Remarks at the 100th Anniversary of the Boundary Waters Treaty
Secretary of State
I just want to recognize the significance of this extraordinary moment in time. The friendship between the people of the United States and Canada is the strongest in the world. There is no border that is longer and more peaceful; there is no greater trade between two nations. There are so many values that we share in common, and today we celebrate a treaty that helped to make this friendship possible 100 years ago.
The people who understood the significance of our relationship and the beauty of our natural surroundings were far-sighted and visionary. And the Boundary Water Treaty of 1909 made official something that people on both sides of the border have known for generations: that the rivers, the lakes, streams, the watersheds along our boundary do not belong to one nation or the other, but to both of us. And we are therefore called to be good stewards in the care of these precious resources. These waterways sustain some of Canada’s and America’s greatest cities. They foster travel and trade, they provide drinking water to families across the continent, and, of course, they offer some of the most beautiful vistas in all of creation.
Even as countries elsewhere in the past and today clash over natural resources, Canada and the United States have worked to remain peaceful partners in sharing these waters and caring for their long-term health. Now, when we’ve had differences, which all friends do, and even families, for that matter, we have worked that through. The International Joint Commission created by the Treaty has helped us to resolve our differences quickly and fairly.
The treaty has also established a sense of cooperation along the border. Other than comments about which side of the border has a better view – (laughter) – it’s something that we hear but don’t accept. It is so wonderfully easy to travel between our two countries, except for today, when we blocked the traffic on the bridge. I’m glad I’m no longer an elected official. (Laughter.) And I think when we look to the extraordinary relationship that we have between our two countries, I know how much traffic goes across this bridge – not just carrying goods as part of our trade relation, and not just visits by tourists, but residents on both sides who have children who play hockey on one side, who work on the other side, who have a summer home on one side. There is so much traffic that brings us together on a literally minute-by-minute basis. In fact, 300,000 people cross the border every single day to spend some time in the country next door. And they don’t have to pass through a military checkpoint to do so. Our border reflects our trust in one another.
Now, to properly celebrate the 100 successful years of this treaty, we have to do more than honor the past. We have to recommit ourselves to strengthening this partnership and find new ways to work together to solve common problems. As we look at this alliance that exists between the United States and Canada, it is stunning. $1.6 billion in goods flows across this border every single day. Many of our industries actually work hand-in-hand, supporting millions of jobs in both countries. We have the world’s largest energy trade relationship. Our power grids work together seamlessly, most of the time. We collaborate closely on citizen safety and defense. Our soldiers are serving shoulder-to-shoulder in Afghanistan. And we share a commitment to promoting democracy, good governance, and human rights worldwide. So our comprehensive alliance in the 21st century will move us even closer together as we collaborate to improve conditions not only in our own countries, but across the world.
One area where we must join forces in is protecting our environment, especially our shared waters. Article IV of the Boundary Waters Treaty prohibited pollution by either country, which made this treaty one of the world’s first environmental agreements. By 1972, our nations took another step toward protecting these waters with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which lays out the goals and guidelines for restoring and protecting the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Great Lakes Basin.
The Great Lakes-St. River system is a treasure. It contains one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water. It provides millions of people with safe drinking water every day. So it’s crucial that we honor the terms of the Great Lakes Agreement as it stands today, but we also have to update it to reflect new knowledge, new technology, and, unfortunately, new threats.
The Agreement was last amended in 1987 and since then, new invasive species have appeared in our lakes, new worrisome chemicals have emerged from our industrial processes, our knowledge of the ecology of the region and how to protect it has grown considerably. In its current form, the Great Lakes Agreement does not sufficiently address the needs of our shared ecosystem.
So I’m pleased to announce that Canada and the United States have agreed to update the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. (Applause.) We look forward to working closely with state, provincial, and local governments throughout Canada, as well as other stakeholders, in the coming months to produce an agreement that reflects our best knowledge and our unshakable commitment to preserving this vital natural resource.
Now, as we work together on this, we must also strengthen our response to other environmental threats, especially climate change, one of the most urgent problems facing our world which endangers our world’s water sources, the safety of coastal regions, the future of agriculture and health, and the stability of communities everywhere. It is a paramount threat, and it demands effective and bold action, which can only be achieved through partnership.
The Canadian-American border is such a precious reflection of our great relationship, and it reminds us that although we may salute different flags, hear beautifully sung different anthems, our nations grew from the same land and the same ideals. It falls to us as it falls to every generation to strengthen that partnership and friendship. We look forward to many more years of working with you to achieve our common goal, and many more days of celebrating accomplishments like we do today in a beautiful, wondrous creation that God has given us to preserve and maintain.
Thank you all very much.