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EDITORIAL: Ominous silence on Great Lakes
Toronto Star
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 sides.

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 of law.

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.

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