The B.C. minister responsible for the Columbia River Treaty negotiations says frosty relations between Canadian and United States leaders have not yet impacted bargaining.
Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Donald Trump have taken jabs at each other — the latest in which Trump attacked Trudeau because his cameo was cut from a CBC broadcast of Home Alone 2 — Katrine Conroy says the squabbling has not been a factor in treaty talks.
The Kootenay West MLA hopes it stays that way.
“It’s always a concern because we’re a little part of Canada and we’re here in the Kootenays, but it’s a very important part,” said Conroy. “It’s critically important to the province of B.C. and that’s why we have a seat at the table, that’s why we have a chief negotiator from B.C. as well as from Canada. It’s very important.
“We will see what happens.”
Eight rounds of negotiations have been held since May 2018 as Canada and the U.S. work out a new version of the water management agreement first signed in 1964.
A ninth round of talks originally scheduled for November in America has been pushed back to January.
Conroy said negotiators made slow but steady progress in 2019. One of her highlights was the Canadian inclusion of First Nations observers from the Ktunaxa Nation Council, Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Secwepemc Nation.
“It’s made a real difference,” said Conroy. “In this past year they’ve actually had more discussions around the ecosystem, the return of salmon, the things people thought would never be included in those discussions. But times have changed and people recognize that, which is a good thing.”
Twelve community meetings were also held throughout the B.C. Interior in 2019. Conroy said the feedback from those meetings was heard by negotiators.
“It was good that we had the opportunity to talk to people throughout the Basin. I think that’s really important, that people need to know that that’s not it. They can still have input.”
Conroy is privy to the details of the negotiations but isn’t part of the Canadian team and said she can’t disclose the specifics of what’s being said at the table.
But she said what started with topics focused on flood control and power generation has broadened into discussions including climate change. Conroy said changing snow pack levels in Canada, and how that impacts water flow, is an example of how climate change affects negotiations.
“How do we deal with that?” said Conroy. “We need to have some flexibility in the treaty. We can’t say what we decide now is going to be good in the 60 years to come, because that’s what they did in the late 1950s, early 60s.
“When you think of it now, you think how things have changed so much and changed in our Basin. We have to have the ability to have flexibility in our treaty so that if things go one way or another we have the ability to deal with it.”
The Columbia River Treaty led to the Duncan, Hugh L. Keenleyside and Mica dams built in Canada for flood control and power generation, which in turn sees the U.S. pay Canada about $120 million annually, or half the value of power generated south of the border.
The original treaty has also been criticized for its lack of Indigenous consultation, its impact on the salmon population and the approximately 100,000 hectares of flooding that destroyed farming and communities such as Renata.