“The Canadians Went For That Last Twenty-five Cents.”

English: This is a public photo. Category:Colu...
English: This is a public photo. Category:Columbia River (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A secret meeting between President Kennedy of the U.S.A. and Premier W. A. C. Bennett of British Columbia in Seattle in November 1961 paved the way for the Columbia River Treaty, which initiated large-scale development of water and electric power in Canada.  Some of this power will be made available to the U.S.A., since the need for more natural resources becomes greater in the U.S.A. every years.  The abundance of many resources in Canada provides Ottawa with another important bargaining lever.

The development of the Columbia River was discussed by leading Canadians and Americans for many years and five U.S. presidents participated in the talks.  Agreement was near in 1961, but British Columbia would not accept the terms proposed by the Conservative government in Ottawa, led by John Diefenbaker, B.C. Premier Bennett felt that he had a better plan and held out until 1963, when Liberals led by L. B. Pearson took over the federal government and accepted his terms.  Premier Bennett said at the time that:

“Not only will this revenue build the High Arrow Dam, Duncan Lake Dam, and the dam at Mica Creek, but it will also provide two million horse-power of electricity to British Columbia without cost to British Columbians.”

The Columbia River Treaty was signed by President Johnson of the United States, Prime Minister Pearson of Canada and Premier Bennett of British Columbia at the Peace Arch on the British Columbia-Washington boundary on September 16, 1964.  President Johnson handed Premier Bennett a cheque for $273,291,661.25 and quipped to the crowd, “The Canadians went for that last twenty-five cents.”  It was the largest cheque ever received by a premier of a Canadian province and Bennett insisted that it be delivered before 2 p.m. so it could be deposited in a bank in time to earn interest that very day.

A few weeks later British Columbia lent Quebec $100,000,000.  Premier Bennett had turned the tables on his political opponents because his “funny money” Social Credit government had come to the financial rescue of the orthodox Liberal government of Canada’s oldest province.

The Columbia River is the fourth largest river in North America.  It is eventually expected to provide forty million kilowatts of installed capacity.  The Duncan Dam was completed in 1967 and the Arrow Dam, renamed the Hugh Keenleyside Dam, began operation in 1968.

To read more about this treaty, I suggest going to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and the Centre for Columbia River History, as well as the Government of British Columbia Blog – all good places to start.


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