Great Lakes' water must be protected
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
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.