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Public Consultation and the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Karen E. Vigmostad, Jennifer G. Read
Karen E. Vigmostad, Ph.D., Director, Great Lakes Regional Office, International Joint Commission, 100 Ouellette Avenue Eighth Floor, Windsor, Ontario N9A 6T3, Canada, Phone: (519) 257-6715; Fax: (519) 257-6740; Email: Jennifer

Keyword(s): Great Lakes; water quality; public consultation; transboundary governance; International Joint Commision; 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty; Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
AbstractThe 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty between Canada and the United States established the International Joint Commission as an independent international governmental organization to help prevent and resolve disputes between the two nations in their boundary waters. From the Commissionís inception, water quality in the shared Laurentian Great Lakes was the topic of several references, the Treatyís term for a governmental request for advice from the Commission. The fourth reference on Lower Lakes (lakes Erie and Ontario) water quality came in 1964 and resulted in a recommendation for an additional binational instrument addressing water quality issues. Therefore in 1972, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and U.S. President Richard Nixon signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to address serious problems of eutrophication in the lakes. The Agreement was amended in 1978, 1983, and 1987 with increasing levels of public consultation. The objectives of this paper were to 1) document the role of public consultation in the review of the Agreement since its inception in 1972; 2) analyze the cultural, legal, and institutional factors that led to this custom of public consultation; and 3) provide recommendations as to the role of civil society in other transboundary waterway agreements. Research methods used were the review of historical documents and interviews with Canadian and U.S. government and nongovernmental participants in the current and previous reviews of the Agreement. Results of this research indicate that public consultation has increased from involvement of less than a dozen people in 1987 to over four hundred in the current review. This increased involvement has influenced the content of this executive agreement between two sovereign nations. The factors leading to this level and intensity of public consultation were the shared culture of democracy of the two nations, their long history of peaceful cooperation, and the institutional structure and legal requirements of the associated Treaty that requires the Commission to give all interested parties a "convenient opportunity to be heard" on matters under consideration. This level and type of public consultation in agreements concerning transboundary waterways increases the length of time needed to craft executive agreements and decreases the autonomy of the federal governments. At the same time it also increases the likelihood of strong public support by many sectors for actions and funds needed to implement complex environmental agreements over long periods of time.
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