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NEWS: The Great Lakes as an international park?

The Globe and Mail reports, “A U.S. architectural firm best known for creating some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world has turned its creative eye to the Great Lakes, advocating for a new economic and environmental vision that spans borders. The bi-national blueprint from Chicago-based Skidmore, Owings and Merrill is still in its infancy, but the concept has garnered support from several mayors in Canada and the United States. The proposal calls on the two nations to re-imagine the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region as a shared space, where Canadians and Americans work together to protect waterways, ease traffic congestion, promote tourism and develop new economic ventures.”

“The Brookings Institution in Washington and Mowat Centre in Toronto have been studying the idea (too), consulting 250 business, government and community leaders. The public-policy think tanks will present their regional blueprint at an international Great Lakes water-quality meeting in Detroit next week.”

And “the National Parks Conservation Association, a U.S. advocacy group, and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative, which includes about 80 mayors from both sides of the border, have joined the push for a bi-national strategy. The proposal urges greater collaboration to improve water quality and conservation. The plan also calls for the designation of a Great Lakes international park, which would increase the region’s cachet, said Lynn McClure, a regional director with the U.S. parks group.”

In terms of developing some understanding of this idea, the National Parks of Canada system includes National Marine Conservation Areas. These protected areas cover the seabed, the water itself and the species present there. They may also take in wetlands, estuaries, islands and other coastal lands. They are protected from dumping, undersea mining and oil and gas exploration and development, which may damage the aquatic or terrestrial ecosystems in the conservation area. However, not all commercial activities are prohibited in these zones. Shipping, commercial and sport fishing, and recreational activities are allowed.

The Council of Canadians, and its US-based partners On The Commons and Food & Water Watch, believe the Great Lakes should be recognized as a lived commons, a public trust and a protected bioregion.

We are collaborating in a sustained effort, in the words of Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, “To designate the Great Lakes and its tributary waters as a lived Commons, to be shared, protected, carefully managed and enjoyed by all who live around them. The Great Lakes Basin Commons would need to be protected by a legal and political framework based on Public Trust Doctrine, underpinning in law that the Great Lakes are central to the very existence of those people, plants and animals living on or near them and therefore must be protected for the common good from generation to generation. This means that the Lakes could not be appropriated or subordinated for private gain. It is also our determination that the Great Lakes will be designated as a Protected Bioregion, recognizing that while there are many political jurisdictions governing the Great Lakes Basin, it is, in fact, one integrated watershed and needs to be seen and governed as such.”

Council of Canadians Great Lakes campaigner Emma Lui will be present at the upcoming ‘Great Lakes Water Quality Biennial Meeting’ in Detroit this October 12-14, which is noted in the above Globe and Mail article. This biennial meeting is organized by the International Joint Commission, an independent bi-national organization established by the United States and Canada under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The six IJC commissioners (three from each country) have responsibilities related to the Boundary Waters Treaty, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (now being re-negotiated), and the Air Quality Agreement.

The biennial IJC meeting will be held in conjunction with the annual meetings of the Great Lakes Commission (created through the Great Lakes Basin Compact and consisting of eight US state members and as associate members Ontario and Quebec) and the Healing Our Waters Coalition (a coalition of more than 115 environmental, conservation, and outdoor recreation organizations, zoos, aquariums and museums led by the National Wildlife Federation and the National Parks Conservation Association).

Look for blogs from Emma about these meetings next week.

For more on our campaign to protect the Great Lakes, please go to