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Water World

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The question over whether to sell Canada’s water will come to a boil in an upcoming national debate

In September, a special all-party House of Commons committee will convene to hear expert testimony on both sides of what could very well turn into the most controversial trade issue in a long, long time.

Dennis Mills, a Liberal MP from Toronto, will chair the discussion on the future of Canada’s abundant supplies of fresh water – is it a commodity that should be for sale on the world market, or is it a resource that should be protected, with a significance that goes beyond economics and politics? Is there a middle ground in all this, where some water can be sold and some protected for all Canadians.

While the committee won’t answer these questions, whatever conclusions it reaches could influence the Liberal government, which in all likelihood will have to make a decision regarding this issue and soon.

The federal moratorium on bulk fresh water sales was first implemented in 1999 when the Canadian and U.S. governments, and state governments bordering on the Great Lakes, passed a joint resolution to ban bulk water exports from Great Lakes waterway.

The accord, which falls under the International Boundary Waters Act in Canada, was a response to a proposal by an Ontario company, the Nova Group, to siphon off 600 million litres of water from Lake Superior and ship it to markets as far away as Asia as early as 2002. The Ontario government went as far as to issue a permit, but the federal government stepped in when environmental and trade issues came to light.

Environmental groups objected to this plan, pointing to the fact that the water levels in the Lakes were declining dramatically, and that less than one per cent of the water currently siphoned off from the lakes for use in municipal water systems, industry, and agriculture was making it back into the water system.

While those who would profit from Great Lakes water argued that the water would just end up in the Atlantic Ocean anyway, environmentalists argued that even a slight additional drop in the level of the Great Lakes could impact on the lakes’ battered ecosystems and the ecosystems downstream.

Although the impact of skimming off the surface water is debatable, environmentalists and various consumer groups worry that such a large scale trade in water will result in water becoming a commodity under Canada’s existing trade agreements in North America. After it becomes a commodity, they argue, every drop of water in the country is potentially up for sale.

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