considerable variability in microbial risk assessment and management practices across provinces and between agencies. We discuss the implications of these findings in light of ongoing harmonization and subsidiarity debates, as well as discussions as to whether compliance should be voluntary or legally binding. Our analysis indicates that the Canadian approach has contributed to data gaps and urban-rural disparities, and reduced capacity for integrated decision-making and effective oversight.
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