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Great Lakes Article:

Won't sign Great Lakes water deal, Ontario says
By Margaret Philp
The Globe and Mail
Published November 16th, 2004 - Page A9

The Ontario government has refused to sign draft agreements that seek to preserve the Great Lakes, insisting the proposed deals were not strong enough to protect water from being siphoned out.

As Canadian and U.S. negotiators were sitting down in Chicago yesterday, Natural Resources Minister David Ramsay announced that the province would not sign the current drafts of the Great Lakes Charter Annex after they met with a cool reception with environmentalists and First Nations groups during public consultations over the past three months.

While the proposed agreements among Ontario, Quebec and the eight U.S. states that border the Great Lakes basin would regulate diversions of water from the lakes, the minister said that Ontario will stick to current provincial legislation that outlaws water diversions altogether.

The province would be willing to sign an agreement that followed a proposal of the International Joint Commission -- the bilateral body that monitors the cross-border flow of water -- that 95 per cent of water removed be returned in the same or better condition.

"That's the standard we'd like to see, and the Great Lakes Charter Annex doesn't hold to that standard," Mr. Ramsay said. "And over time, it allows for small diversions. But over time, the cumulative impact of that, we think, would be a danger."

Still, Ontario plans to return to the table when talks are scheduled to resume in January to make a deal that would protect the water -- which meets the needs of 40 million people on both sides of the border -- through binding agreements.

Environmentalists -- who hardly dared hope the province was listening during consultations when they criticized the draft agreements for allowing diversions -- are elated.

"I'm very, very pleased because this could shift things on the whole agreement across North America," said Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.

"To have your government actually listen to you and say we're not prepared to sign off on this agreement, we do not think there are adequate protections, and we insist on no diversion, this is really very, very important. Now we have a position with one jurisdiction solidly breaking away, I'm hoping we can get to a fundamental rethink."

A preliminary version of the Great Lakes Charter Annex was signed in 2001, after a public outcry over a permit issued by the Harris government to a company proposing to export up to 600 million litres of water a year from Lake Superior to sell in Asian markets.

It is not clear whether the parties will return to the talks, given Ontario's position, or if the states will write an agreement of their own.

"The governors can still, technically speaking, sign their own agreements, but it's not as good," said Adele Hurley, director of the Program on Water Issues at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies.



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