Water wars with U.S. on horizon, envoy says

Pipeline debate to ‘look silly’ in comparison

William Marsden, Postmedia News Published: Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Canada must prepare for diplomatic water wars with the U.S., as demand on both sides of the border grows for this vital but ultimately limited resource, says Gary Doer, Canadian ambassador to the United States.

Canada must prepare for diplomatic water wars with the U.S. claims Canadian Ambassador
Canada must prepare for diplomatic water wars with the U.S. claims Canadian Ambassador

In an interview that explored a wide range of issues from the Keystone XL pipeline to Iran, Doer predicted that water diplomacy would make the debate about pipelines “look silly.”

“I think five years from now we will be spending diplomatically a lot of our time and a lot of our work dealing with water,” he said. “There will be pressure on water quality and water quantity.”

Here is an edited version of the interview: Question: Despite Canada’s huge investment of diplomatic capital in Keystone XL, the pipeline appears to be back at Square 1 after last week’s Nebraska court decision. To what do you attribute this failure? Answer: First of all I don’t conclude that it’s going to fail … We’ve had court cases at local levels before that have been overturned on appeal in a higher court in different states, for example in Texas and Oklahoma … So we can speculate all we want but, just in terms of the law, was it a positive development for the pipeline with the ruling a couple of days ago? No. But is it the first ruling against this by a local judge, which we have resolved? No.

Q: Has the whole debate over Keystone had a positive or negative impact on U.S.-Canada relations?

A: I think it will depend on how it turns out. If at the end of the day you have a state department report that says it’s higher GHGs (greenhouse gas) on rail than pipelines and that doesn’t produce a “yes” to the Keystone pipeline, that will be a negative.

Q: Given what has happened in Nebraska, has it changed your strategy at all?

A: We think at the end of the day that rail versus this pipeline is the choice that the president has to make. We think at the end of the day it’s hard hats versus Hollywood celebrities, and there are lots of Hollywood celebrities around, and we think at the end of the day it’s Venezuela or Canada and North Dakota and Montana. So we are going to keep those choices pretty clear.

Q: To what extent are Canadian agencies sharing information usually deemed private about Canadians with the Americans?

A: We’ve got a co-operative beyond-the-border plan now with the U.S. that formalizes the rights of privacy for citizens on both sides of the border. Both the United States and Canada have a constitution to protect and balance the privacy rights of people but it is balanced against risk and I know that the way in which information is shared is to try to prevent any incidents of loss of life or loss of limb based on potential terrorist attacks. So that is the balance we try to achieve.

There will always be disagreements about where that balance is, but I think having a formal plan is better for citizens on both sides of that equation … I think it is better

than just an ad hoc sharing of information with kind of a nudge, nudge, wink, wink … Canadians should know that Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. try to provide information to keep our citizens safe.

Q: Does safety include the sharing of banking and tax information? (Note: Reference is to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010.)

A: The overreach of Dodd Frank into sovereign banks and sovereign banking information concerned us greatly … Some parts of it we are still very concerned about in terms of its impact on the sovereign, safe, prudent financial institutions of Canada … (We are) dealing with a bill which has in its explicit nature a lot of overreach into the sovereign rights of Canadian citizens.

Q: Why has the U.S. ambassador not shown up in Canada yet? (The Senate has yet to confirm Obama’s nominee, fundraiser Bruce Heyman.)

A: Well there are 60 ambassadors held up … There’s a lot of politics going on by anybody who is perceived by the Republicans to be part of the fundraising efforts of the president. It’s unfortunate.

Q: How do you think the legalization of marijuana in a growing number of U.S. states will impact Canada and cross-border drug smuggling?

A: About 50 per cent on marijuana goes either way … I don’t think what’s happening here will have an impact on that reality.

Q: In five years, what issues will dominate U.S.-Canada relations that we haven’t seen before?

A: I think five years from now we will be spending a lot of our time diplomatically and a lot of our work on dealing with water.

We have 20 per cent of the fresh water (in the world) in the Great Lakes. We share three oceans. We have the Passamaquoddy dispute (Canada opposes liquefied natural gas tankers transiting Canadian waters in Head Harbour Passage in New Brunswick.) We have the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway, Lake of the Woods. We have the Missouri River diversion. We have the Flathead River. We’ve got the Columbia River Treaty … We’re blessed with a lot of water, but we cannot take it for granted. We have to manage it more effectively and that means waterflows south to north and north to south … There will be pressure on water quality and water quantity. I think it will make a debate about going from 85 to 86 pipelines look silly.”

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