Perceptions by Gerry Warner
So let’s think the unthinkable. Donald Trump wins the election in November and becomes the 45th President of the United States. What might that mean for Canada? More to the point, what would it mean for B.C.?
Perish the thought!
Think, Columbia River Treaty. As you may know, this historic treaty could be renegotiated within a decade and officials on both sides of the border are
feverishly preparing for these negotiations now. The 52-year-old treaty could be left the way it is, but a lot has happened since the treaty was signed in 1964 and as the old saying goes, time waits for no man, or woman.
In fact, it’s pretty well a given that the treaty will be renegotiated once either side gives the required 10 years notice and the countdown begins. And what should interest East Kootenay residents the most is that these will primarily be federal negotiations carried on in Ottawa and Washington D.C. even though the mighty Columbia rises less than a two-hour drive north of Cranbrook.
When the treaty was originally negotiated, I doubt if any of the negotiators could have found Cranbrook on the map. Or would have bothered. Instead, they drew lines on a map and presto! More than 2,000 residents in small communities along the Arrow Lakes in the West Kootenay were ordered to leave their homes and relocate on higher ground. Less than a decade later, the same fate was visited on several hundred farmers and ranchers in the East Kootenay when thousands of acres of the best agricultural land in southeastern BC was flooded under 40 feet of water by the Libby Dam.
Some of those residents are bitter about the man-made flood to this day. Productive farming communities like Waldo, Krag and Renata simply disappeared. The people of these now largely forgotten communities had to stand and watch while their homes were burned and their pasture land flooded for a pittance of compensation. Yes, the BC government was paid $254 million and half the downstream power benefits in compensation too. But that’s awfully cold comfort for what was lost – our land, our homes our very patrimony – so that our southern neighbours could reuse our stored water over and over again through a string of dams downstream and build their economy at the expense of ours. Yes, there were flood control benefits too, but I don’t think the floods on the Columbia took the life of a single Canadian and precious few Americans either.
So what now?
You can expect soon that one government or the other will give renegotiation notice. Noises drifting north of the border indicate the Americans are the most likely to do this because they want the entire treaty renegotiated, in their favour instead of ours while Canada is just interested in tweaking the treaty a bit to make it more fair. But it’s hard to say for sure because both sides are reluctant to show their hand in case it would help the other so the real planning is going on behind closed doors with a minimum of public consultation to keep people on both sides of the border happy.
All things considered, the process is going as well as could be expected, but – and this is a big BUT – the election this fall could entirely upset the apple cart if the “unthinkable” mentioned at the beginning of this piece becomes president. Keep in mind the Columbia River Treaty is an international treaty signed by the heads of state of both governments. What this means, of course, is if The Donald is elected president in November the American negotiators will be reporting to him and that should set the alarm bells ringing.
Trump, after all, is the presidential candidate that calls Mexicans “rapists,” says he’ll ban Muslims from the U.S. and wants to make America “great” again. Makes you wonder what he thinks about Canadians and all our water while the US is running out.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist who switches stations when Trump speaks.