Canada given top marks for Columbia Treaty public engagement

·2 min read

The way Canada has engaged with its public on the Columbia River Treaty is getting high praise from a group of American-based environmental and citizen groups.

Eight US non-governmental organizations have written a letter extending their thanks to the federal, provincial and First Nations governments for their engagement with Basin citizens on the modernization of the Columbia River Treaty.

“By making your citizens and communities real partners in the Canadian side of the negotiation, you are helping bring forth a better Treaty for our shared watershed,” the public letter states. “And it appears to us you have maintained effective citizen engagement through the pandemic – a real feat.”

In the letter, they cite as important accomplishments the regular public meetings, BC’s comprehensive Columbia River Treaty website, newsletters and media articles, willingness to respond to public inquires outside the regular engagement process, funding research in public interest issues, and the commitment to not sign the final document without public consultation.

The authors include the Sierra Club, Centre for Environmental Law and Policy, American Rivers, Earth Ministry, and the League of Women Voters. They say their interest in the treaty is seeing that negotiators add ecosystem function as a Treaty purpose, and adding an expert voice for ecosystem health to the US Treaty Entity.

The groups say they have been frustrated by their own government’s lack of public inclusion efforts.

“We have regularly urged our Department of State, and the two agencies that currently comprise the US Treaty Entity, to establish regular, transparent, two-way engagement with citizens in the US part of the Columbia Basin,” they state. “However, since no such engagement has occurred since formal negotiations began in May 2018, we learn most of what we know about the process by following your extensive communications about it with Canadians.”

The group also praised the partnership between the Ktunaxa, Secwépemc, and Syilx Okanagan nations, and Canada and British Columbia, as governments with shared sovereignty, to work together on the Treaty and related issues.

“The US Government has so far fallen short of such partnership with Indigenous Columbia Basin nations (tribes) on this side of the border,” they write. “Thank you for demonstrating with your actions how Indigenous rights and expertise can be better incorporated into the Treaty negotiations process.”

“Thank you for your leadership to equip us, and for setting an example,” they conclude.

Canada and the US signed the Columbia River Treaty in 1964. The treaty has no end date, but either country can unilaterally terminate it from September 2024 onwards provided that at least 10 years notice is given. Also starting in 2024, “assured flood control” changes to “called-upon flood control.”

The ability to terminate the Treaty, and changing flood-control provisions prompted both countries to undertake a review of the treaty to determine its future.

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice

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