A noisy demonstration outside the Westin Bayshore is the latest in a growing campaign of resistance to the proposed Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. Police kept protesters out of the Vancouver hotel on August 14, where international trade representatives from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico were holding talks. No arrests were made.
"While Mr. [David] Emerson and his partners from the United States and Mexico were meeting in this hotel, we demonstrated the hypocrisy of this agreement," Harjap Grewal of the human-rights group No One Is Illegal told the Georgia Straight.
Meanwhile, NDP MP Peter Julian has alleged that past SPP meetings have focused on the possibility of bulk-water sales and diversions of fresh water from Canada to the U.S. "Environmentally, they are not a good idea, and in terms of sustainability, they are not a good idea," Julian told the Straight in a phone interview while on vacation.
On August 20 and 21, the SPP will be holding a "North American Leaders' Summit" in Montebello, Quebec. Julian, MP for Burnaby–New Westminster, claimed that Canada's fresh water could again be on the table.
The NDP has obtained a "concept paper" prepared by a U.S. think-tank involved in the SPP. It emphasizes Canada's relative abundance of fresh water in North America and proposes rewriting transboundary water -management agreements for the continent. The author, Armand B. Peschard-Sverdrup, is director of the Mexico Project for the Washington, D.C.-based Centre for Strategic & International Studies.
Julian said that the paper, entitled "North American Future 2025 Project", was distributed ahead of a SPP meeting in Calgary on April 27. "The three nations will have to overcome the bureaucratic challenges posed by their different political systems and legal regimes, particularly if the overriding future goal of North America is to achieve joint optimum utilization of the available water," the report states.
Julian said he believes the federal Conservatives and Liberals plan to go along with the SPP, which would allow "not just bulk-water exports, but a move to water diversions, which will have a profound and irreversible impact on Canada's environment".
Foreign-affairs ministry spokesperson Bernard Nguyen declined to respond to the Straight's questions concerning water exports.
SPP critics worry that Canada's sovereignty is at stake. Federal Green party leader Elizabeth May told the Straight that even one bulk-water sale to the U.S. would be read under the North American Free Trade Agreement as making all Canadian fresh water eligible for purchase and export.
"Any efforts to deny export-market requests would be seen as a violation of NAFTA, because it would be seen as straight discriminatory," May told the Straight from her Nova Scotia home. "We could never exert sovereignty over our water supply".
According to Carleen Pickard, a Vancouver spokesperson for the Council of Canadians, the SPP is a series of working groups comprised of government and corporate representatives from Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. It has the "authority to make recommendations to the government", she said.
Susan Howatt, national water campaigner for the Council of Canadians, explained from her office in Ottawa that under Chapter 11 of NAFTA, all provinces must "open up their floodgates" if one province or one town or one company enters water into commerce.
"The language that they are using is no longer 'Canada's water, America's water, Mexico's water'; it's 'North American water'," Howatt told the Straight.
Chris Wood, a Vancouver Island–based author with an upcoming book on potential water shortages, interpreted the implications of the SPP and NAFTA differently: "Trade agreements in general simply do not hold the sort of shotgun deal that is described." He said if one province did sell water, everything would not suddenly be "on the block".
Julian however, maintained Canadians could soon expect water to enter into the same power struggles that characterize energy and softwood-lumber negotiations. "Decisions around forestry policy aren't made in Victoria or Ottawa–they're made in Washington," he said. "We could be seeing the same type of thing for water policy if the SPP continues."