The Council of Canadians (COC) is calling for donations and the support of Canadians again, and this time the issue is sovereignty over Canadian water. Centered in Ottawa since 1985, the COC is a non-partisan organization concerned with presenting national issues to the citizens of Canada. In the recent past, the COC has successfully lobbied to block use of the Bovine Growth Hormone in dairy cattle, pressured Monsanto to abandon its goal of genetically engineered wheat, and helped to halt the proposed bank mergers (COC, 2005a).
The latest and most pressing issue being presented by Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the COC, involves opening up Canadian waters to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) market. Ontario and Quebec, as well as eight U.S. states, are currently in discussions that may decide whether or not to sell the water of the Great Lakes to freshwater-lacking areas such as Asia and the southern United States. Several years ago the same idea of water sales arose in Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, but was countered by strong public protest.
What worries members of the COC is not that Canada should not share its wealth of freshwater with other parts of the world. The main worry is that by agreeing to sell, our water market will no longer be in Canada’s jurisdiction, but instead will fall into the juridisdiction of NAFTA. COC members are most concerned by the almost inevitable loss of Canadian sovereignty that would follow the sale of Great Lakes’ water.
NAFTA rules state that once Canada (or any other member of NAFTA) agrees to export a product or raw material to a foreign body, it must allow other foreign investors the same privilege (Public Citizen, n.d.). This provision means that if Canada decides to sell its water to any foreign buyer, there is no going back. One trade agreement could lead to others, since the introduction of water into the vast North American market opens the door to corporate control. Essentially, NAFTA is turning North America into one conglomerate marketplace, with a loss of localized power.
Many Canadians are increasingly concerned with this loss of autonomy, which is why the COC is speaking out. To date, the government has been rather indecisive when it comes to taking a firm position on the water issue. To help the politicians to take a position, a petition is currently being circulated via Canada Post. The petition urges Canadians coast-to-coast “to express their concerns and to demand action to stop the Great Lakes Annex.” (COC, 2005 January 11) There is also an online version available to individuals who were not included on COC’s original mailing list. The online petition (COC, 2005b) can be retrieved from http://www.canadians.org/documents/gl_petition_e.pdf.
Maude Barlow of the COC feels that now is a crucial time in the COC’s appeal for water sovereignty, due to the particular sensitivity of the minority government. The COC hopes to collect thousands of signatures on the petition, and to present an overwhelming case of Canadian public interest to the Prime Minister. Any donations that are received by the COC will further fund the Save our Water Campaign (COC, n.d.). Anyone interested in supporting the case for sovereign water is urged to visit the website published by the COC (http://www.canadians.org). Select the link entitled “ACT for Canada’s Water,” to learn how to help promote Canada’s autonomy. As Maude Barlow states in her letter accompanying the “Save our Water” petition, “If you and I are going to succeed in getting the government to protect our water… we’ll have to work together.”
Council of Canadians (2005, January 11). Feds need to enforce, not just promote, Great Lakes water protection. Retrieved April 3, 2005, from http://www.canadians.org/display_document.htm?COC_token=coc_token&id=1051&isdoc=1&catid=68.
Council of Canadians (2005a). Retrieved April 3, 2005, from http://www.canadians.org.
Council of Canadians (2005b). Protect our Great Lakes now! Retrieved April 3, 2005, from http://www.canadians.org/documents/gl_petition_e.pdf.
Council of Canadians (n.d.). Water campaign. Retrieved April 3, 2005, from http://www.canadians.org/browse_categories.htm?COC_token=coc_token&step=2&catid=40&iscat=1.
Public Citizen (n.d.). NAFTA chapter 11: corporate cases. Retrieved April 3, 2005, from http://www.citizen.org/trade/nafta/CH__11/