The system is broken: Imbalance on the International Joint Commission

By Elizabeth Hendriks  |  Advisor, Freshwater Policy |  WWF-Canada
Oh my.  Did you hear?  Probably not.  Very quietly and without much fanfare, Lyall Knott completed his term as a commissioner to the International Joint Commission (IJC), representing Canada on international freshwater issues.  This news alone is unremarkable, except that Pierre Trépanier, another commissioner, completed his term over a year ago and has not been replaced.  With no new appointments, this means two of the three Canadian Commissioner seats are left vacant.  While the USA has three commissioners ensuring the needs of Americans are being represented on waters between Canada and the USA, Canada only has one.
Niagara River hydro power overview, Ontario, Canada
To be fair to the remaining Commissioner, Joseph Comuzzi, I’m sure he can handle all the issues on shared waters between the two countries, but a 3:1 ratio doesn’t seem like the balanced approach the IJC is meant to take.
But let me back up a bit.
The IJC is the binational body created in 1909 to resolve disputes on waters shared between Canada and the USA.  The IJC’s core principles are equal representation, decision by consensus based on joint fact finding, public consultation, objectivity and flexibility.  The IJC has been a model tool for diplomacy and water mediation for the rest of the world, largely because it has had unprecedented success in ensuring needs of the USA and Canada are equally addressed.
This success can be largely attributed to equal representation.  The Canadian Prime Minister and American President are each responsible for appointing three IJC Commissioners, including one chair from each country. These commissioners traditionally work by consensus to find solutions that are in the best interest of both countries.
But, right now, that system is broken because there is not equal representation.  During a period when water quality issues are at the forefront of the Canadian consciousness particularly regarding toxics, and water levels that are oscillating between high and low extremes in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River, now is the time for the IJC to be at full strength.  Without proper representation, it will be even harder to find solutions in managing a key resource that reflect the interests of all citizens and to address unique needs, such as those of Quebec.
One commissioner can’t possibly ensure adequate attention is being dedicated to getting the best solutions and outcomes for our shared waters.  The Federal Government has a legal duty to appoint representation.  We hope – for the health and wealth of Canadian waters (and Joseph Comuzzi) – that Canada’s government appoint knowledgeable personnel to be our Commissioners and soon!  Canadians deserve equal representation to Americans on our shared waters.
For more on this issue, check out the open letter we wrote to the Prime Minister’s Office in collaboration with the Forum for Leadership on Water.