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In a Land of a Million Lakes, are Canada’s Export Rules Water-Tight?

You can’t swing a cat in this country, without hitting some water.

It covers more than nine percent of Canada; the second largest country in the world.

We’ve got over a Million freshwater lakes, and more than 500 of them, are at least 100²km in size. We have so many rivers, we can’t even count them all. The last, and best estimate was in the neighbourhood of 2.25 Million. And from that vast system pours more than seven percent of all of the renewable fresh water in the world. More than 105-Trillion cubic litres … per second. It is almost impossible to wrap your head around that kind of volume. Imagine, a solid cube of water, 105 kilometers long, wide, and deep. And every second, of every day, one of those massive cubes is headed for a lake, or an ocean, somewhere in this country.

And then, there’s the ice.  More than 200-thousand square kilometres of glacial ice; roughly two percent of the national land mass. Hell, the ice alone contains more fresh water than all of the lakes, in any other single nation in the world!

Truly, it’s mind-boggling, and almost impossible to comprehend. An embarrassment of riches on a global scale.

And therein, lies the problem.

Canadians love their water with an emotional intensity that’s hard to explain. Almost every kid born in this country learns to do two things, before they’re old enough to drive. Swim, and skate. Water is an intrinsic part of our national identity; envinced by the noble beaver, which spends its life in, and around the water. And tell me of one native-born Canadian whose blood is not stirred by the plaintive call of our national bird, the Common Loon? That haunting cry echoes the vast loneliness, mystery, and beauty, of the wilderness areas that cover our nation from coast, to coast, to coast.

Water is more than an accident of geography to the people of this nation, it is the fabric of the nation itself.

And so, it is not surprising that Canadians are very protective of their lakes, rivers, and mountain glaciers, and more than a little bit reluctant to see them given away to foreign entities that are covetous of our beloved natural bounty. But we’d better start getting used to the idea of doing exactly that, or get prepared for an exhaustive battle against daunting opposition, because over the next 15 years the world, is coming for our water.

On the surface, it would seem that our water is protected by federal decree. Governments from Brian Mulroney’s in 1993 to Justin Trudeau’s today, have repeatedly declared that they will not export water to foreign countries. In fact, the Government of Canada points out that it took great pains to exclude water exports from the North America Free Trade Agreement:

” NAFTA does not apply to water in its natural state in lakes, rivers, etc., because the water has not at that point “entered into commerce and become a good” for purposes of the NAFTA.”

Presumably, the same sorts of prohibitions and exclusions will be included in the new Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement with Europe, ( CETA ) as well as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. ( TPP) You would think. Right?

Feeling reassured? Well don’t.

Here’s why we may very well end up pumping hundreds of Trillions of litres of fresh Canadian water into tankers, pipelines, and other bulk delivery systems destined for foreign lands, before the year 2030.

Let’s start within the boundaries of our own country. In 2013, the Harper Conservatives passed Bill C-383, “The Transboundary Waters Protection Act”. Essentially, the Bill was supposed to ban bulk water exports from Canada. Whether it will, or even can, however, is a point of debate. That’s because individual provinces have control over their own natural resources, and what can be done with them.

In 1999, Gerry White, an entrepreneur from Newfoundland, came very close to being Canada’s first water mogul. White envisioned a scheme to scoop half-a-million cubic litres of crystal clear water per week, from Lake Gisborne on the south coast of the province, and ship it in bulk to customers overseas. White’s scheme was going full-bore, and had the backing of a local mayor, when it hit the desk of Newfoundland’s environment minister, under the government of Brian Tobin. Although initial approvals were granted, the political backlash that exploded when the plan became public, convinced Tobin to shut the project down, and ban all bulk water exports from the province.

A similar scheme by Nova Group to send water from Lake Superior, to Asia, was also initially approved in 2002, before public opposition in Ontario killed the plan .

But, despite those failures, bulk water has become a tradable commodity. At the moment in Ontario four companies, led by international giant Nestle´, currently withdraw nearly 38 Million litres of water per day, for bottling and sale. They are charged $3.71 per MILLION litres, or 140 dollars a day, for the privilege. That’s the cost for government services to support the process. The water, is free.

And that’s only a fraction of the water withdrawn by municipalities, industries, golf courses, and other, smaller water bottlers that are also busily sucking up Ontario’s ground water, at a rate of 1.4 TRILLION litres, per day.

Similar withdrawals, moderated by population and end use, occur across the country. The Prairies for example account for nearly 60 percent of Canada’s agricultural water use. In Alberta, the oil sands have become a significant source for water demand, using roughly four barrels of water, for every barrel of oil recovered. But the point is, that every Province makes its own rules, and no matter who uses it, or for what purpose, Canadian water is essentially free.

That patchwork quilt of legislation from coast to coast is a significant cause of concern, for those who want to ensure that a thirsty world will not drink Canada dry. Why?

Well the problem goes back to NAFTA and GATT ( General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs ) administered by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Here’s how the argument basically runs. Since most provinces allow virtually limitless bulk water withdrawals within Canada for industrial and commercial use without fees, or conservation regulations, there is no reason to treat foreign buyers any differently. To do so, would create an illegal trade barrier for Canada’s international trading partners. If such barriers were to be imposed, there could foreseeably be a challenge to those laws and regulations, under the NAFTA agreement, or under GATT. And if that happened, here’s the kicker; Canada would have no say in the final decision regarding the fate of its own national water supply. That call, would likely be made by a World Trade Organization tribunal, or perhaps an Investor-State-Dispute-Settlement trial involving international lawyers and arbitrators that are not subject to, nor controlled by, Canadian law.

The Conservative Bill C-383 was supposed to nullify this threat by an amendment to Section 10 of the Bill which states:

bulk removal” means the removal of water from boundary or transboundary waters and the taking of that water, whether it has been treated or not, outside the Canadian portion of the water basin  —  set out in Schedule 2  —  in which the waters are located

  • (a) by any means of diversion, including by pipeline, canal, tunnel, aqueduct or channel; or
  • (b) by any other means by which more than 50 000 L of water are taken outside the water basin per day.

Which sounds fairly solid, until you read the next portion of that amendment:

Bulk removal does not include the taking of a manufactured product that contains water, including water and other beverages in bottles or other containers, outside a water basin.

Huh? Does that mean that entrepreneurs can take water for use as a beverage outside of its natural water basin, in tankers, pipelines, rail cars or other containers? Some legal experts say yes. Others, like J. Owen Saunders, from the University of Toronto’s Munk Centre for Global Affairs say, it’s unclear.

” I would say that when you’re talking about pipelines or canals, it is a grey area of international law. I assume the government is aware of that and is prepared to defend it under NAFTA. But certainly the argument can be made that the water has been captured when you put it into a pipeline.”

( From: “Debate on Final Reading of Bill C-383 “Transboundary Waters Protection Act”: February 08 /2013 )

If Canada’s internal regulations, laws and protections designed to prevent mass foreign exports of the nation’s water seem shaky, it’s even less comforting to know that other international developments take dead aim, against any sovereign claims by our government.

On July 28, 2010, the United Nations recognized the right to clean water and sanitation as fundamental to the realization of all human rights, in its Resolution 64/292 , and called on all States and International organizations to provide financial resources, help, capacity building, and technology transfers, to accomplish the goal of  ” accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

The Government of Canada has yet to endorse that resolution. Why?

Well, a UN press release  distributed the same day the resolution passed, might offer one reason for our national hesitation. The release suggests that text of the resolution could undermine the work of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, because it described the right to water in a manner that did not reflect existing International Law. Not only that, but neither the UN General Assembly, nor the HRC in Geneva, had even seen the text of the resolution, nor debated the legal implications of such a declaration, prior to its adoption.

Nevertheless, international forces interested in locking down legal claims to Canadian water, continued to press ahead with barely a pause. Clean water and sanitation for all, became a Sustainable Development Goal; an SDG, in UN lingo. In the five-and-a-half years between the initial UN Resolution, and the start of this year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, has teamed up with the World Bank, to create the High Level Panel on Water, at the 2016 World Economic Forum.

Citing “water crises ” as one of the top three global risks over the next ten years, the mandate of the panel is to ” mobilize urgent action on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) for water, sanitation, and (unnamed) related targets.” , and, ” to help advance the panel’s important objective to promote water-resilient economic growth in a warming world.” . The Panel already has an agenda, and clear public relations goals in mind, among them, this gem:

  • Focus public policy dialogue, private-sector models and practices and civil society towards the Water SDG.

In other words, bend the world’s will toward the desired goals of the World Bank, and the private sector, aided and abetted by resolution 64/292 of the United Nations, and its stated Sustainable Development Goal, the human right to water and sanitation.

There are several other international members and supporters of this initiative. One of the most interesting of them, is the 2030 Water Resources Group. That organization came out of an initiative of 2008 World Economic Forum, and is now hosted by the International Finance Corporation ( IFC ). The IFC is an arm of the World Bank which, according to its website, “provides advice for private sector ventures and projects, in the developing world”, The 2030 Water Resources Group , claims to be: ” a unique public-private-civil society collaboration…facilitat(ing) open, trust-based dialogue processes to drive action on water resources reform in water stressed countries in developing economies. The ultimate aim of such reforms and actions is to close the gap between water demand and supply by the year 2030.”


The gobbledy-gook, in less officious words, suggests a gang of corporate “Robin Hoods”, who see water as liquid gold; and intend to distribute that currency from those that have, to those who have not. ( There may, of course, be some healthy corporate profit-taking for the shareholders, along the way.)

Despite the charitable trappings of the 2030 WRG, it doesn’t seem a big surprise to discover that among the key members you will find some of the biggest multinational beverage companies in the world. Companies like, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, and SABMiller. Currently, the chairman of the organization, is none other than Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, who is also the Chairman of Nestle´, one of the biggest bulk-water removal companies not only in Canada, but world-wide.

If you still doubt that there’s a connection here, or that all of this co-ordinated international effort is nothing more than a coincidence, consider this: in January, at the 2016 World Economic Forum in Switzerland, (the corporate home of Nestle´) the Global Water Initiative was introduced, adopted, and included the following text:

” Building resilient economies will require integrated approaches to tackle the fundamental political questions of how to allocate water across the economy, strengthening and adapting to future water stresses, all while ensuring water withdrawals are within sustainable levels between competing uses and users, and across sovereign boundaries.

Don’t kid yourself Canada. The world is coming for our water, and they’re coming hard, and fast.


I'm a veteran broadcast journalist, producer, writer, and talk show gadabout. I like to play bad hockey, drink good beer, take sporadic rides on my bicycle and generally annoy my family with Dad jokes and selective memory. ( Lois the dog, excepted. )

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