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Chronicling ‘The First Century of the International Joint Commission’

IJC admin | 2017/11/21

By Alexandra Bradburn, IJC

“The First Century of the International Joint Commission” was an informative two-day conference co-hosted by Drs. Murray Clamen and Daniel Macfarlane.

Clamen is a professor of water policy at McGill University and past secretary of the Canadian section of the IJC. Macfarlane is an environmental and transnational historian who received his Ph.D. from the University of Ottawa and is an assistant professor of freshwater policy with the Institute of Environment and Sustainability at Western Michigan University.  

The workshop was organized by the Historical Section and US Transboundary Affairs Division of Global Affairs Canada in partnership with the University of Ottawa, Western Michigan University and Library and Archives Canada.

US IJC Chair Lana Pollack (left) and Canadian IJC Chair Gordon Walker presenting at the event. Credit: IJC
US IJC Chair Lana Pollack (left) and Canadian IJC Chair Gordon Walker presenting at the event. Credit: IJC

The conference was attended by historians, political scientists, scientists, government employees, and indigenous scholars from Canada and the United States. The overall aim was to explore the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty along with the past, present and future of the IJC and its contributions to broader transboundary relations.  

The workshop was open to the public, and included current and former IJC staff, scholars and others who have worked on transboundary water issues. Clamen and Macfarlane each presented papers on the topic, and a discussion and critique followed. The papers are to be collected and published in a book, planned for release in 2018 by University of Calgary Press.

Credit: IJC
Credit: IJC

Effective Governance

The IJC has been praised as an effective mechanism for conflict resolution, especially in that Commissioners, three each from Canada and the US, must represent the Commission instead of their respective nations. Although criticized by some, it is an organization that considers the international impacts of its actions and makes decisions based on the collective good and in the interests of citizens from both countries, those at the workshop said.

Some IJC programs were identified as being particularly successful, including the ongoing International Watersheds Initiative. This is an example of how the Commission prevents and resolves disputes by emphasizing the need for local involvement and public participation in addressing problems from a watershed perspective.

Conference attendees said that in years to come, the largest struggle the IJC will face is the continued governance of transboundary waters in an era increasingly defined by climate change.  

The upcoming book should provide a well-rounded look at the progression of the IJC and serve as a reference for future Commissioners and staff.

Alexandra Bradburn is a former intern with IJC’s Canadian Section in Ottawa.

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