Canada: Environmental, social, and union groups gather to block US appropriation of country's water Print E-mail
 Friday April 27 2007

Original in French at:

Preventing Massive Water Transfers

    By Louis-Gilles Francoeur
    Le Devoir

As of today, environmental, social, and union groups from all over Canada will try to block a North American pact on Canada's water resources and other natural wealth that a handful of private sector oligarchs and the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico are preparing behind closed doors in the framework of the North American Future 2025 Project.

    For the Conseil des Canadiens [Council of Canadians] and the Coalition Eau Secours [Coalition for Water Aid] - two organizations that bring together dozens of union, social and environmental agencies - the Calgary meeting, which will bring together the partners in this project to "continentalize" resources, is, in reality, nothing but a disguised way for the United States to appropriate Canada's water resources, just as the country has already taken control of 50 percent of the Canadian gas and oil sectors - 70 percent of the production of which now feeds the energy bulimia of our southern neighbors.

    Yesterday, the two big social and environmental coalitions partially divulged documents that describe the objectives of the closed meeting in Calgary. It is clear from the documents that the session is not an exploratory meeting between important theoreticians, as its promoters have asserted, but rather a meeting for preparation of policies that the three countries' private sector representatives are about to submit to their governments in the beginning of the fall.

    When the Conseil des Canadiens and Eau Secours asked Ottawa last week to prohibit its senior officials from participating in this "furtive" meeting, Federal Minister for the Environment John Baird retorted that the meeting could not initiate massive exports of Canadian water, since several federal and provincial laws prohibit that. Nonetheless, Ottawa did not forbid its high officials from attending.

    This Calgary forum was organized by the United States's Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Conference Board of Canada and Mexico's Centro de Investigacion y Docencia Economomicas (CIDE).

    According to the documents publicized by the two Canadian coalitions, this meeting provides for a Friday roundtable on the "future of the North American environment" that will notably address "water consumption, water transfers, and manmade deflections of water in bulk" with the objective of realizing "the optimal concerted use of available water" in North America, i.e. of Canada's water, since it possesses the lion's share of North American water.

    Now, as the two citizens' organizations note, by NAFTA's provisions, water becomes a commercial good as soon as it becomes - even for a single time - the object of a financial transaction between two parties from different countries. After that, no government will ever be able to regulate it again without that becoming a barrier to free trade. For the last few years, several legal scholars have confirmed that Canadian governments will lose their jurisdiction over the management of their water in favor of companies' priority rights to exploit them.

    According to the documents divulged yesterday by the two coalitions, the federal government is formally participating in this opaque process in spite of its denials. A forum document anticipates that "in order to respect the desired schedule for this plan" for the "continentalization" of resources, the American CSIS "will draw up its suggestions based on existing projection scenarios and on the examination done of the pertinent future concerning each of the six subjects on which the three governments have agreed, that is, labor force mobility, the environment, competitiveness and border infrastructure and logistics."

    The three governments, according to the coalitions that are going to comment on their plan this morning in a press conference, seek for the Calgary forum to serve "as a basis for the elaboration of a master plan for future border infrastructure and logistics systems concerning the mobility of labor, energy, the environment, security and competitiveness." The oligarchs' report will be reviewed twice by the NAFTA member governments before being officially brought into law with the objective of "maximizing the impact on the [very real] policies" that will result from it.

    According to the Conseil des Canadiens' analysis of the Calgary forum, if the American CSIS truly wanted to obtain the best possible consideration of these issues, it would not have limited the debate to a tiny continental oligarchy behind closed doors, but made it the object of a public debate by citizens, unions, environmental groups and also all of Canada's members of Parliament.

    The Conseil des Canadiens and Eau Secours are particularly worried about this initiation of the "continentalization" of resources, which, they believe, conceals a United States' attempt to grab Canadian water resources, since "exchanges" in this domain only go in one direction.

    The "pro-active approach" that the private forum favors bases itself on "creative solutions that go beyond the present agreements about cross-border water management that the United States has concluded with Mexico and Canada," such as the Canadian-American treaty on boundary waters.

    "This option," the document intercepted by the two coalitions continues, "could be to conclude regional agreements between Canada, the United States, and Mexico on questions like water consumption, water transfers, and manmade deviations of fresh water."

    "The three nations," the document further indicates, "will have to overcome the bureaucratic challenges posed by their different political systems and legal regimes, particularly if North America's ultimate future goal is to realize the optimal joint use of available water and to implement procedures that will help avoid or help resolve differences over water [likely to arise] in the face of the ever-growing pressures exerted with respect to this priceless resource."

    In the view of the Conseil des Canadiens, not only will water thus become an object of commerce for multinationals and no longer the public resource essential to the ecosystems and the people now dependent on it, but the NAFTA clauses on "national treatment" would confer the same rights over Canada's water on American companies now enjoyed by domestic companies. Exactly, they say, like the gas and oil sectors in which the United States has progressively annexed Canadian reserves with no prospect of recovering them for national objectives.
    Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher