Public Forum Discusses Resource Protection
The following article on our Citizen’s Forum on Water Rights and Water Protection appeared in the Yellowknifer.
Council of Canadians uses inaugural public forum to discuss protecting resource
Cody Punter Northern News Services
Published Friday, June 28, 2013
Addressing an audience at a citizen’s forum on water rights and protection at the museum on June 18, Idle No More representative Lawrence Nayally pointed to the glistening water outside the window and asked the crowd how many of them had swam in Frame Lake.
Half a dozen hands shot up. When he asked them how many of them had drank from the lake, one reluctant hand remained hanging in the air.
Although Nayally’s exercise demonstrated what many Yellowknifers already know – that water in Frame Lake is not particularly appealing – it was just one of the many salient points made during the Council of Canadians’ inaugural public forum on water rights and protection, whose members urge Northerners to do more to protect our most valuable resource: water.
The Council of Canadians, a non-governmental organization established in 1985, recently founded its first NWT chapter in April, and organized the forum because its members have decided to make water rights its top priority. About 25 people attended the meeting.
“The Council of Canadians have been working on water issues for about 30 years,” said chapter co-chair, Lois Little. “They have a major campaign called Blue Planet, and they have been working against the privatization of water, and working against trade agreements that privatize water.”
Little spoke to a crowd of about 40 during the forum and among other things, presented her audience with the fact that among the hundreds of lakes and rivers in the Northwest Territories, only three are currently protected by federal legislation after 99 per cent of Canada’s lakes and rivers were eliminated when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was wiped off the books through Bill C-45.
Only Great Slave Lake, the Mackenzie River and Great Bear Lake are protected under the new Act.
“From my perspective, we have very little in the way of legislation to protect our water,” she said. “It’s taking it’s toll.”
Little said while there was nothing that could be done to overturn the current legislation, the council was going to push to get new legislation passed.
“It’s too late to go back, we have to go forward. It’s time for new legislation that protects our water.”
A presentation by Erin Kelly from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, indicated the territorial government is drafting a bilateral water agreement with the government of Alberta.
Kelly said there have been large-scale consultations and public engagement efforts and the two governments are currently working on the final details of the plan.
“We’re working with preferred options and we’re hoping to have an agreement by they end of the year,” said Kelly.
Although Little believes the agreement would be a step in the right direction, she said the Mackenzie Valley Resource Management Act, which suggested that bilateral water agreements between territories and provinces should be created, was brought into effect in 1997.
“We can’t wait 15 years for another agreement with B.C.,” said Little, who added the only existing bilateral water agreement between provinces and territories on the Mackenzie Valley Basin is between the Northwest Territories and the Yukon.
She also said even though she hopes there will be an agreement in place sometime soon, it remains to be seen how it will be enforced and managed.
“Agreements are only as good as the implementation vehicle,” she said.
Little said the Council of Canadians will push for independent boards to oversee over water rights agreements.
“They are really important, so that we’re sure that public interest is being cared for,” she said.