ELECTION 2015: Kootenay-Columbia Q&A 2: Columbia River Treaty negotiations and regional highway safety

Web Lead

  • Sep. 17, 2015 7:00 a.m.

In addition to other pre-election coverage, the Advance — together with other Black Press newspapers in the region — will be publishing federal candidates’ responses to two questions each week leading up to the Oct. 19 election. (Part 1 here.) This week, the Advance asked the five member of Parliament candidates in the Kootenay-Columbia federal riding:

3. Should Ottawa be involved in Columbia River Treaty negotiations or should it be left to B.C.? If the former, what role do you see for the federal government? If the latter, why shouldn’t Ottawa be involved?

4. What solutions do you see to make regional highways (Trans-Canada, Highways 3 and 93/95) safer and more reliable?


Bill Green

(Green Party)

3. In my work with the Ktunaxa and Secwepemc nations, I have been deeply involved in discussions about renewal of the Columbia River Treaty, focusing on restoring ecosystems and returning salmon to the Upper Columbia and Kootenay River watersheds.

I have spearheaded an initiative to learn how operation of the treaty dams could be improved to benefit ecosystems, fish and wildlife, and local communities. We have proposed establishment of a Columbia Basin international watershed board under the auspices of the International Joint Commission.

There is no question about involvement of the federal government in treaty negotiations. Ottawa has constitutional responsibility for international treaties, for rivers that cross the 49th parallel, and for fisheries. The federal government must work very closely with the government of B.C. but also with First Nations and local governments in the Columbia Basin to develop negotiating positions and, ultimately, negotiate effectively with the U.S. government.

4. My focus is on federal funding to improve rail infrastructure, particularly through the critical Rogers Pass transportation bottleneck.

The Green Party proposes to invest $600-$700 million annually in our vital national rail infrastructure. With long-term investment in better rail infrastructure in our riding, more freight currently being moved by truck on highways 1 and 3 can be moved by rail, relieving heavy truck congestion on those routes and improving road safety for all drivers.

Highway maintenance, especially in winter, is a key safety issue. Ottawa is responsible for maintenance and repair of the Trans-Canada Highway inside national parks. There must be federal infrastructure spending to improve safety conditions — including maintenance — of the Trans-Canada between the B.C.-Alberta border and Sicamous.


Don Johnston

(Liberal Party)

3. The federal government has to be involved in the negotiations because the treaty is an agreement between the United States and Canada. Canada transferred the rights and obligations under the CRT to the province under the Canada-BC Agreement, but substantive treaty changes would require federal government involvement.

For constitutional reasons, the federal government also has to be involved in discussion on water use licences, possible salmon restoration and aboriginal rights, but our role would be to work closely with both the province and BC Hydro, the Canadian entity appointed to implement the CRT on behalf of the province. Since Liberal policy to re-engage in an inclusive process with indigenous peoples mirrors provincial goals, the federal partnership would not hinder the treaty process. My former involvement with Columbia Basin Trust also ensures a priority that decisions would always consider the direct impacts on the people who live in the basin.

4. The Liberal party expects me to speak up on local rural issues and highways are a central concern in this region. Infrastructure in Canada is rapidly decaying and a Sunday drive on Highway 93 shows you the full impact of an old road dealing with new realities. These roads were not built with current traffic levels in mind and have become unsafe, economically inefficient and unsustainable in terms of the additional costs to cure certain deficiencies.

Highways managers and engineers will determine priorities and our role will be to provide the tools to ensure consistent investment in these fundamentals.

The recently announced Liberal infrastructure plan with increased long-term funding for public transit, social and green infrastructure, means the New Building Canada Fund can prioritize investments in roads and bridges. This allows us to begin a comprehensive process to make repairs and improvements without having to wait for election handouts.


Wayne Stetski

(New Democratic Party)

3. The Columbia River Treaty has had significant impacts here in the Canadian portion of the Columbia River Basin. Substantial sacrifices were made by residents during the creation of the dams and reservoirs, and impacts continue as a result of hydro operations.

In 2012, the Association of Kootenay Boundary Local Governments formed a committee to ensure that all area residents had a say in the future of the treaty. As a member of that committee, I participated in extensive public meetings that resulted in a report that contained recommendations to the provincial and federal governments.

I am proud to have played a role in ensuring that the voices of Kootenay-Columbia residents were heard in the potential renewal of the treaty. The role of the federal government should be to support the collective voices of basin residents and to seek to ensure that the recommendations are implemented.

4. The Trans-Canada Highway upgrade requires co-ordination between federal and provincial governments, and a divided highway from Sicamous to the Alberta border must be a priority.

As mayor of Cranbrook, I participated in the Highway 3 Mayors’ Coalition on area highways, which have consistently had one of the highest collision rates in the province. Wildlife awareness systems using new technology should be investigated for all our highways.

We also need to ensure adequate funding and enforcement of contract standards for winter highway maintenance, and we need more enforcement capability for our RCMP conducting year-round highway patrols.

Kootenay residents rely heavily on our highway systems, and ensuring safety and reliability must be a top priority.


David Wilks

(Conservative Party, incumbent)

3. The Columbia River Treaty (CRT) has no expiry date, but has a minimum length of 60 years, which is met in September 2024. One or both countries wishing to terminate the CRT must give at least 10 years’ notice. September 2014 was the earliest date to announce intent to terminate the CRT. At this time, neither nation has indicated intention to terminate the CRT.

The Columbia River Treaty is an important agreement, which has helped both countries effectively manage flood control, downstream irrigation and power generation on the trans-boundary Columbia River for the past 50 years. The CRT continues to be an example of the strong and co-operative relationship between Canada and the United States. We look forward to working with the United States as it completes its own review process of the CRT. As we look to the future of the treaty, the government of Canada, in close co-operation with B.C., will ensure that Canada and B.C. will continue to benefit from the treaty.

4. Kootenay-Columbia is unique in that the Trans-Canada Highway flows through three national parks (Yoho, Glacier and Mount Revelstoke) and Highway 93 flows through Kootenay National Park. The federal government has sole responsibility for the Trans-Canada Highway and Highway 93 through the parks. Since 2011, I have worked closely with the environment minister to secure over $300 million in funding for projects within the four parks. The majority went to highway upgrades. Current projects include tunnel lighting (east of Rogers Pass), repaving sections of highway, bridge rehabilitation and animal fencing.

With the exception of the Trans-Canada through the national parks, all highways within B.C. are provincial jurisdiction. Each year, the provincial government sets its priority list for highway projects throughout B.C. It then proceeds with projects based on the budget as set out by the provincial minister. In co-operation with the province, joint funding has resulted in projects such as the Donald Bridge twinning, and overpass and bridge replacements on Highway 3.


Christina Yahn

(Libertarian Party)

3. The Columbia River Treaty was one of the most devastating projects to be undertaken in the region on environment, economy, First Nations and private property rights. Within a few years of the treaty, the Sinixt First Nation was conveniently declared extinct by the government despite the fact it was and still is a thriving culture. Salmon runs, sacred sites and fertile lands were flooded. Around 5,000 individuals’ private property was violated and flooded, leaving them displaced with a minimal compensation for their homes. Government should never have the authority to force people out of their homes and off their lands. Over 100,000 animals’ habitat was destroyed from the flooding.

Economically, the impact was far more negative than estimated. The revenue from hydroelectric dams did not match the initial costs associated with building the infrastructure, compensation of the people who were displaced or the estimated losses that were never taken into consideration of the fertile lands for agriculture and forestry. As a result, funds were taken from schools, health care and forest services.

That being said, no, I do not think Ottawa should have involvement in Columbia River Treaty negotiations. They will be mainly considering monetary positions and will not be personally affected by any decisions made. I believe that only parties who are directly affected by all aspects of an agreement such as this should have an active role in negotiations.

4. Through creating strong local economies, keeping our tax dollars locally will enable us to afford much needed safety upgrades and infrastructure for the roads we drive. Going through the bureaucratic filter in Ottawa for funding is an exhausting and lengthy process; meanwhile, the roads remain in need of repairs while the requests for funding continue to be bogged down in the political mire. Provinces and municipalities have a greater understanding of the particular needs in their area than anyone across the country in Ottawa.