Academic journal article Quebec Studies

The Challenges of a Legitimate Governance of the Great Lakes ... and of the St. Lawrence: Between Ecosystem Considerations, Diversity, and Fragmentation

Academic journal article Quebec Studies

The Challenges of a Legitimate Governance of the Great Lakes ... and of the St. Lawrence: Between Ecosystem Considerations, Diversity, and Fragmentation

Article excerpt


Au Canada, la juridiction sur les eaux transfrontieres est federale en meme temps que les ressources naturelles relevent de la juridiction des provinces, mais, paradoxalement, parce que le fleuve St-Laurent traverse l'ensemble du territoire quebecois, qu'il est alimente par de nombreux tributaires, qu'il structure l'occupation du territoire et fournit les ressources en eau necessaires a plusieurs missions publiques de juridictions provinciale ou municipale, la population du Quebec a tendance a se tourner plutot vers ce gouvernement pour ce qui a trait aux usages et a la protection de ce grand fleuve, considere largement comme patrimoine collectif.

Nous montrerons cependant dans ce texte, a partir de l'experience de l'Entente de 2005 entre les Etats etatsuniens et les provinces canadiennes sur les prelevements dans les Grands Lacs, qu'il n'est pas toujours dans l'interet des populations, particulierement des populations situees en aval d'un bassin versant, de decentraliser les decisions concernant la gestion de ce bassin.

Si toute decision concernant le bassin Grands Lacs/St-Laurent a laquelle le Quebec ne serait pas associe directement ne beneficierait pas d'un grand capital de legitimite aupres de la population quebecoise, il reste que la juridiction federale en cette matiere et les accords internationaux conclus entre les deux pays fournissent un rapport de forces moins inegal qu'une partie qui se joue a neuf (amont) contre un (aval).


For almost a century, the United States and Canada have tried to jointly manage the water resources that border their two territories. (1) Throughout the twentieth century, the challenges and the issues in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence ecosystem have never ceased to evolve, to multiply, and to become more complex, as have the stakeholders who participate in the management of this vast hydrographic network and the interests that confront them there. This gigantic basin shelters almost 45 million people (2) and provides a navigable waterway of 3,700 kilometers.

In the last decade, the issues as well as the participants/decisionmakers have been transformed. On one side, the water quality of this Basin and the navigational issues remain important. But in the North-American context of free trade, the matter of withdrawals and diversions has taken center stage, preoccupation with which made the International Joint Commission (IJC) late with its 2000 report (3) and which it reiterated in its 2002 report. (4) This question of the diversions has a central place in current debates as it could potentially affect all of the other issues: flow, navigation, quality, renewal, etc., in the entire basin and in each of its parts, since the rate of renewal of the water in the Great Lakes, despite the size of this basin, is only about 1% per year according to the experts.

Furthermore, if the management of this cross-border basin has long been essentially ensured by the central authorities of the two countries concerned as well as the bi-national institutions they have put in place, other levels of jurisdiction in the two countries will in future participate in this management. The problem is that the Treaty on Border Waters, signed by the two countries in 1909, legally concerns only the basin's border parties and not the basin globally. (5)

Thus faced with the highly-controversial issue of withdrawals and diversions, the debate, although it has been examined by bi-national institutions, notably the IJC, has been appropriated by the basin's eight bordering states and two provinces, through the initiatives of the Board of Governors of the Great Lakes, which adopted an agreement in good faith in 1985: the Charter of the Great Lakes. (6)

Through this specific example, that of the process leading from the Charter of the Great Lakes to the Agreement of 2005 (7) aimed at prohibiting diversions except for exceptional circumstances, we wish to examine the paradoxes of decentralization. …

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