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Canada's Water Under Threat

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Arm-twisting has begun by huge global corporations and financial institutions to get their foot in the door of what they perceive to be an excellent business opportunity--the exploitation of Canadian water.

Arm-twisting has begun by huge global corporations and financial institutions to get their foot in the door of what they perceive to be an excellent business opportunity–the exploitation of Canadian water. Canada holds 20 percent of the world’s fresh water supplies.

Every year, these corporate elite hold a global water summit where industry leaders like Lyonnaise Des Eaux of France, which distributes private water services to 68 million people worldwide, gather to chit-chat with influential politicians and other powerful people throughout the world to advance their interests.

Water, however is not a commodity for privatization and profit. Good water belongs to the people. Canadians can’t allow any meddling, either by privatization or government cut-backs. The tragedy of Walkerton is proof that this tragedy could be repeated in every province and territory in Canada unless we Canadians wake up and take control. We are all familiar with this preventable tragedy. The government water inspection agency issued warnings that there was something horribly wrong with Walkerton’s water supply as far back as 1997, but these warnings were ignored. The Ontario government compounded the problem by privatizing water inspection and allowing a "for-profit" private agency to take over water inspection services. Obviously, this was a tragic mistake.

Take Control

Individually, we must be vigilant regarding the possibility of contamination of our wells from farm run-off (cow manure, pesticide and other chemical residue). Careless dumping of hazardous materials into our lakes and rivers has also polluted many water supplies. Logging in watersheds has caused mud-slides and silt residue to sully our watersheds. We cannot allow corporate profit to take precedence over the protection of this most precious resource. The ball is in our court. We have the power to protect our water by pressuring government to provide us with the necessary amount of inspectors to do a thorough job. This we must insist on.

But what of the external foreign corporate pressure being exerted on Canada under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? Corporate opportunists now feel that their time is close at hand. Somewhere in Canada a province or territory will listen to their siren song of "jobs, jobs, jobs" and "major profits for investors."

Yes, there would be jobs–in the beginning. Construction would demand a full work force until the necessary systems were in place. Then that would be that. No more jobs. Canadian benefits from this large-scale trade in water would be over and our precious water would move from being a matter of public trust to the status of a private commodity.

Liberal MP, Dennis Mills, had evidently been listening to this corporate siren song and vigorously promoted the Great Recycling and Northern Development Canal Project, which would effectively channel massive amounts of water from James Bay, in Northern Ontario, to the United States. This scheme has been on the development table since 1959.

The plan is to turn James Bay into a fresh-water reservoir by building a dam to separate it from Hudson Bay and channeling this captive water via human-made canals, existing rivers and pumps to the Great Lakes for further distribution to the US. The annual rate of diversion would be approximately 350 billion cubic metres. One can only assume that Mills has personally invested heavily in this abhorrent scheme.

Another "nasty" is the North America Water and Power Alliance scheme. This plan, put forward in 1964, would see the Yukon, Skeena, Columbia and Fraser rivers combine to contribute to an 800-km-long reservoir in the Rocky Mountain Trench of British Columbia.

From here the water would be diverted to western states at a rate of 310 billion cubic metres per year. Thank heaven for the BC government’s timely moratorium on the export of bulk water from BC.

In the early ‘90s a joint venture between Sun Belt Water Inc of California and a Canadian company, Snowcap Waters of Fanny Bay, British Columbia, the Canadian subsidiary of Sun Belt Water Inc, had planned to export, via tanker, water from a coastal stream in BC. This proposal sounded so good to the huge corporates, it initiated a veritable flood of proposals from other companies.

All these schemes were abruptly shelved when the BC moratorium was announced. The moratorium is now being challenged under NAFTA. Sun Belt is demanding compensation for its "immeasurable" lost profits from the failure of its scheme. In any law cases involving NAFTA, US companies win every time.

Other water diversification schemes have made headlines. A proposal from the Nova Group received a permit in March, 1998, to draw up to 600 million cubic metres a year from Lake Superior for export to Asia. An outraged public screamed and the Ontario government revoked the permit. Nova appealed the decision, but has since dropped the suit.

The most recent and perhaps the most dangerous scheme is being promoted by the McCurdy Group of Gander, Newfoundland. They propose withdrawing 52 million cubic metres of water a year from Gisbourne Lake in southern Newfoundland. Their proposal is currently under environmental review. Newfoundland is one of our poorest provinces, trying desperately to find paths out of its depressed economy. Certainly Newfoundlanders are considering this proposal.

Despite Liberal promises dating back to the 1993 election campaign, Canadian water remains unprotected by strong federal legislation from the potential ravages of NAFTA. The agreement does not explicitly exempt water, so it remains up to our government to remove it from any association with NAFTA. Currently, US corporations have "national treatment" rights to our water once any Canadian company is granted an export permit.

Therein lies the danger. We need federal legislation to prohibit the mass export of water either by tanker or by diversion–and we need it now! We can only successfully do this by removing "water" from the NAFTA table altogether and then introducing strong legislation to protect it.

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