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Canada in 2020: an essay challenge

This morning, my wife pointed me to an article on CBC about an essay challenge asking citizens to submit 800-word essays on how they see Canada in the world in 2020, offering a $2020 prize and publication of the winning article in various places.

I pondered it a bit and let my fingers do the talking. I submitted my essay to them early this afternoon after trying to keep it down to 800 words.

This is my submission: Canada: Defined by Water in 2020.

reposted here because the site no longer exists, 2019-12-16

Canada: Defined by Water in 2020

This morning I woke to the sound of a city fire-truck driving down my street. Its siren was not on: it was not racing to a fire or to assist a paramedic. It was there to advise us, yet again, of a boil water advisory. Bring your water to a boil for 10 minutes before using it to cook, eat, or clean, warned the fire-truck's loudspeakers, and please conserve water.

As the water table has dropped, water problems have become more frequent. We've had a boil water advisory for nearly a year, following the death of some of my compatriots and the serious sickness of nearly half the city. No-one is quite sure exactly what the cause is, but there is little doubt that the pipeline is to blame.

Three years ago, the California Water Pipeline project was put into service, syphoning off our fresh water supply. The government of the day assured us that there would be no appreciable environmental impact from the installation, and that the economic gains for our region and the other regions affected by the project would be too great to ignore.

Nearly every province, from Quebec west, is involved in the pipeline project. Around a billion gallons of fresh water per day are put into pipes and sent to the southern United States, where it is used as water has always been used, by a population too large for its domestic supply.

The environmental impact of the project is still not clear. Canada's fresh water supply, once estimated at one third of the world's, is in jeopardy. Most cities have water conservation advisories banning the watering of grass. For the first time in Canadian history, even car washes are being forced to close.

The federal government has been reluctant to pull the plug on the project for a few key reasons.

The first is that natural resources are a provincial jurisdiction. Water, being a natural resource by virtue of the federal government permitting its bulk export, is no longer within the federal government's powers to administer.

The second, they point out, is the quarter-billion dollars per day being injected into the Canadian economy by selling our water at twenty-five cents a gallon. Money also, incidentally, effectively, protected under chapter 11 of NAFTA.

The third reason is one that nobody particularly likes to bring up.

Water is the one resource the US needs that it cannot meet with the help of any other country. With Canada having opened its floodgates, there could be severe repercussions from the parched country to the south, were we to halt our bulk water export.

The battle for oil ended quietly but quickly in 2009 when OPEC switched to the Euro, and the price of crude oil began to exceed $200 per barrel, causing inflation to skyrocket. The US pulled out of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 and has kept its forces at home to rebuild.

The US had come to two fundamental realisations:

It would cost too much to suppress developing economies by forcing a high cost of oil.

It would be better able to retain its power and compete by eliminating its dependence on oil.

Auto manufacturers who had had the capability and capacity to manufacture electric cars for years came to realise that the market for these cars warranted exploiting, and the government realised that funding an electric passenger rail network could be an economic boon. The North American dependence on oil began to drop at a refreshing rate, though the increased demand for energy to power oil-reduced industry and electricty-based road and rail networks resulted in a huge construction spree of nuclear power plants throughout the continent.

With oil no longer a serious problem for US policy, the national attention quickly turned to water.

Canada's vast fresh, potable water resources had not escaped the attention of the Americans as their desert lawns turned brown in the high, dry heat.

The idea, which had been bandied about in a not very serious way for decades before, of putting in a fresh water pipeline from Canada to the US began to grow legs. Within two years of the nearly instantaneous evaporation of the US oil market, support for the idea had become widespread across the southern States and pressure was brought to bear on Canada, whose oil-based economic bubble had burst, to allow this idea to become reality.

It took only five years to build the multi-thousand kilometre pipe network to feed the South's thirst, and just two years to cause a noticeable effect on our domestic water supply. In spite of a healthy, rainy summer, we are under a water conservation warning. There isn't enough water here any more for our needs, and what little is left is not safe to drink. The pipes, meanwhile, pump on.

Do I believe what I wrote is exactly how Canada will be in 2020?

Sort of. I do consider it a strong possibility that it is a representation of the road we'll be on when 2020 rolls around in just 14 years.

But Canada is in the middle of a great big 'choose your own adventure' book, and we will have to see which page we turn to.

I'm looking forward to reading other submissions.

Posted at 14:53 on July 03, 2006

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