Bill C-26 (Historical)
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
Lawrence Cannon Conservative
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members' Business
February 8th, 2013 / 1:30 p.m.
Gary Schellenberger Perth—Wellington, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to join the debate on Bill C-383, the transboundary waters protection act.
First, I would like to thank my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for bringing this important legislation forward. The support that the bill has received so far is a testament to his efforts and reflects the position of Canadians from all regions of this country on the need to protect Canada's waters.
Bulk removals of water would pose a significant threat to Canada's environment. The protection of this resource is of vital importance to all Canadians. That is why, in 2008, our government made a commitment in the Speech from the Throne to put in place stronger protections to prevent the bulk removal of water. It is also why we introduced Bill C-26, which unfortunately died on the order paper with the 2011 election call.
Thanks to the work of the member from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, we have this bill before us. The time has now come for the House to pass the legislation, which would ensure Canadian waters are protected from bulk removals. I am glad to see that Bill C-383 is supported by the government and by members of all parties.
As my colleague mentioned, the transboundary waters protection act would amend two acts: the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act. Amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act would prevent the bulk removal of water from transboundary waters, waters that flow across borders. Boundary waters that straddle the border, such as the Great Lakes, are already protected under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and its regulations. With the changes found in Bill C-383, all of these waters under federal jurisdiction would be protected from the bulk removal of water to outside the country.
There are other elements found in Bill C-383 that would strengthen protections against bulk removals. For example, proposed amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act would bring the enforcement authority fine schemes and sentencing provisions of the act in line with those found in the Environmental Enforcement Act, which delivers on the government's commitment to bolster protection of water, air, land and wildlife through more effective enforcement.
Provisions found in Bill C-383, which would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, closely follow the regime from the Environmental Enforcement Act, in terms of the fine schemes. I must remind everyone again of these penalties. Sentencing provisions and enforcement tools would be available. These provisions would include mandatory minimum fines for designated offences and increased maximum fines of all offences under prosecution and conviction.
In addition to higher fines, the act would set out fine ranges that vary according to the nature of the offences and the type of offender, such as individuals, small revenue corporations and corporations. Each of these categories of offender would face stiff fines for violations. For example, individuals could face up to $1 million in fines and a corporation up to $6 million for the first offence. For a second or subsequent offence, the applicable fine range would double. Fines for contravening the law would be cumulative, meaning that a violation that continues for more than one day would be seen as a separate offence for each day that it continues.
Further, the court must order an offender to pay additional fines if the court determines that the offender obtained any property, benefit or advantage from the commission of the offence. Courts also must consider increasing fines if the offence caused damage or risk of damage to the environment. As with the other federal environmental statutes that were amended through the Environmental Enforcement Act, the bill includes other provisions that would enhance the goals of deterrence, denunciation and restoration, which are the fundamental purposes of sentencing.
This legislation contains provisions aligned with the publication of information about an offence committed and the punishment imposed as well as provisions requiring that corporate shareholders be notified in the event of a conviction. The objective is to encourage compliance, given the importance of public opinion to corporate success.
As we can see, this legislation provides strict consequences for violation of the act. The goal is quite simple: to deter anyone from attempting to violate the bulk removal of water prohibitions found in the act.
Bill C-383 would also move certain definitions and exceptions from the regulations for the International Boundaries Water Treaty Act into the act itself. This would make it more difficult to change these definitions or exceptions at a later date and would provide Parliament with a stronger oversight role, should changes ever be considered.
I would also like to take a few minutes to speak about the provision in the bill that would amend the International River Improvements Act. The purpose of the International River Improvements Act is to ensure that international rivers are developed and used in the national interest. International rivers are waters that flow from any place in Canada to any place outside Canada. The International River Improvements Act requires proponents that would like to construct improvements, such as dams, canals, obstructions, reservoirs or other works that would significantly alter the flow or level of any international river at the international boundary, to apply for a licence. This act allows the federal government to ensure that all such works are constructed and operated in a manner that complies with the Canada-U.S. boundary treaty.
Bill C-383 would amend the act to prevent the use of international rivers to transfer large quantities of water across the border. As mentioned in previous speeches and during committee consideration of this bill, some water experts see the use of international rivers as a potentially efficient pathway for transferring water in bulk. To prevent this from happening, Bill C-383 would amend the International River Improvements Act to prohibit licences for linking waters wholly in Canada with international rivers and then using those rivers to move water in bulk across the border. This amendment to the International River Improvements Act would add another layer of protection against the bulk removal of water from Canada. It was endorsed by experts from the Munk School of Global Affairs during the recent standing committee consideration of Bill C-383.
I would once again like to offer my thanks to the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for introducing this legislation. As we have seen, the bill is roundly supported by members of the House. I urge all members to support this legislation when it comes up for a vote.
October 25th, 2012 / 9:50 a.m.
J. Owen Saunders Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor, Canadian Institute of Ressources Law, University of Calgary
Good morning. I would like to begin by echoing Adèle's thanks to the committee for the opportunity to be with you this morning.
My remarks today reflect the long-standing interest that CWIC has had in the issue of interbasin removals of water generally, and water exports more specifically. Over four years ago, CWIC developed a model act for preserving Canada’s waters with a view to stimulating debate on this very subject. While the model act suggested one approach to foreclosing the possibility of water exports, we recognized there were other possible legislative avenues for addressing the issue. Regardless of the particular approach, however, there is no doubt about how Canadians feel about the ultimate goal. Canadians have been consistent and firm in their insistence that they do not want to see their endowment of water put at risk through interbasin transfers in the name of chasing, at best, doubtful economic gains.
In this respect, while Bill C-383, the transboundary waters protection act, takes a somewhat different approach than that suggested in CWIC's model act, it nevertheless achieves the same goals that CWIC has been pursuing for several years.
As members of this committee are no doubt aware, the issue of water exports has arisen on a number of occasions over the past five decades, beginning with a series of proposed megaprojects in the 1960s, and then emerging again, first in the context of trade negotiations in the 1980s and 1990s, and subsequently as the result of an abortive private sector proposal to export water by tanker from the Great Lakes. This proposal led to an amendment to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act in 2002 and the issuance of a joint reference, the water uses reference, by Canada and the United States to the International Joint Commission.
In the 2002 amendments, the government addressed only one potential threat to Canada’s waters by prohibiting, with certain limited exceptions, the interbasin removal of boundary waters, that is, those waters through which the international boundary runs, for example, the Great Lakes. It did not address the potential threat of water export by means of transboundary waters, that is, principally rivers that cross the boundary. While this approach had the constitutional advantage of fitting squarely within the empire treaties clause of the Constitution, it also had the obvious disadvantage of leaving unprotected important potential pathways for water export. It was in light of this legislative deficiency that CWIC took on the task of encouraging debate on a more ambitious approach toward limiting the possibility of water exports.
Subsequent to its throne speech undertakings of 2008 and 2009, the federal government did indeed bring forward its own legislative initiative on water exports in the spring of 2010 with the introduction by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Bill C-26, which eventually died on the order paper with the calling of a federal election. CWIC had the opportunity to comment on that bill in a letter to the minister. While we in general supported the intent of the bill, our view was that it did not go far enough in precluding bulk removals and, in particular, those proposals for bulk removal that were the most likely to be brought forward.
We therefore welcome the current bill, Bill C-383, which, in our view, while building on Bill C-26, goes beyond it in a crucial respect through its amendment to the International River Improvements Act and, in particular, through the addition of proposed subsection 13(1), which would prohibit the issuance of a licence under the act for any international river improvement linking non-boundary or boundary waters to an international river, the purpose of which would be to increase its annual flow. Especially in light of the broad definitions of “international river” and “international river improvement” in the legislation, this seems to us to accomplish the task of truly precluding the use of transboundary rivers as a vehicle for carrying out the export of water.
CWIC recognizes that Bill C-383 will not address all the concerns that have been raised by some Canadians with respect to the export of water. For example, potential marine tankers from coastal lakes and rivers would not be covered. Similarly, there would continue to be statutory exceptions that permit the export of manufactured products containing water, including bottled water or other beverages. However, while we do not preclude other legislative initiatives, apart from existing provincial legislation, to address this possibility, we also recognize that neither the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act nor the International River Improvements Act is likely to be the appropriate vehicle for such measures.
In sum, based on our research, the Canadian Water Issues Council acknowledges that the goal of protecting Canada's water resources from bulk export is significantly accomplished by way of this proposed legislation. We are particularly pleased to see the level of cross-partisan support it seems to have achieved to date.
October 25th, 2012 / 9:05 a.m.
Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, CPC
First of all, going back to your earlier comments, the Munk School fully supports this bill.
You referred to it being similar to another bill. I made that quite clear. Yes, this is basically Bill C-26, but with some clauses that actually strengthen it. I believe that the amendment that has been added in here was something the Munk School addressed.
Regarding your comment about the intent of this bill, are you implying this bill is not good? I'm not sure.
October 25th, 2012 / 9:05 a.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
I'd like to preface my questions with a comment.
The government, in two throne speeches, essentially committed to blocking the export of water by blocking interbasin transfers. In those throne speeches, the government was reacting to the bill that I introduced, which is the one, Mr. Miller, that you mentioned you couldn't support because you thought it invaded provincial jurisdiction. That bill was based on the work of the Munk School.
Here's what I find curious. This is just a comment. I'm not really asking you this question because you're not the minister, but what I find curious is that in two throne speeches we talked about essentially adopting the model in my bill prohibiting interbasin transfers, and then, when Bill C-26 came out, which is your bill, really—your bill is Bill C-26—it had a big loophole. It wasn't going to even address interbasin transfers into boundary waters. It just leads me to question the government's real intentions all along in its two throne speech commitments. That's just a comment.
Is this not a trade bill, really? As you said, the goal is to ban bulk water exports through transboundary rivers. Would that not make it a trade bill?
October 25th, 2012 / 8:45 a.m.
Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, CPC
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
It's great to be here with regard to my private member's bill. I'd like to thank the committee for dealing with it so quickly after it passed second reading in the House on October 3. I appreciate that. As you all know, it did pass with unanimous consent that day. While I won't characterize it as a grandma and apple pie bill, I think it's seen somewhat that way. It seems to be a non-partisan bill, and that was my intent in drafting it.
This bill, as you all know, amends the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. It strengthens prohibitions against bulk removals of water that currently are in place. The change ensures that all waters under federal jurisdiction are protected from bulk water removals. These amendments are meant to complement provincial protections that are already in place to protect waters under their jurisdiction. The bill also strengthens the penalty and enforcement provisions and moves some definitions and exemptions found in the regulations into the body of the act. It makes the provisions that much stronger, I think, and parliamentary oversight of the act will be a little easier to conduct. There are some minor exceptions, such as for firefighting, and humanitarian purposes.
Bill C-383 is very similar to legislation which the government introduced in the previous Parliament as Bill C-26. There was one criticism of that bill at the time by the Munk School of Global Affairs, and this bill has that amendment in it. The primary difference between Bill C-26 and Bill C-383 is an amendment to the International River Improvements Act that will prohibit a licence being issued for a project that links non-boundary waters to an international river where the purpose or effect is to increase the annual flow of the international water borders. This is intended to prevent the use of an international river as a conveyance to transfer water across the border.
Having spelled out those two issues, Mr. Chair, I understand some amendments are coming forward which, for technical reasons, aren't ready to be presented to the committee today, but I am aware of the ones being proposed. In my view they're housekeeping matters, and I have absolutely no problem with them.
With that, I'm certainly willing to take questions.
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members’ Business
October 1st, 2012 / 11:55 a.m.
Larry Miller Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to finally get to second reading on my private member's bill. My riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, like yours, borders on beautiful Georgian Bay as well as Lake Huron on the west. Therefore, this is very important to me and a lot of other members in the House, including you. I want to thank my colleagues today who have all stood to speak to this, including the opposition.
This is an issue that carries on, as has been pointed out many times, Bill C-26 tabled by the government in 2010. In the throne speech of 2008, the government made a commitment to address this issue, but we ended up going to an election. I thank the opposition for that because I probably would not have had a chance to bring this bill forward.
One thing that needs to be pointed out, and has been pointed out by a couple of members today, is that this bill is be stronger than Bill C-26. Some issues were raised by some different groups and organizations at the time. Showing that we want to get along and address all the issues, that amendment has been addressed. I know the comments from those groups have been very positive and they thankful for that.
The Prime Minister has said many times that our water is not for sale. I do not know how many times he has to say that before people get it, but this bill really fortifies that. Yes, water is a commodity, but it is not a commodity like oil or minerals, or trees or lumber. It is something that has to be treated differently. It cannot be sold on the market in the same way. It has to be protected, as pointed out by my colleague across the way.
That same colleague wanted to know if the government would treat this bill differently from Bill C-26. I think it is very clear to anybody who has a clear mind on this that Bill C-26 would have gone through had the opposition not been intent on an election. Therefore, we had to shove that one aside.
I was glad the member for Burnaby—New Westminster rose to speak in favour of the bill. I have not had any recent reason to doubt him in any way. However, his leader is on record as being in favour of the sale of bulk water. I will take his word for it that on Wednesday, when we vote on the bill, his leader will be here and will vote in favour of it. I guess until that night comes, I will not know for sure.
Bill C-383 stays out of provincial jurisdiction. Some people wanted to know why it did not go further. Provinces like Alberta, Quebec and others do not like it when we step into their jurisdiction, and with good reason. The bill is deliberately designed to stay out of their jurisdiction We are looking after our jurisdiction. We know they will look after theirs. This needs to be pointed out.
I want to personally thank my colleagues from Elgin—Middlesex—London and Niagara West—Glanbrook for their support. They both have ridings that border the Great Lakes. I certainly appreciate their support.
With no further ado, it appears as though I will have widespread support for this bill, as I should. It is a bill that is not partisan in any way. I think it looks after water, which is vital to all of us for life. I certainly thank members for their support on Wednesday night and as this bill carries on to third and final reading.
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members’ Business
October 1st, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.
François Pilon Laval—Les Îles, QC
This bill has to do with our water resources, and as a member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, I have a special interest in this issue. I am therefore pleased to be able to add my two cents to the debate.
With just one exception, Bill C-383 is identical to Bill C-26, which was introduced by the government in 2010 following its promise to bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian water basins.
On the positive side, the bill before us today addresses a large gap that existed in the previous bill and was pointed out by the Canadian Water Issues Council, specifically, that Bill C-26 did not address the most plausible threat to Canadian waters: the threat of transfers from a water basin that is neither a boundary nor transboundary water body from Canada into the United States.
This bill would amend the International River Improvements Act to prohibit the issuing of permits for projects that link non-boundary waters to an international river when the purpose of said projects is to increase the annual flow towards the United States. This important change would prohibit the issuing of a permit to build, operate or maintain a canal or pipeline transporting Canadian water to an international river.
Although Bill C-383 does have some strengths and represents a step in the right direction, it is obvious that it does not prohibit all bulk water exports. Consequently, because water is considered a commodity, NAFTA has long been a threat to Canada's sovereignty over water resources.
To counter this threat, in June 2007 the New Democratic Party introduced a motion sponsored by the hard-working and extraordinary member for Burnaby—New Westminster asking the government to initiate talks with its U.S. and Mexican counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA. This motion was adopted by the House, but the government has not followed up with these countries.
In 2010, the government introduced Bill C-26, which was mentioned earlier. The bill did not progress past first reading.
In 2011, our brilliant colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster raised the issue again with a new motion for a national water strategy.
I hope that Bill C-383 comes to fruition, unlike Bill C-26 and the motions of the member for Burnaby—New Westminster. I hope that this time the government will take Bill C-383 seriously and implement it.
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members’ Business
October 1st, 2012 / 11:40 a.m.
Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to lend my support to Bill C-383, the transboundary waters protection act. This bill, introduced by my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, would prohibit the bulk removal of water from transboundary waters, waters that flow across borders. This would strengthen the protections against bulk water removals from boundary waters, waters shared with the United States such as the Great Lakes.
As members know, in May 2010, our government introduced Bill C-26. That bill, like the one we are debating today, would have amended the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. At the time, we introduced that important legislation after reviewing options for improving and strengthening protections for the purpose of preventing bulk water removals. Unfortunately Bill C-26 died on the order paper when Parliament was dissolved.
This issue did not go away with the election call and, as we all know, protection of our waters is an issue of critical importance to all Canadians. I am confident it is something all members in this House will agree with, no matter on which side of the aisle they sit.
Why is this the case? It is clear from an environmental standpoint that the bulk removal of water is both environmentally and ecologically damaging. It removes water from the basins that depend on it. It deprives those living in the basin and the ecosystem itself of a critical resource. It also increases the risk of invasive species transfer if previously separated water basins are connected. It is this environmental component that is critical. The potential harm this could cause to the environment led our government to introduce Bill C-26, and I am happy to see the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has taken up the cause and introduced this legislation, which I would like to call Bill C-26-plus.
In a few minutes I will explain what I mean by Bill C-26-plus, but now I will discuss why the approach found in Bill C-383 is the appropriate way and the best path forward. In previous parliaments we have seen multiple bills aimed at preventing bulk water removals. These bills may take different approaches to addressing the issue, but the goal is the same: prohibiting the bulk removal of Canada's water and protecting Canada's fresh water for the communities and ecosystems that depend on it.
We have recently debated another bulk water bill, Bill C-267, introduced by my Liberal colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis. That bill takes the approach of banning all inter-basin transfers. Bill C-383 takes a similar approach but focuses on water within federal jurisdiction. This difference recognizes that the provinces have a key role to play in the protection of Canada's water. Water is a natural resource, and so we must recognize that the provinces have their constitutional jurisdiction. They take this role seriously. They have protections in place to prevent bulk removal of water in their territories and from their territories. They have the same commitment to the protection as the federal government and as Canadians in general. Our government intends to keep working with the provinces to ensure that these protections remain robust and that all jurisdictions take care of waters under their purview.
As we all know, there are already strong protections in place at the federal level to prevent bulk removals from boundary waters, those that straddle the international boundary as I mentioned earlier. This obviously includes the Great Lakes, but transboundary waters, which are those that flow across the border, are not protected federally. Bill C-383 aims at bringing these same prohibitions to transboundary waters, which are also under a federal jurisdiction. This would bring much-needed consistency and would ensure all of these types of waters are protected.
Looking at the approach taken in Bill C-383 to prohibit bulk removals, I emphasize that this legislation focuses on water in its natural state in lakes and rivers. We view this as being the best way to protect water. Other approaches that are mentioned from time to time, such as export bans, would not provide the same level of protection as dealing with water in its natural state. We believe that taking an approach that focuses on the sustainable management of water in its basin as a natural resource is the best way to ensure it remains there.
While on the subject, I will take this opportunity to clarify the issue of NAFTA, the North American free trade agreement, and water. Water in its natural state, such as a river or a lake, is not a commodity and has never been subject to any trade agreement.
Although this has been stated from time to time, given the confusion over the issue, it is worth repeating. Nothing in NAFTA, or for that matter in any of our trade agreements, prevents us from protecting our water. These agreements do not create obligations to use water. Nor do they limit our ability to adopt laws for managing our water resources.
The status of fresh water under NAFTA was reaffirmed in 1993 when Canada, the United States and Mexico declared that the agreement created no rights to the NAFTA resources of any party to the agreement and that unless water had entered into commerce and became a good or a product, it would not covered by the provisions of any trade agreement. Further, it was agreed that nothing in NAFTA would oblige any party to exploit its water for commercial use or to begin exporting water in any form.
Finally, it was declared that water in its natural state was not a good or product, it was not traded and therefore it was not, and never had been, subject to the terms of any trade agreement.
As mentioned by previous speakers, this bill contains an amendment to the International River Improvements Act, which would ensure that the waterways flowing from Canada across international boundaries could not be used to deliver water coming from other sources out of the country.
For example, there would be a prohibition to linking non-transboundary waters to an international river for the purpose of increasing the annual flow of that river. An international river is one that flows from any place in Canada to any place outside of Canada. This increase in annual flow would be bulk water transport and would be forbidden.
When our government introduced Bill C-26 last Parliament, some groups stated that we did not do as much as we could in protecting our waters. What my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has done in his bill is add an additional protection by including this amendment to the International River Improvements Act. By prohibiting the use of an international river to transport water originating from outside its watershed, the legislation would prevent what could be a potentially efficient way to transport water long distances from being used for bulk removals.
This small change from Bill C-26 is a significant protection and I hope that groups in our country, which have been long-time proponents on behalf of protecting Canada's water, will recognize that Bill C-383 is worthy of their support.
Finally, I would like to briefly touch on the penalty and enforcement provisions included in Bill C-383. These provisions are in line with those found in the other environmental statutes, which are amended through the Environment Enforcement Act of 2009. This includes an enforcement regime that would allow the Minister of Foreign Affairs to designate enforcement officials for the purpose of verifying compliance with the act.
The penalties for violations are steep, such as up to $1 million for an individual and $6 million for a corporation. These penalties are cumulative, meaning that each day the violation occurs will be considered a separate violation. In addition, courts will be able to impose additional fines on offenders where there are aggravating factors, including environmental damage.
I would like to once again thank my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for introducing the bill. He comes from an area surrounded by the Great Lakes, the rugged shores of the Bruce Peninsula, sandy beaches like Sauble Beach in Oliphant. He recognizes not only recreationally but economically what water can be for Canada. Coming from a riding on the Great Lakes myself, I commend him for what he has done.
I believe the approach taken in Bill C-383 will ensure that Canada's waters are protected and that bulk removals of water from Canada will never take place. The legislation covers waters under federal jurisdiction and recognizes the good work that the provinces have undertaken over the years to prohibit bulk removals of water from their territories.
Both federal and provincial governments understand the potential harm that bulk removal can have on the environment and our government is committed to doing its part to protect our waters. I encourage all members of the House to support the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound on Bill C-383.
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members’ Business
October 1st, 2012 / 11:30 a.m.
Anne Minh-Thu Quach Beauharnois—Salaberry, QC
Mr. Speaker, water is without a doubt our most precious resource. Without water, humankind cannot survive. Some 75% of the earth's surface is made up of water, which is a unique situation in our solar system. The small blue sphere that astronauts see from space and describe so passionately must be protected. Water is essential to the equilibrium of this planet. Meanwhile, there is increasing pressure on our water resources. For instance, global warming is increasing the frequency of droughts and floods. Rising temperatures are causing increased evaporation of water resources and causing water levels to fall in our lakes and rivers, as was the case this summer in the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes.
An increasing global population is also adding to the demand for drinking water. The demand for water is increasing not only in terms of individual consumption, but also for the production of many consumer products. Four litres of water are needed to extract one litre of oil from the oil sands; 10 litres are needed to produce one sheet of paper; 30 litres for a cup of tea; 40 litres for a slice of bread; 70 litres for an apple and 75 litres for one glass of beer.
We are therefore facing a problem. Fresh water is more and more in demand, yet it is also more threatened by pressures related to population growth, climate change and industry. Some people believe that we are heading toward water wars. I hope that is not the case. However, one thing is for certain: water has become the blue gold of the 21st century.
Canada will thus have a key role to play in the coming years since our country holds 7% of the world's fresh water. The United States has been coveting our water supply for a number of years, particularly in times of drought. Many of the southern states are facing serious water shortages and have had to import water. Other emerging countries, such as China and India, will need larger quantities of water in the coming decades. States that have insufficient water will turn to those that have an abundance. We regularly hear about proposals to export fresh water by tanker. Concerns heightened with the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA in 1994. NAFTA considers water to be a consumer product, and some provisions of the agreement could open the door to the export of water.
The purpose of Bill C-383, which was introduced by the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, is to strengthen the prohibitions against bulk water removal. In fact, it corrects some of the shortcomings of Bill C-26, which was introduced by the government in 2010 and died on the order paper. The purpose of Bill C-26 was to prohibit the removal of water from transboundary and boundary waters; however, the bill did not take into account the most plausible threat to Canadian waters: the removal of water via interbasin transfers.
Bill C-383 will prohibit the issuance of licences for projects that link non-boundary waters to an international river where the purpose of the project is to increase annual flow to the United States. If the bill is passed, constructing a canal or pipeline channeling Canadian water into an international river, such as the Red River, will be prohibited.
This bill is a step in the right direction to protect our waters, but the official opposition is of the opinion that this bill will not completely resolve the issue of water management in Canada. Clearly, this private member's bill does not prohibit all types of bulk water export. It is also necessary to ensure the protection of surface water, regulate future exports of water by tanker, respond to threats presented by NAFTA and, above all, prohibit the export of bottled drinking water.
Last year, my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster moved a motion in favour of a national water strategy, and we are very thankful for that. We believe that access to water is a fundamental right, that we must prohibit all commercial exports and that we must not privatize water services. Why? Because water is not a product; it is a common property resource. It is essential to the survival of our species and all other species. The UN General Assembly declared access to water a fundamental right in 2010. Unfortunately, Canada, led by the Conservatives, abstained and said that the right to water was not codified under international law.
It is time for Canada to play a key role with respect to access to water. Some entrepreneurs will say that we must export our water to the countries that need it. However, this commodification of water will not solve the problem, especially since the poorest people will not have the means to purchase this imported bottled water.
In addition, it is not simply a matter of export and supply; it is a matter of distribution.
Large quantities of water are wasted by the richest members of society—a minority—at the expense of the poorest.
It is estimated that, in developing countries, daily water needs vary between 20 and 30 litres a day, and some very poor individuals consume only three or four litres. In Canada, the average person consumes 300 litres of water a day, which is the equivalent of three full bathtubs. That is double the amount consumed by a European. Canada is the second-biggest waster of drinking water after the United States.
Before talking about exports, we should talk about conservation. Our overconsumption of manufactured products, the exploitation of natural resources under conditions that are not mindful of the environment, and waste all have disastrous consequences on our water management.
We must also remember that old water systems that are not maintained or repaired can cause huge leaks and a lot of waste. We must repair the pipes and filtration systems, which are now a municipal responsibility.
Lacking resources, municipalities are turning to private investors to finance the work. However, water is a matter of public health and safety and it should be managed by the government, which is accountable to the community. When for-profit businesses control the water, the quality decreases and costs increase.
The federal government should help the municipalities upgrade their water supply infrastructure.
It is all well and fine for the Conservatives to announce new wastewater treatment regulations, but the fact remains that the municipalities need to have a decent budget. What is more, the municipalities are still waiting for the budget that is yet to be announced by the federal government.
We must also recognize the importance of preserving the quality of our water. The cuts to the environmental monitoring programs and the changes to the Fisheries Act will have a catastrophic impact on our waters. Fish habitat will no longer be protected, there will be fewer environmental assessments of industrial projects—the number of assessments already went down by 3,000 this summer—and the public will not be consulted as it used to be.
All of this is a result of the omnibus Bill C-38, which passed in June. In addition to weakening our environmental laws, this Conservative government is cutting water monitoring and research programs. It is axing programs such as the Municipal Water and Wastewater Survey, which collected data on water sources, water use and wastewater treatment levels.
The government is also abolishing environmental effects monitoring studies, a scientific tool to detect changes in aquatic ecosystems affected by effluent.
All these cuts will have an impact on water quality. Need I remind hon. members that in 2000, seven people died in Walkerton, Ontario, when drinking water was contaminated by E. coli?
Do we want to see poor water quality management cause other similar tragedies? Who will want to import Canadian water if there is any doubt about its quality and safety?
In closing, I would like to say that it is wrong to believe that Canada is protected from a water shortage. A quarter of Canadian municipalities have already dealt with water shortages, and a third of them rely on groundwater to meet their current needs.
We must have a national water strategy, as my colleague from Burnaby—New Westminster proposed in 2010.
The bill introduced by the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound is a step in the right direction, but it is does not go far enough.
The environmental crisis we are experiencing requires fundamental changes to our lifestyle and our resource development policy.
There is no room for ideology or partisanship. We need pragmatism, initiative and leadership on the national and international levels.
We must not leave our children and grandchildren with a social and environmental debt. The time to act is now.
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members’ Business
October 1st, 2012 / 11:20 a.m.
Dean Allison Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to speak in support of Bill C-383, sponsored by my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound. The protection of Canadian waters is important to him, as it is for all members of the House, and, to that extent, all Canadians.
During a previous debate on the bill, I was pleased to hear that colleagues on the other side of the aisle expressed their support for this important and timely legislation.
Environment Canada points out a number of important courses of action. Managing Canada's water resources, which represents about 7% of the world's renewable freshwater or about 20% of the world's freshwater is found in Canada, and everyone is responsible. We want to ensure that our water resources are used wisely, both economically and ecologically.
Also, we want to manage the resource because various users are competing for the available supply of freshwater to satisfy basic needs, to enable economic development, to sustain the natural environment and to support recreational activities.
Environment Canada is also correct in its indication that it is necessary to reconcile these needs and promote the use of freshwater in a way that recognizes its social, economic and environmental benefits.
I am sure all members of this House will attest to the notion that the waters that surround and are encompassed within Canada are of the utmost importance to Canadians. They play a deep role in our country's birth and its continued success economically, culturally and nationally.
During my tenure on the Standing Committee on International Trade, as well as presently serving as chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, I have come to understand and appreciate the protections we have in place for our water supplies.
The transboundary waters protection act would amend two acts, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act. Through the amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, Bill C-383 would strengthen prohibitions against bulk removals of water and improve upon protections currently in place.
At the federal level, a prohibition currently exists against the bulk removal of boundary waters; waters shared with the United States, such as the Great Lakes. The new amendments in Bill C-383 would add transboundary waters, those that flow across the border, to these protections.
The changes found in Bill C-383 would ensure that all waters that are under a federal jurisdiction are protected from bulk water removals. They complement provincial protections that are in place to protect waters under their jurisdictions.
It is important to note that there are other elements in Bill C-383 that would strengthen protections against bulk water removals. Penalties and enforcement mechanisms would be strengthened under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. Violations would bring penalties ranging from up to $1 million for an individual to $6 million for a corporation. These penalties would be cumulative, meaning that every day the violation occurs is considered a separate violation. Therefore, penalties can increase rapidly. While these fines provide a strong deterrence for violations of the act, there is also the potential for further penalties that would allow the courts to add penalties for aggravating factors, such as damage to the environment or profiting from any actions. These provisions would bring this act in line with amendments made by our government to nine other environmental protection statutes in 2009 through the Environmental Enforcement Act.
Bill C-383 would improve on current protections by moving certain definitions and exceptions from the regulations into the act itself. Bringing these definitions into legislation would ensure that parliamentary approval would be required to make any future changes to the exceptions or definitions.
Bill C-383 would also make changes to the International River Improvements Act to prevent the linking of boundary or non-boundary waters with a waterway flowing across the border for the purpose of increasing the annual flow of this waterway. This would prevent an international river, that is a river flowing from any place in Canada to any place outside of Canada, from being used as a conveyance to move water out of this country.
I would like to point out that the following introduction of government Bill C-26 during the last Parliament, the Canadian Water Issues Council wrote to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in June 2010 and, among other things, highlighted the concept and potential threat of the transfer of water from a non-transboundary basin into a transboundary river. I am happy to say that an amendment to the IRIA found in Bill C-383 would prevent this from happening. This is a valuable addition to the bill. These changes, along with the protections that the provinces have in place, would provide strong protections against bulk water removals.
During the previous debate, some members raised questions about the trade and export of water. I assure my colleagues that their concerns have been addressed. Bill C-383 and the International Boundaries Water Treaty Act would regulate and protect water in its natural state as found within its basins. Water, in its natural state, is not considered a good or a product. Therefore, water in its natural state is not subject to the provisions or obligations of the trade agreement, including the North America Free Trade Agreement.
Water in its natural state is like other natural resources, such as trees in the forest, fish in the sea or minerals in the ground. They can all be transformed into saleable commodities through harvesting or extraction but, until that step is taken, they remain natural resources and outside the scope of international trade agreements. Because they are natural resources, governments are free to decide whether they should be extracted and, if so, under what circumstances.
This point is clearly demonstrated in the fisheries industry where governments have the discretionary power to decide whether to allow fishing, when and where fishing is allowed and the total quantity of fish that can be caught, even though the harvesting of fish and treating the caught fish as a commodity is a long-standing practice in Canada and around the world. Therefore, in this case, we would be regulating water as a natural resource. Due to the potentially negative impacts of bulk water removals, we would prohibit its removal in bulk. I want to assure all members that none of our trade obligations prevent us from doing this.
It has been suggested that by allowing some water to be exported as a commodity, it automatically means that all water is a commodity and subject to international trade rules. The fisheries analogy provides a good illustration. Those familiar with the fishing industry would not suggest that because some fish are caught and sold as commodities, it would mean that Canada has lost the ability to regulate this industry from a resource management perspective and, by doing so, runs afoul of trade rules. So it is with water. While it is in its natural state, it is considered a natural resource and, therefore, remains outside the trade rules.
Our government is committed to protecting Canada's freshwater for the communities and ecosystems that depend upon it. We believe that Canada's sovereignty extends to our natural resources, including our freshwater. That is why I am pleased to support my colleague's bill which would achieve these objectives.
I thank members of the House for their support of the bill and their desire to see it pass second reading and be referred to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. As I have described, this bill would: improve our existing bulk water protections; add transboundary waters to the protections already in place for boundary waters; strengthen penalties to ensure that violations are met with the appropriate punishment; and moves exemptions and definitions from the regulations into the body of the act, ensuring that any future changes would be undertaken with the scrutiny of Parliament.
This bill would provide the protections we need to prevent the harm that could result from the permanent loss of water from Canadian ecosystems. I am grateful that the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound took a leadership role to advance this issue. I look forward to continuing a discussion of this bill during the committee stage.