Trudeau to name lead treaty negotiator

Negotiations are underway to possibly make changes to the Columbia River Treaty of 1964.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be appointing a negotiator to lead talks on updating the Columbia River Treaty, according toa US senator from Washington State.

“Prime Minister Trudeau, Foreign Minister [Stephane] Dion, and I had a positive discussion today,” Senator Maria Cantwell saidin a news release.

“The Canadian leaders agreed to move forward and appoint a chief negotiator to begin treaty talks. Modernizing this treaty would benefit Americans and Canadians along the Columbia River across the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed the news, writing in an email that “progress towards establishing a negotiating team was made” during Trudeau’s visit to Washington last week.

“The government of Canada has been and will continue working closely with the government of British Columbia to prepare for discussions with the United States on the future of the treaty,” wrote Joseph Pickerill.

The Columbia River Treaty was signed in 1964 to provide flood control in the United States. In exchange, Canada was given $254 million to build three dams along the river, and granted a share of profits from extra US power production that resulted from the treaty.

The treaty can be canceled or changed starting in 2024, provided one side gives 10 years notice to do so.

Both sides have expressed a desire to modify the treaty. In BC, the province, local governments in the Columbia Basin and First Nations have each submitted recommendations for improvements. In the US, legislators have been urging the White House to begin discussions.

Discussions so far have surrounded the compensation BC should receive for providing flood control and adding environmental considerations to the treaty. First Nations on both sides of the border are pushing to restore the Columbia River salmon run aspart of the treaty.

So far, Ottawa has largely left negotiations in the hands of the BC government. Bill Bennett, the MLA for Kootenay East and the minister of energy and mines, said they are still waiting to hear Ottawa’s position on the treaty, as well as that of the American government.

“We actually have legal authority to be consulted by the federal government and they require our sign off on anything that is negotiated,” he said. “That’s the most important thing for people to understand is the Canadian government doesn’t have thesame unilateral authority the US government has.”

Bennett said he expects Ottawa to take the lead on negotiations, “with BC right at their elbow providing information and perspective.”

“We certainly would welcome the opportunity to negotiate with the US on improving the treaty,” he said. “We’re not interested in opening up the treaty, but we’re certainly interested in improving it.”

Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski noted the work that has been done by the province, local governments and First Nations so far. He said the federal government’s job should be to support the work that’s been done.

“We certainly should not be starting to do it all over again,” he said.

He said the report from Washington was the first he’d heard about the treaty since being elected in October. “This was the first movement on it that I’ve seen.”