Should Ottawa be involved in Columbia River Treaty negotiations or should it be left to B.C.? If the former, what role do you see for the federal government? If the latter, why shouldn’t Ottawa be involved?
In my work with the Ktunaxa and Secwepemc Nations, I have been deeply involved in discussions about renewal of the Columbia River Treaty, focusing on restoring ecosystems and returning salmon to the Upper Columbia and Kootenay River watersheds.
I have spearheaded an initiative to learn how operation of the Treaty dams could be improved to benefit ecosystems, fish and wildlife, and local communities. We have proposed establishment of a Columbia Basin International Watershed Board under the auspices of the International Joint Commission.
There is no question about involvement of the federal government in Treaty negotiations. Ottawa has constitutional responsibility for international treaties, for rivers that cross the 49th parallel, and for fisheries. The federal government must work very closely with the government of BC but also with First Nations and local governments in the Columbia Basin to develop negotiating positions and, ultimately, negotiate effectively with the US government.
The federal government has to be involved in the negotiations because the treaty is an agreement between the United States and Canada. Canada transferred the rights and obligations under the CRT to the province under the Canada-BC Agreement, but substantive treaty changes would require federal government involvement.
For Constitutional reasons the Federal Government also has to be involved in discussion on water use licenses, possible salmon restoration, and aboriginal rights, but our role would be to work closely with both the province and BC Hydro, the Canadian Entity appointed to implement the CRT on behalf of the province. Since Liberal policy to re-engage in an inclusive process with Indigenous Peoples mirrors Provincial goals the Federal partnership would not hinder the treaty process. My former involvement with Columbia Basin Trust also ensures a priority that decisions would always consider the direct impacts on the people who live in the basin.
The Columbia River Treaty has had significant impacts here in the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin. Substantial sacrifices were made by residents during the creation of the dams and reservoirs, and impacts continue as a result of hydro operations.
In 2012, the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments formed a committee to ensure that all area residents had a say in the future of the Treaty. As a member of that committee I participated in extensive public meetings that resulted in a report that contained recommendations to the Provincial and Federal governments.
The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) has no expiry date, but has a minimum length of 60 years, which is met in 2024. One or both countries wishing to terminate the CRT must give at least 10 years notice. September 2014 was the earliest date to announce intent to terminate the CRT by 2024. An alteration of only one clause of the CRT would create a termination, resulting in negotiation of a new treaty. At this time, neither nation has indicated intention to terminate the CRT.
The CRT is an important agreement between Canada and the United States, which has helped both countries effectively manage flood control, downstream irrigation and power generation on the trans-boundary Columbia River for the past 50 years. We look forward to working with the United States as it completes its own review process of the CRT. As we look to the future of the Treaty, the Government of Canada, in close cooperation with British Columbia, will ensure that Canada and BC will continue to benefit from the Treaty
The Columbia River Treaty was one of the most devastating projects to be undertaken in the region on environment, economy, First Nations and private property rights. Within a few years of the treaty the Sinixt First Nations were conveniently declared extinct by the government despite the fact they were and still are a thriving culture. Salmon runs, sacred sites and fertile lands were flooded. Around 5,000 individuals private property was violated and flooded leaving them displaced with a minimal compensation for their homes. Government should never have the authority to force people out of their homes and off their lands. Over 100,000 animals’ habitat was destroyed from the flooding. Economically the impact was far more negative than estimated, the revenue from hydroelectric dams did not match the initial costs associated with building the infrastructure, compensation for the people who were displaced or the estimated losses that were never taken into consideration of the fertile lands for agriculture and forestry. As a result funds were taken from schools,healthcare and forest services.
That being said, no I do not think Ottawa should have involvement in Columbia River Treaty negotiations. They will be mainly considering monetary positions and will not be personally affected by any decisions made. I believe that only parties who are directly affected by all aspects of an agreement such as this should have an active role in negotiations.