EDITORIAL: Ominous silence on Great
Published October 19th, 2004
Prime Minister Paul Martin is allowing the unsettled
currents of present-day Canada-United States relations
to sweep away - quite literally - a critical aspect of
this country's sovereignty.
His complete silence on a draft agreement that would
give the governors of the eight states that border the
Great Lakes the power to siphon off the waters of these
lakes is inexcusable. It is tantamount to beaching Ottawa's
responsibility for the protection of the Great Lakes and
the vital ecosystems that depend on them.
That message was driven home yesterday with the release
of a legal opinion of the agreement commissioned by the
Council of Canadians, which said it is so bad for Canada
that it should be scrapped entirely.
Since 1909, Canada and the U.S. have exercised shared
sovereignty and responsibility for the Great Lakes through
the Boundary Waters Treaty. That pact requires the two
countries to agree on anything that could jeopardize the
health of the Great Lakes. And oversight of Great Lakes
management and the resolution of disputes between the
two countries are handled by the International Joint Commission
(IJC), an independent body that is accountable to both
But that effective model for shared jurisdiction is now
threatened by the Great Lakes Annex 2001 Implementing
Agreement - a two-part arrangement worked out by the Council
of Great Lakes Governors and the governments of Ontario
and Quebec. Both parts still need final approval.
The first part, the Great Lakes Basin Sustainable Water
Resources Agreement, is a non-binding "good-faith"
arrangement among the states and provinces on water management
that does not have the force of law.
But the second part, the Great Lakes Water Resources
Compact, would be a U.S.-only binding deal that would
give the eight governors together the power to decide
on diversions of water from the lakes. Enabling legislation
by the U.S. Congress would give this compact the force
Neither Ontario nor Quebec have approved the second part.
Officials say it was developed by a "working group"
and was only issued for public debate. Public submissions
on the proposed deals closed yesterday.
If approved, this asymmetrical arrangement would effectively
rob Canada of its shared authority over the Great Lakes.
And yet Martin has not said a word about the threat of
the U.S. tapping into the lakes. Just a few years ago,
however, Ottawa was prepared to speak out. In 2001, when
the annex was first put forward, Ottawa laid out its concerns
to Great Lakes governors. In particular, it warned the
standard proposed for water removals was too lax and that
the cumulative impact of even the smallest diversions
could cause serious harm to the lakes.
How, for example, could the lakes possibly be protected
under the governors' proposal to give consumers beyond
the basin the same legal right of access to the waters
as the people who live on the shores of the lakes?
Since the release of the actual implementing agreement
in July, those same fears have been repeated by every
Canadian critic, including one expert who worked on Great
Lakes issues in Ottawa for roughly 30 years.
The Council of Canadians' legal opinion, by lawyer Steven
Shrybman, was right in suggesting that until appropriate
safeguards can be put in place, "it would be prudent
to extend the moratorium on water diversion approvals
advocated by the IJC" in a 2000 report.
But that won't happen unless Martin immediately fends
off the U.S. governors' grasp at our sovereignty.