Notes for an Address by the Honourable Lawrence Cannon, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on Occasion of Boundary Waters Treaty Centennial Celebration

No. 2009/40 - Niagara Falls, Ontario - June 13, 2009

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We stand here between our two great countries in front of these majestic falls. A lot of water has flowed here over the centuries, of course. These shores have also seen their share of historical events.

I remember reading for instance that Winston Churchill, on his second visit to Niagara Falls, in 1943, was asked by an enterprising journalist—they existed even then—whether he found anything different from his first visit, 14 years earlier. Churchill, it was reported, while gazing at the Falls, replied, “The basic principle seems to be the same.”

Well, we are here today to celebrate the fact that the basic principle of the friendship between Canada and the United States is still the same.

Canada and the United States have shared—and jointly managed—the boundary that exists between our two countries without a major incident for a hundred years. This is no small accomplishment; I don’t think you could say this about too many neighbours, so it’s indeed remarkable and significant—and a good reason to celebrate.

Canada and the United States share an enormous asset and an enormous responsibility: the Great Lakes. The largest system of fresh surface water in the world, these inland waters are fundamental to our mutual health and well-being, to our shared environment and to our interdependent economies.

They have given us not just trade and shipping routes and a source of livelihood for our citizens, but just as importantly, they have given us clean water, ecological diversity and natural beauty.

Signed in 1909, the Boundary Waters Treaty established mechanisms to help resolve disputes and prevent future disagreements from arising, primarily those concerning water quantity and quality along the border.

The agreement also created the International Joint Commission, one of Canada and the United States’ first binational organizations, to restore and maintain the integrity of all of our shared water resources.

In its centenary year, the International Joint Commission remains a testament to the goodwill, hard work and forward thinking that bind our great nations together.

Today, the Great Lakes face a number of new challenges. As a result, we are taking new steps to protect it. We will work together to ensure that citizens of both countries have access to clean, safe and healthy water, and that there is a reliable and secure supply.

Of course we are here to celebrate the centennial of the Boundary Waters Treaty. It so happens, Madame Secretary [Hillary Rodham Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State], that Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada is also celebrating its 100th birthday this year, at a time when the world around us is going through a period of tremendous and rapid change, as you well know.

Foreign policy guidelines are no longer as clearly defined as they were for most of the last century. The issues we face today—the economic crisis, peace, security, human rights, civil liberties, economic development, climate change—require the cooperation of the entire international community.

That is why the quality and strength of our ties with other countries have never been more important than they are today. The friendship between Canada and the United States is a model for the world. The trade that crosses this border is critical to the economies of both countries.

And we must work together to keep it flowing. Free trade between Canada and the United States has been, and still is, a driving force in both our countries—one that will help to pull us out of the global economic downturn.

The value of trade was again recognized by all G20 leaders this year when they agreed to resist protectionism. After all, we have learned the lesson of the Great Depression—that protectionism can only bring everyone down.

Our two great countries must build on our long-standing trade relationships if we are going to continue on the road to economic recovery. Madame Secretary, our shared history demonstrates we can do great things that serve our mutual interest when we work together. We are members of the G8.

In security, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) created in the 1950s remains vital in protecting our shared airspace. We are founding partners of NATO, stood side by side in the long dark years of the Cold War and together rejoiced when, thanks in large measure to our solidarity, we prevailed.

Today, we fight alongside one another in Afghanistan to combat the scourge of global terrorism. We have also jointly built and maintained infrastructure where it makes sense to do so.

The vast effort in the 1950s to build the St. Lawrence Seaway and open our industrial heartlands to ocean-going transport is just one example.

The many bridges joining our two countries, from East to West, are others.

Let us rededicate ourselves, today, to continue doing great things together.

Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in celebrating the centennial of the Border Waters Treaty, and here’s to at least another century of successful collaboration.

Thank you.