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Great Lakes Article:

Great Lakes' water must be protected
Toronto Star
Published December 4th, 2004

Ontario residents can take some comfort from the provincial government's recent decision not to sign draft agreements on the protection of the Great Lakes with the eight U.S. states that border these vital waters.

That's because the deals, as now written, would let water be diverted for use outside the Great Lakes Basin. As such, they pose a real threat to the lakes, the ecosystems dependent on them, and every Ontario community sustained by these precious, non-renewable natural resources.

That threat is a real possibility because water-hungry U.S. towns and businesses near the basin are pressing American legislators to ease the rules governing who can withdraw and how much they can take.

Still, Ontario residents should not take too much comfort from Premier Dalton McGuinty's refusal to sign. The reason is that the agreement that presents the greatest risk to Ontario does not require his signature to permit Americans to pipe water to thirsty communities beyond the basin, which is the watershed for the Great Lakes.

McGuinty's signature is only required on the first document, The Great Lakes Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement, which is a good faith agreement among Quebec, Ontario and the eight U.S. states for managing the waters of the Great Lakes. It does not have the force of law.

The second document, the so-called Great Lakes Basin Water Resources Compact, by contrast, is a binding U.S.-only agreement that could potentially give a simple majority of governors of the eight states Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania the power to authorize diversions without Ontario's concurrence.

Stunningly, Ottawa has shown no concern.

Contrary to legal opinions commissioned by the Council of Canadians and environmental groups, Canada's always upbeat Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, told the House of Commons a few weeks ago, "The proposed Annex (which consists of the two draft agreements) does not affect Canadian and U.S. obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty. It does not affect levels and flows of the Great Lakes."

Since 1909, the Boundary Waters Treaty has been the means through which Canada and the United States have exercised their shared sovereignty and responsibility for the Great Lakes. Requiring both countries to agree on any activity that could jeopardize the health of the Great Lakes, the treaty is administered by the International Joint Commission (IJC), a highly regarded independent body that is accountable to both sides.

Accordingly, CanadianS would take a good deal of solace in Pettigrew's opinion were it not for the fact that many others don't see it the same way.

In a remarkably thorough report on the two draft agreements, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development found little reassurance in Pettigrew's contention "because there does not seem to be any basis for this claim and it seems to contradict interpretation of flows and levels in the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act," Canada's enabling legislation for the treaty.

The committee is not alone in its concerns. As it pointedly notes, the U.S. State Department also sees a potential conflict between the governors' compact and the jurisdiction of the IJC, and has requested that a new clause be written into the compact clearly stating that the Boundary Waters Treaty would take precedence should a conflict arise.

That Ontarians should have to depend on the U.S. State Department instead of their own federal government to protect their most vital resource is outrageous. It is time for Prime Minister Paul Martin to take a firm stand on this crucial issue, no matter how sanguine his Pollyanna of a foreign affairs minister may be.



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