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Great Lakes Article:

Editorial: Great Lakes plan still not watertight
Toronto Star
Published January 24th, 2005

Ending a long and perplexing silence, Ottawa has finally taken a position on a plan developed by governors of the eight Great Lakes states and the premiers of Ontario and Quebec for managing the Great Lakes waters. In a recent submission to the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the federal government has joined the chorus of criticism coming from water experts, environmentalists, a Commons committee and more recently, the Ontario government itself.

Like the others, Ottawa now says the proposed agreements are "too permissive" on the fundamental issue of withdrawals or diversions of Great Lakes waters, and too imprecise on other key issues.

The stakes are extremely high. As one U.S. newspaper, the Toledo Blade puts it, at issue "is how the United States and Canada view their relationship with each other in regard to the freshwater lakes as North America is expected to face its greatest water crisis this century. The lakes hold 20 per cent of the Earth's fresh surface water."

That is why Ottawa is encouraging the governors to bring their proposals into conformity with recommendations made by the International Joint Commission, the Canada-U.S. binational body that has had responsibility for the health of the Great Lakes for the past 97 years.

The federal government also wants the text of the governors' draft agreements changed to acknowledge the primacy of the obligations of both Canada and the U.S. as set out in the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Such changes, Ottawa suggests, would reduce the exposure of initiatives taken under the governors' agreements to potential legal challenges.

While this might sound like a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, it is critical that the agreements spell out in the clearest terms the precedence of the Boundary Waters Treaty should a conflict arise, and the International Joint Commission's central role in resolving any disputes.

In its submission to the council, Ottawa asserts that "obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty and Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement are unaffected by the proposed agreements," and "any project that affects the natural level or flow of boundary waters will require an independent approval by the International Joint Commission, or a special agreement by the governments of Canada and the United States."

Other critics, though, do not share the government's confidence that the treaty would protect Canadians against water withdrawals or other actions the Americans might take under the governors' agreements. The critics' greatest fear is that if the governors' agreements were accepted in their current form, Canadians could lose the protections they now enjoy.

The only way to assuage those fears is for the governors' agreements to spell out in detail that they take a back seat to the treaty and its guarantee of Canada's shared sovereignty over the Great Lakes.

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