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Notes for a speech by

The Right Honourable Herb Gray
Canadian Chair, International Joint Commission

to a luncheon meeting of

The Kiwanis Club of Ottawa

Chateau Laurier Hotel, Adam Room, Ottawa, Ontario
March 4, 2005 - 12:00pm

"The Reflections on the Challenges today to the quantity and quality
of the waters of the Great Lakes"

In your notice of this meeting it was stated that I'm going to speak on "The Reflections of a Former Deputy Prime Minister". Yes, I am a former Deputy Prime Minister, the first one to hold that position on a full time basis. But I'm going to give you my "reflections" as one who is currently the active full time Canadian Chair of the International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States.

My present position gives me the opportunity to "reflect" on something I believe should be highly important to you, other Canadians and the people of this part of North America.

I'm referring to the state of the waters of the Great Lakes and the importance of maintaining their quantity and quality as part of a clean and healthy environment on both sides of the Canada/US boundary. Your invitation enables me to speak about this to an active organization whose members care about their community and country.

Well you don't have to be an expert in hydrology or limnology or even know what these terms mean (and I will explain them later) - to recognize that we live near the shores of something special in the entire world - The Great Lakes.

As my Commission has said "the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are a critical part of the natural and cultural heritage of the region, of Canada and the United states, and of the global community. About 40 million people reside in the Basin itself. Spanning over 1200 km (750 mi.) from east to west, these freshwater seas have made a vital contribution to the historical settlement, economic prosperity, cultural, and quality of life and to the diverse ecosystems of the Basin and surrounding region."

Many people here in Ottawa have summer homes or they keep their boats on the shores of nearby Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence. Some of you may be planning to retire on its shores.

I should point out that the IJC operates all along the east-west boundary between Canada and the US (from one ocean to the other) and the north-south boundary between the Yukon and BC in Canada, and Alaska - 8000 kilometres -- 40% of this boundary is composed of water.

However, the Great Lakes are one important focus of the IJC's work.

I want to start by talking to you about maintaining the existing quantity of water in the Great Lakes - the protection of these waters. After all, my Commission has said, "the waters of the Great Lakes are for the most part a non-renewable resource."

[ By the way, "hydrology" is a science dealing with the properties, distribution and circulation of water. "Limnology" is the scientific study of fresh water in lakes and ponds. ]

But first, a few words about the role of the International Joint Commission of Canada and the United States.

In 1909, Canada and the United States established a permanent means of preventing and resolving disputes over the waters that form or cross their boundary through The Boundary Waters Treaty. It set out agreed rules for managing these transboundary waters, and established the International Joint Commission to carry out the purposes of the Treaty.

The Commission began operating in 1911 and is composed of six Commissioners, three appointed by the Canadian Governor-in-Council (the Cabinet), and three appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the US Senate.

One of the major functions of the Commission under The Boundary Waters Treaty is undertaking studies on issues or problems at the formal request of the US and Canadian national governments. Such a formal request is called a 'Reference'. Our reports in response to these references state our findings and recommendations. They are made to the two governments and are released to the public at the same time.

One such reference came to the Commission in 1999. It followed a private sector proposal from Novacorp in 1998. It was to export water by tanker from Lake Superior (the Ontario licence for this was later rescinded). This caused a great deal of public concern about possible large scale bulk water removals from the Lakes.

The Canadian and US federal governments in a "reference" asked the Commission to look into this issue and provide recommendations for the protection of the waters of the Great Lakes.

Basically, the question in the reference from the two governments was: Should bulk water removals be allowed? The IJC issued its report entitled "Protecting the Waters of the Great Lakes" in February 2000.

What did the Commission conclude in that report? The Commission found that the removal of water from the basin reduces the resilience of the system and its capacity to cope with unpredictable stresses, such as those created by climate change.

Therefore the Commission recommended that governments take measures to ensure that removals of water from the basin will not endanger the integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. It found only 1% of the waters of the Great Lakes were renewed each year by snow melt and rain.

In December 2002, the Canadian government proclaimed in force Bill C-6, after it had been passed by Parliament. It amended the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. The amendments and related regulations prohibit new bulk removals from all Canadian boundary waters starting with the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Basin.

In 1999, Ontario enacted a regulation which generally prohibits transfers out of Ontario's part of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence basin, and since then Quebec has also generally prohibited transferring water outside of Quebec that has been taken in Quebec.

Now what about the US side of the Lakes?

Section 504 of the US Water Resources Development Act of 2000, said (in part) that "it's the purpose and policy of the Congress to prohibit any new diversion of Great Lakes water unless such diversion is approved by the Governor of each of the Great Lakes states.

On June 18, 2001, the Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec concluded an annex to their 1985 Great Lakes Charter. This Annex 2001 is a "good faith" arrangement between the Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec that establishes principles for the management of Great Lakes water resources, (in effect the US waters). Annex 2001 commits the Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec:

… to develop and implement a new common, resource-based conservation standard and apply it to new water withdrawal proposals from the waters of the Great Lakes Basin. The standard will (also) address proposed increases to existing water withdrawals and existing water withdrawal capacity from the waters of the Great Lakes Basin.

In July of last year, the Council of Great Lakes Governors together with the then governments of Ontario and Quebec, released draft proposals for implementing Annex 2001 for a 90-day public comment period. These proposals were for a legally binding compact that would only be between the 8 Great Lakes states and the US federal government, as well as a "good faith" agreement between the 8 Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec. (States and provinces cannot enter into binding international agreements.)

On January 7, 2005, the Canadian government made a submission to the Council of Great Lakes Governors in which it said that the proposed agreements to implement Annex 2001 "do not afford a sufficient level of protection to the waters of the Basin and need to be strengthened in a number of respects." However, it did say there were some useful ideas in them, for example, on research and monitoring.

Also in it, the Canadian government encouraged the Council of Great Lakes Governors "to afford the same level of protection and certainty as is afforded by the Canadian government, provincial and territorial governments, which together have banned removals of waters from the basin."

As well, the Canadian government in its submission "recognized the ongoing role of the IJC and the comprehensive advice to governments contained in the Commission's February 2000 report entitled: Protection of the Waters of the Great Lakes and its August 2004 review of that report."

The US federal government had earlier made a submission to the Council stating that the final version of the proposals to implement the Annex had to clearly recognize and take into account the primary role of the IJC and Boundary Waters Treaty.

The Commission had been asked by the two federal governments to review and update in 2004 the recommendations it made in its 2000 report in light of developments that have taken place since it was issued. We did so in a report published last August 30th. It is we confirmed our 2000 recommendations.

As well, the Commission recommended in this 2004 report "that the outcome of the Annex 2001 process should include a standard and management regime consistent with the recommendations in its 2000 report."

[ It said, however, that "Until the process of developing proposals to implement Annex 2001 is complete it's not possible to say whether and to what extent the published draft proposals to implement the Annex will give effect to and be consistent with recommendations in the Commission's 2000 report." ]

The present natural resources minister of Ontario, David Ramsay announced on November 15, 2004 that the McGuinty government would not sign the current drafts of the Great Lakes charter annex agreements unless changes to enhance the level of protection for the waters of the Great Lakes Basin are made.

And last October, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox announced "his dissatisfaction over the Annex 2001 draft implementing agreements and declared they do not live up to the principles of Annex 2001." The Great Lakes Governors have a working group that is considering all the comments from the Canadian and US governments and other organizations about this.

They have decided to publish a new draft and release it for public comment later this year. The IJC will not make further comments until there is a new final draft.

By the way, the Commission also stated in its 2000 and 2004 reports (contrary to the views of some) that "nothing prevents Canada and the United States from taking measures to protect their water resources and preserve the integrity of the Great Lakes Basin ecosystem. Such measures, it said, are not prohibited so long as there is no discrimination by decision makers against persons from other countries in their application, and so long as water management policies are clearly articulated and consistently implemented so that undue expectations are not created. Canada and the United States cannot be compelled by trade laws to endanger the waters of the Great Lakes ecosystem".

These are also the views of the US and Canadian federal governments as set out in the two IJC reports. We have said as well that, "while there are not at present any active proposals for diversions outside of the Great Lakes Basin, except to communities on the outside edge of the basin, this situation could change. Moreover, there are increasing demands for water to supply the needs of these near-basin communities and potential future demands for diversions to other parts of the continent, this makes it urgent for the two federal governments to carry out the package of recommendations in the Commission's 2000 report and for the Great Lakes states and provinces to implement their Annex 2001 proposals in a manner that conforms with those recommendations."

I believe, that in its 2000 and 204 reports, the IJC has offered important guidance on how to protect the quantity of waters of the Great Lakes.

Again, to conclude, some comments about the quality of that water. In 1972 the national governments of Canada and the US signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement in large measure in response to recommendations in reports to them by the IJC. In it they committed themselves to restoring and maintaining the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes.

So where are the Lakes today as a result of measures which have been taken under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement since 1972? The Lakes are cleaner than in 1972 in a number of ways, particularly from better sewage treatment facilities and the elimination of a number of dangerous chemicals like phosphorous. But there is still a lot more work to be done. So what is being done to step up protection and restoration efforts?

The Agreement provides that it must be reviewed by the two governments approximately every 6 years. The review is to be carried out after every third Biennial Report of the Commission on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Therefore the 12th Biennial Report last September has triggered such a review.

A binational government scoping committee has proposed an approach to the review in a document published for public comment. It is available on our web page.

However, the review itself has not yet begun.

The US Federal government recently created the "US Great Lakes Regional Collaboration". This is an initiative by President Bush to get all the US agencies in the Great Lakes basin to work together to achieve more progress in Great Lakes clean-up.

This is a major undertaking and will hopefully serve to improve coordination and action on the US side of the Lakes.

The Government said last Fall in its Speech from the Throne that "it will work with the United States and agencies like the International Joint Commission on issues such as clean air, clean water and invasive species." It also said that "in 2005, the Government will bring forward the next generation of its Great Lakes and St. Lawrence programs, underscoring its commitment to protect and preserve these internationally significant shared ecosystems."

[ Our new Federal Environment Minister, Stéphane Dion stated in the Throne Speech debate that "Canada will be launching a comprehensive process to bring together all the relevant federal, provincial and municipal players to develop a long-term, sustainable and competitive vision for the entire basin." ]

Finding the financial resources for the work still needed in the Great Lakes continues to be a challenge. [ We will not really know what US federal resources will be available until Congress gives its final decision on the President's proposed budget. ]

Our federal budget last week provided a further $40 million for the renewal of the Canadian federal government's Great Lakes programme. Also $85 million has been allocated to deal with the problem of alien invasive species. Not just aquatic species but also alien plants and insects -- and not just in the Great Lakes area.

My Commission is concerned in particular about the impact on the health of the Great Lakes of aquatic invasive species like the zebra mussel. I don't have to tell you that the zebra mussel has fouled beaches and water intake pipes not only in the Great Lakes themselves but also along the Rideau River and Rideau lakes system.

In 1924, 6 permanent "objects of Kiwanis International" were adopted (by your international convention). They include:

  • To encourage the daily living of the Golden Rule in all human relationships; (and)
  • To develop, by precept and example, a more intelligent, aggressive, and serviceable citizenship.

In my view these objects are highly consistent with the mission statement of the International Joint Commission: It reads in part, "In environmental matters, the Commission affirms the concept of sustainable development, the ecosystem approach.

I believe every member of our Canadian civil society - individuals, corporations and service clubs and other NGOs -- also has a responsibility not only to work for a cleaner environment but also to urge and support government and private sector initiatives to achieve this purpose.

The current generation should not condemn future generations to health, behavioural, or learning difficulties created by environmental problems.

If some can argue that an excessive burden of fiscal debt should not be left to future generations, I say we also need to recognize that we cannot leave them with a burden of environmental debt. We cannot risk damaging the global ecosystem on which fundamentally all lives depend - in particular, the lives of our children and our grandchildren.

Your overarching objective is "Serving the children of the world". Therefore, I believe that for us to serve them, protecting the environment by us is NOT an option; it is an absolute obligation.

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