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Cry us a river - or a Great Lake or two

Carolynne Burkholder -- CUP Opinions Bureau Chief | The Manitoban | Opinion | January 23rd, 2006

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
VANCOUVER (CUP) -- In theory, it should be as simple as the law of supply and demand. We have water to spare; they need it and are willing to pay for it. But unlike other Canadian resources that we are willing to sell out to the highest bidder, water tugs on our emotions. It's the proverbial stuff of life and we won't let it go without a fight.

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci was quoted in a recent Canadian Press article, expressing his confusion with the opposition to water sales in Canada. "Water is . . . a very valuable commodity, and I've always found it odd where Canada is so willing to sell oil and natural gas and uranium and coal, which are by their very nature finite. But talking about water is off the table, and water is renewable,” he said. “It doesn't make any sense to me.”

What Cellucci fails to see — or chooses to ignore — is that Canadians don't have the emotional attachment to oil, uranium, or coal that we have to water. That despite all logical arguments, Canadians continue to be incensed over this non-issue.

Undeniably, world statistics are frightening: 1.1 billion people in the world currently do not have access to clean drinking water. According to U.N. estimates, this number will increase to 5.5 billion in the next 20 years.

But most of the people to which these statistics refer live in developing countries. And as Canadians continue to demonstrate, if we're separated by an ocean, it's not our problem. These statistics are not the reason that Canadians are protesting water exports. It's the impending water crisis in the U.S. — striking us much closer to home — that accounts for the growing hysteria associated with water sales.

Maclean's magazine came under huge criticism last month for their controversial cover story on exporting water to the U.S., which declared: “We should tone down the emotion and figure out how to sell it to them.”

As much as I hate to admit it, I agree with Steve Maich from Maclean's on this one. We should put our emotions aside and think about this logically; it is in our best interest to sell our water. But Maich and I seem to be the only ones who feel this way.

Defying all common sense, Canadians have opened up the emotional floodgates in opposition to the export of water.

The main point endorsed by these opponents is that Canada's supply of water is not infinite. With the glacial melting, we could soon face a water crisis of our own, so how can we think of sharing?

This emotional reasoning does not take into account that Canada “lucked out in the global water sweeps” as the CBC brilliantly puts it, holding between five and 25 per cent of the world's fresh water — depending on how you calculate “fresh” and “accessible.”

There isn't currently, and has never been, a water crisis here in Canada.

Canadians are among the world's worst water wasters, a point for which we have been lambasted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. According to the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford, England, we are the second most wasteful users of water in the world — behind Finland — and we still have water to spare.

Maybe if we want to save water, we should start in our own homes — not leaving the sprinklers on all night and running the tap until the water gets cold enough to drink. But it is much easier to protest in favour of conserving water than to actually conserve it.

There is no logical reason not to capitalize on our country's assets. Despite what many anti-trade activists would have you believe — and emotionally driven Canadians often do — agreeing to sell a small amount of water would not open the proverbial floodgates to unlimited water exports.

The often-cited NAFTA clause states that if something is sold — even once — as a commodity, the government cannot stop its sale in the future. This passage, in itself, is frightening. But like most public policy, it is limited. NAFTA also contains a passage stating that governments can put limits on trade to conserve exhaustible natural resources — water being one.

Fortune magazine calls water exporting "one of the world's great business opportunities.” The magazine goes on to say, “It promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th."

We already capitalize on our oil and our lumber, so why not our water? Put all the emotional rhetoric aside, and it just makes sense.
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