Canada Water Preservation Act
An Act respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources
Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
Subscribe to a feed of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-267.
- March 14, 2012 Failed That the Bill be now read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
October 25th, 2012 / 10:15 a.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Thank you, Chair.
Welcome, Mr. Saunders and Ms. Hurley. It's nice to see you here.
First off, it's been suggested—and I won't name names because I don't want to personalize it—that your model act, which is the basis of Bill C-267, which was my bill, is a clear invasion of provincial jurisdiction. It was said at this committee this morning. This is not particularly relevant to that statement, but it was said that it shows distrust for the provinces by the federal government. The way I understood the bill is that it was backstop legislation. It wasn't trying to meddle with the provinces, but it was saying that this is of national concern, and we need to have certain safeguards in place or federal legislation will take effect.
I'd just like your comment. It's a loaded question, I agree, but I'm just trying to get it on the record. Do you believe that the model act in Bill C-267 was an inappropriate invasion of provincial jurisdiction?
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
June 8th, 2012 / 2 p.m.
Hélène LeBlanc LaSalle—Émard, QC
Mr. Speaker, according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, Canadians use an average of 300 litres of water a day. Three hundred litres a day when, according to one report, the world average is 20 litres per day.
Of the 16 OECD countries, only Americans consume more water than Canadians. The Conference Board of Canada gave Canada a D for its feeble efforts to conserve its water resources.
If it seems we have an insatiable thirst for water, our thirst for energy and profit is just as bad. It takes 3 to 4.5 barrels of water to produce one barrel of bitumen. This figure does not include the water that is used to refine the crude oil. Shale gas uses 4,000 cubic metres of water for each step of the hydraulic fracturing process, not to mention the other types of energy we use.
Southern Canada's streams, lakes and rivers are polluted. Municipal waste water infrastructure cannot meet the demand. Waste water that is untreated or that has received only primary or secondary treatment is dumped into our watersheds. This has disastrous consequences for aquatic life and the entire ecosystem. Urbanization and surface impermeability also have an impact by increasing the amount of polluted water that runs off into waterways or is directed to overburdened infrastructure. The intensification of agriculture has also increased the erosion of farmland and agricultural runoff, which carries sediment that is high in phosphorous. As a result, cyanobacterial blooms are suffocating our lakes and waterways.
This is what Canada is doing with one of our greatest resources, which is now called blue gold. Canada has a large percentage of the earth's drinking water, 9% of which is considered renewable. Some of that water is trapped in glaciers, which, by the way, are melting into the oceans. An abundance of precipitation means that this resource is renewable in part. However, water is not like other resources. It is essential for life, like the air we breathe.
The reason why this bill is so close to my heart is that, when I worked as an agronomist, I was a project manager responsible for improving the quality of water for agriculture. I was able to see first-hand the state of our waterways and the challenges Canada faces in preserving this valuable resource.
Furthermore, the southern border of my riding of LaSalle—Émard runs along the St. Lawrence River and the Lachine Rapids, the largest rapids within an urban environment. The Parc des Rapides, which surrounds the Lachine Rapids in the LaSalle borough, is one of the six main urban parks in Montreal and is part of the greater Montreal parks network. The park, which has an area of 30 hectares, is the perfect place to view the famous Lachine Rapids and has been a refuge for migratory birds since 1937. The site has remarkable diversity and has more than 225 species of birds, including the great blue heron, which is a protected species, and 1,000 nests of three species of herons. The biodiversity does not stop there, since the park also houses 80 species of fish, including some that are at risk.
The Lachine Rapids are located in the St. Lawrence watershed. The St. Lawrence is the cradle of our history, and also a hugely diverse aquatic and shoreline environment. I believe that the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound thinks that the Georgian Bay watershed in his region must also be preserved.
Bill C-383 would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to prohibit the bulk removal of water and to improve current protections.
This bill would amend the International River Improvements Act by prohibiting the issuance of licences for projects that link non-boundary waters to an international river where the purpose or effect of the project is to increase annual flow to the United States. This amendment will prohibit the issue of a licence to construct, operate or maintain a canal or pipeline channeling Canadian water into an international river.
We know that large-scale removal of water from lakes and waterways would negatively affect their ecosystems by increasing pollution concentrations. Water removal will dry up waterways, upset ecosystems and endanger plants and animals that depend on water and shorelines. This bill is a step in the right direction, a step toward preserving and protecting Canada's transboundary waters.
Still, the Canadian Water Issues Council is critical of the fact that this bill covers just 10% of Canada's fresh water while Bill C-267 went farther. This bill also fails to prohibit bulk water exports. This private member's bill proves once again that the Conservative government does not consider water to be a national priority and is not at all interested in developing a national water strategy in co-operation with its provincial counterparts.
New Democrats have been consistent in calling for a ban on bulk water export. We see a ban as an essential part of a comprehensive national water policy, something Canada lacks. Such a policy would establish clean drinking water standards and strong environmental protection for Canada's water resources, including recognition of water as common right. Passing forward-thinking legislation that recognizes a healthy and ecologically balanced planet is the most important gift we can give to future generations of Canadians.
A number of massive bulk water diversion plans, in the form of water corridors, have been proposed over the past four decades. These water corridors would have transferred massive amounts of water to the U.S. from Canada. For various reasons, none of these projects has gone forward, but the potential for such projects remains, hence the need for strong legislation to prevent them.
My message is clear. First, water, the source of life, is not like other resources. Second, we must urgently reduce our consumption of water and preserve the quality of our watersheds. Third, we must prohibit bulk water exports. This should begin with the establishment of a national water strategy with our partners to ensure that we have standards for safe, potable water, solid environmental protection measures, and conservation measures for Canada's water resources.
Bill C-383's intentions are valid and that is why I support sending this bill to protect boundary waters to committee for examination. This bill calls on the political class and thus all Canadians, reminding us of our responsibility to use water rationally and conscientiously in an overall vision, an ecosystem vision, of our watersheds. We are the guardians of water, which is a public good and a fundamental human right. We must demonstrate leadership in preserving and conserving water, the source of life.
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members' Business
June 8th, 2012 / 1:55 p.m.
Bob Dechert Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to lend our government's support to my hon. colleague, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, and to take a few minutes to discuss what I believe is an important subject for all Canadians. The member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has a long history of working to protect Canadian waters and has been an advocate on behalf of the Great Lakes, for instance, going back many years.
Bill C-383, transboundary waters protection act, aims to prohibit the bulk removal of water from Canadian transboundary waters, which are waters that flow across the border, and to further strengthen protections against bulk removal from boundary waters, which are waters like the Great Lakes that straddle the border. The bill would be an important improvement for protecting Canada's water resources. A similar version of this legislation was tabled in the previous Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and in the 2008 Speech from the Throne. Our government committed to introduce legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins. Bill C-383 would achieve just that.
My hon. colleague mentioned earlier today that previous legislation unfortunately died on the order paper as a result of that unnecessary election in May 2011. I have to say, the result was a good one: a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government. It has brought a number of good members to this House, such as the member for Mississauga South, who spoke earlier today, the member for Simcoe—Grey, the member for Yukon and many others. For that, I guess I am grateful for that unnecessary election.
As my hon. colleague pointed out, there are already protections in place at the federal level under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to protect boundary waters such as the Great Lakes, but there are also possibilities for improvement. This bill strengthens these protections in several ways.
First, as I have already said, transboundary waters would now be protected in the same manner as boundary waters. Bill C-383, by expanding the protections to transboundary waters, also expands the area covered by a bulk water removal prohibition. Now the protections would extend to transboundary waters throughout the country. The legislation would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to have these basins named in the act itself and not just in the regulations.
The second area of improvement in Bill C-383 is that the penalty provisions and enforcement mechanisms would be tougher. The bill would provide the Minister of Foreign Affairs the power to designate inspectors to verify complaints with the act. As my colleague previously stated, there are provisions in this bill, including minimum and maximum penalties, for violations of the law.
The bill would improve on current protections by moving certain definitions and exceptions from the regulations into the act itself. This would codify them into the act, ensuring that parliamentary approval would be required to make any future changes to the exceptions.
I carefully watched the House debate on Bill C-267. I know that several members in the NDP expressed their concern about a government being able to rewrite exceptions or definitions almost at will. Well, by moving exceptions and definitions into the statute, Bill C-383 would make it much more difficult to make any such changes. As a matter of fact, it would require parliamentary scrutiny.
Long-time water advocates, such as former Senator Pat Carney and other senators, pressed for this while they were in the other place. These senators, like many others who follow water issues closely, recognize that the exceptions in this act are reasonable. For example, an exception for short-term, non-commercial bulk removal in order to supply water to put out a massive forest fire is not unreasonable, but rather a humanitarian need.
We need these exceptions in the act. We would not want to stand in the way of a humanitarian action by telling our neighbours that we would not allow the removal of water to put out a fire because it is against the law in our country. Instead, we want to ensure that there is a place for reasonable exceptions and that those exceptions are stated clearly in the act and cannot be changed in the same manner that a regulation can be changed.
As I stated earlier, Bill C-383 is similar to Bill C-26, introduced by our government in the last Parliament. However, in this bill, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound added an important new provision that was not previously found in Bill C-26, which is an amendment to the International River Improvements Act.
The purpose of the International River Improvements Act is to ensure that international rivers, water flowing from any place in Canada to any place outside Canada, are developed and used in the national interest and assures that Canada meets its obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty.
The specific amendments to the International River Improvements Act proposed in Bill C-383 define international river improvements to include pipelines and prohibit the issuance of a licence for an international river improvement that links non-transboundary waters to an international river, the purpose or effect of which is to increase the annual flow of the river. This is a significant improvement and protection.
We can look at risk areas for potential bulk water removals or transfers and determine areas where we find the greatest risk. One could be the Great Lakes, which some would consider the El Dorado of freshwater in North America, but, as I mentioned earlier, the Great Lakes are already protected from bulk removal by the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.
Incidentally, I should add that the Great Lakes are also protected on the U.S. side of the basin due to the Great Lakes compact. Ontario and Quebec are partners with the Great Lakes states as part of a side agreement to that compact. Both of these provinces have legislation to prevent bulk water removals from their territories. Thus, all eight Great Lakes states are in agreement with us in Canada. No one wants to see Great Lakes water transferred out of the region. The Great Lakes are protected by the provinces on the U.S. side and federally in Canada under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.
Besides bulk water removals from the Great Lakes, another worry could be the potential use of a river flowing across the international boundary as a means of conveyance to transfer water in bulk outside Canada. Although this type of transfer is not occurring, we have been told that this is a potentially efficient way to move water across the border. The fear is a possible scheme that would seek to link, for instance, a body of water to an international river and this increased flow of water would then be the bulk transfer. To prevent this, Bill C-383 would amend the International River Improvements Act to prohibit the issuance of a licence for this type of activity.
I once again would like to thank the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for introducing this legislation. This is in keeping with the direction that the government pursued during the last Parliament and remains the best way to proceed to protect Canada's water from bulk removal.
Bill C-383 would respect the role of the provinces in protecting water within their jurisdiction. By supporting it, members of the House can ensure that water under a federal jurisdiction, boundary and transboundary waters would also be protected from bulk removals and that this protection would be consistent throughout the country.
I am thankful for this opportunity to discuss Bill C-383. We understand the need to protect this vital resource and this legislation would do just that. I urge all members of the House to support this bill.
Transboundary Waters Protection Act
Private Members' Business
June 8th, 2012 / 1:35 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for this legislative initiative intended to better protect Canada's fresh water. The member dares tread where his government has refused to go, namely, toward protecting Canada's fresh water from the future threat of export in bulk.
Bill C-383 highlights the government's continued and stubborn inaction on this vital national issue. However, the fact remains that Bill C-383 is a timid response to four years of Liberal pressure on the Conservative government to show robust federal leadership on pre-empting bulk water exports. In the end, I believe Bill C-383 is intended as face-saving legislation meant to inoculate the government against charges it is not protecting Canada's fresh water.
Liberals nonetheless support sending the bill to committee to examine its shortcomings, of which there are at least five.
First, the bill is incomplete. It fails to cover the vast majority of Canada's fresh water. It leaves out of its scope more than 90% of Canada's water resources.
In retrospect, the government should not have combined with the Bloc Québécois to defeat Liberal Bill C-267, which was comprehensive and watertight legislation covering all water basins in Canada. For the record, two courageous Conservative MPs broke ranks and voted for the Liberal bill.
Bill C-267 was developed by Canada's foremost water policy experts and would have protected Canada's water from export in the event a province decided to lift its own internal prohibition on selling water in bulk outside its borders. At the moment, any province could lift its prohibition against bulk water exports at any time in future in response to economic or political pressures. Unlike Bill C-267, Bill C-383 does not provide a backstop against such an eventuality.
Bill C-383 fails to create an over-arching national prohibition against moving water from anywhere in Canada to the United States or elsewhere that would fill the void should a province lift its ban on water exports. Bill C-267's prohibition on taking water out of its home basin anywhere in Canada so as to protect aquatic ecosystems was such over-arching legislation.
Second, Bill C-383 may be dangerously counterproductive. It may unwittingly leave Canada open to a trade challenge under NAFTA should a province together with, say, an American entrepreneur decide at some point in future to challenge the bill's putative prohibition on water exports by pipeline. In other words, rather than resolving the current uncertainty surrounding the status of fresh water under NAFTA, Bill C-383 may amplify this uncertainty. I will explain in a moment.
In the meantime, I should mention that Bill C-267 avoided the possibility of a NAFTA challenge because it was primarily environmental legislation, not an attempt to create a trade barrier.
Third, Bill C-383's prohibition on moving water to the U.S. through transboundary rivers does not break new ground in protecting Canada's water security and sovereignty. It merely formalizes the core principle in the 1909 Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty which stipulates that neither country shall do anything to affect water levels on the other side of the border.
Fourth, while Bill C-383 has intuitive appeal because one can visualize rivers flowing into the U.S. acting as conduits for water exports, the fact is that most water export projects will likely involve tanker trucks, tanker ships, water bags, or pipelines.
The grandiose water diversion schemes where northward flowing Canadian rivers are reversed and diverted south to the U.S. appear to be a dream from the past. For example, the GRAND Canal project developed in the 1950s by Newfoundland engineer Tom Kierans is perhaps the most well-known and iconic of these unrealistic water export schemes. It envisioned among other things using transboundary rivers to channel water normally flowing northward toward Hudson Bay southward to the U.S. Not only does Bill C-383 merely consolidate prohibitions on water diversions implied in the boundary waters treaty of 1909, its approach appears to be outdated.
Finally, it bears mentioning that Bill C-383 does not prohibit water exports by tanker truck, tanker ship, or water bags from non-boundary waters, or even possibly by pipeline. For example, Bill C-383 would not have stopped Sun Belt Water's attempt in the 1990s to export water from B.C. coastal streams to Goleta, California in the absence of the fortunate provincial action that followed to block the company's efforts. Nor would it prevent the export of water from Newfoundland's Gisborne Lake should the current provincial prohibition on bulk water exports in that province ever be lifted.
Some would argue that exporting the water from coastal streams carries no negative consequences because such water is lost to the ocean anyway. Coastal streams do support sensitive coastal ecosystems, including spawning grounds.
As Ph.D. student and water expert Janine MacLeod has said, “The outflow of fresh water into the oceans at deltas and estuaries is not 'wasted'”.
With respect to pipelines, which are perhaps a viable means of someday exporting water to the U.S., Bill C-383's attempt to block water exports by such means could prove problematic. It is difficult to fathom that a Canadian law eliminating the possibility of building a pipeline from, say, a Canadian inland body of water into the U.S. would not be viewed by a NAFTA tribunal as a barrier to trade. It is one thing, as the bill does, to ban the construction of a pipeline into a transboundary river that would change the river's water levels in violation of the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty, but it is quite another to, as the bill also claims to do, legislate a ban on building a pipeline to carry water for export across the Canada-U.S. border and pretend that such a conduit, at the point where it crosses the border, becomes de facto a transboundary river—in other words, like water flowing in its natural state—and hence falling outside of NAFTA's provisions against erecting barriers to trade, according to some experts.
While some would argue that water in a pipeline is not a product in the strict sense, it is not really water in its natural state either. It is water that definitely has been captured. In conjunction with the fact that in the U.S. water in its natural state is viewed legally as a good because it is used to produce goods, it is not outside the realm of plausibility that a NAFTA tribunal would rule that water crossing the border in a pipeline should be seen as having entered commerce and that any attempt to prohibit such commerce constitutes an illegal barrier to trade under the agreement.
We have had mixed signals from Conservatives on the issue of bulk water exports for years. The current Conservative government, as well as previous incarnations of the governing party, have a history of sending contradictory signals with respect to their interest in and desire to prohibit bulk water exports, beginning with the Mulroney government through to the Canadian Alliance to the current government. Let me explain.
In order to allay fears that free trade with the U.S. would result in Canada eventually having to export its water south of the border, the Mulroney government introduced Bill C-156, which would have banned large-scale water exports. The bill died when Parliament was dissolved for the 1988 free trade election and it was not revived after Mr. Mulroney was returned to power in that election. No wonder there are those who believe the bill was merely a symbolic gesture meant to blunt opposition to the impending Canada-U.S. free trade agreement from those who feared a sellout of Canada's water resources if the agreement came to pass.
Later, in opposition, the Canadian Alliance admitted that NAFTA leaves Canada vulnerable to market-driven bulk water exports. Speaking in the House of Commons at the time, the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs thus advocated for reopening NAFTA to insert a specific exemption for water, similar to that which the agreement granted to Canada's cultural industries.
More recently, in its 2008 Speech from the Throne, responding to the earlier introduction of Liberal private member's Bill C-535, a predecessor to Bill C-267, the Conservative government promised to introduce legislation to ban bulk water exports by prohibiting interbasin transfers of water within Canada. This commitment reversed the government's position to that point that federal action on the issue of bulk water exports was unnecessary because of existing provincial prohibitions. However, the government never followed through on its commitment, reversing itself yet again, arguing as recently as this past fall that federal legislation to ban bulk water exports remains unnecessary.
In conclusion, Bill C-383 is a very modest step in the right direction by a member who has obviously grown weary of his government's procrastination on an issue of prime national importance involving our most vital natural resource. The bill appears to have serious shortcomings, including the fact that it could even weaken Canada's ability to control its water future.
We look forward to exploring these possible shortcomings in committee.
The House resumed from March 8 consideration of the motion that Bill C-267, An Act respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business
March 8th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government's opposition to Bill C-267 is puzzling because it amounts to a reversal of its previous public commitments on the issue.
In the 2008 election campaign the Conservatives said that they agreed with the principle of a federal ban on bulk water exports through a prohibition on interbasin transfers of water within Canada. This was in response to the then recently published recommendations of the Canadian Water Issues Council working in collaboration with the program on water issues at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. These recommendations were incorporated in the earlier version of Bill C-267, which I introduced in the House of Commons prior to that election.
In the November 2008 throne speech which immediately followed the election, the government clearly committed to introducing legislation like Bill C-267. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment said in her speech that water is a resource and as such it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.
Water is not a resource like any other. Water is not oil or copper or nickel, resources that are locked in the ground and not part and parcel of living ecosystems. Oil may be the lifeblood of the economy, but it is far from the lifeblood of the environment.
What is more, natural resources like oil are static. In their natural state they do not move across provincial and international boundaries, either above ground in rivers or underground in aquifers like water does. If they did, they might likely have been designated a shared federal-provincial responsibility, or even an exclusive federal jurisdiction in the manner of another well-known resource that moves freely through Canada's natural environment without regard for political borders, namely fish.
My colleague also said that there is no constitutional justification or rationale for federal “incursion” into the matter of prohibiting bulk water exports, that for example, the federal role does not accrue in this case under the federal residual power of peace, order and good government. However, it is not necessary to invoke this residual power to justify a federal role in limiting water transfers and exports.
If the federal government has the power to prohibit activities harmful to the environment, such as pollution, it is not because it was granted this power under a Canadian Constitution that predates the word “environmentalism”, nor is it because of the federal residual power of peace, order and good government. Rather, it is because the court has ruled that society has evolved and that environmental protection in the political and economic context of the late 20th century is a matter worthy of Criminal Code protection.
I refer the parliamentary secretary to the 1997 Supreme Court decision in the case of Regina v. Hydro-Québec, where the utility challenged Ottawa's authority to use an interim order under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to stop the provincial utility from depositing toxic substances into a watercourse in Quebec. Hydro-Québec argued that Ottawa's interim order could not be justified either by virtue of the federal criminal power or as a matter of national concern under the peace, order and good government residual power in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867.
The Supreme Court, however, held that the interim order and its enabling legislation, CEPA, were valid because the protection of the environment is a major challenge of our time that constitutes “a wholly legitimate public objective in the exercise of the criminal law power”, and that “the stewardship of the environment is a fundamental value of our society and that Parliament may use its criminal law power to underline that value”. I believe the court would view Bill C-267 in very much the same light.
The Supreme Court decision was close, five to four. The dissenters held that Ottawa was not authorized to act in the matter because CEPA's purpose is to regulate, not prohibit, and that regulation is not a matter of criminal law which is normally aimed at prohibiting a deleterious action.
I would submit that Bill C-267 is not intended to regulate water removal but rather to prohibit it outright. This legislation would pass muster at the Supreme Court. In any event, the intent behind the bill is to have Ottawa engage and work with the provinces to make the current national consensus against bulk water exports watertight into the future.
In conclusion, Canadians want a government of courage and character prepared to assume federal leadership when it counts. They do not want a federal government that shrinks from involvement with the provinces on matters of profound national concern, like Canada's water sovereignty and security.
Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business
March 8th, 2012 / 5:55 p.m.
Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-267, a bill to promote the sustainable and mindful use of water in Canada, and more particularly to prevent the removal of water in bulk from Canada’s major drainage basins. To begin, I would note that we support the bill in principle and we believe it will be possible to remedy certain flaws in the bill in committee.
Canada has the most abundant freshwater resources in the world. It is estimated that 8% of the world’s freshwater reserves are concentrated in Canada. That abundance prompts some people to advocate exporting it to the southwestern United States. In 2008, for example, members of the Montreal Economic Institute proposed that Quebec export 10% of its renewable freshwater in return for $6.5 billion per year. That is simply irresponsible.
In order to measure how lucky we are, we have to consider that the planet’s water stocks are 97% saltwater. The remaining 3% are virtually inaccessible, because they are locked in the polar icecaps, in glaciers or in deep water. In total, it is estimated that less than 1% of water stocks exist in the form of accessible freshwater. We must therefore manage this resource wisely. It is our duty to humanity, somewhat as Brazilians must manage the Amazon rainforest, which is described as the lungs of our planet.
This bill has been made necessary by the fact that NAFTA apparently does not adequately protect Canada’s sovereignty over its water resources. Even though the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico jointly declared in 1994 that NAFTA did not apply to water in its natural state, some people believe that surface water and underground water in their natural state are subject to NAFTA obligations and water could therefore be commercialized.
So the critics’ concerns have not been assuaged by the statements made by the three trading partners. It must be said that, were it not for the vigilance of civil society, certain bulk water export projects might well have materialized. I am thinking in particular of the Nova Group project, which in 1998 obtained authorization from the Ontario government to export 600 million litres of water per year from Lake Superior. People on both sides of the border had to mobilize to get the Ontario government to back down.
I remind you that, in an attempt to correct the problem, in February 1999 the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to impose a moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and inter-basin transfers.
The motion also called for the government, and I quote, to “introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and inter-basin transfers and”... “not be a party to any international agreement that would compel us to export water against our will...”.
The Liberal government subsequently announced that it would consult the provinces and territories in order to develop a strategy that would prohibit the bulk removal of water from Canadian drainage basins for domestic purposes or for export. However the strategy did not address the trade issues raised by NAFTA and focused mainly on water management.
In June 2007, again on the initiative of the NDP, the House adopted a motion calling for the government to initiate talks with our southern neighbours to have water excluded from the scope of NAFTA. The Conservatives, like the previous Liberal government, did nothing. This was a great surprise.
In 2010, the Conservative government did in fact table Bill C-26 to ban the bulk removal of water, but the bill died on the order paper because of its many deficiencies. The Conservatives’ bill addressed only a small portion of fresh water, for it left 80% of Canadian surface water unprotected, as the prohibition applied to transboundary waters only.
Nothing in that bill would have banned the construction of pipelines and other forms of exploitation of bulk water by truck or ship, for example. We have long been calling for the prohibition of bulk water exports, and view this as a key element of a national water policy which would establish standards for safe, potable water and solid environmental protection measures for Canada’s water resources.
We support the principle of the bill before us, but are critical of some of these flaws which, with a little goodwill, could be corrected in committee.
For example, we note that there is no guidance to the governor in council as to the definition of what constitutes a major drainage basin, in the regulations. In our opinion, the effectiveness or strength of this bill depends on that definition. If the definition adopted by the government includes none of the major drainage basins, the bill might then be considered inapplicable.
We note as well that Bill C-267 grants the government very wide regulatory powers, including the capacity to redefine the scope of the exceptions and to establish new exceptions by regulation. These powers seem disproportionate, and could lead the government to exercise them as a way to rewrite the act. As we know, faced with a government that is environmentally delinquent, it is best to be prudent and to set clear limits on its regulatory power.
We understand that the prohibitions are limited to the bulk removal of water from major basins through diversion. We shall attempt in committee to ensure that bulk exports by truck or ship are also prohibited.
My last observation is on the issue of bottled water. The bill creates an exception for manufactured products such as bottled water and beverages. This is a major loophole. We believe this issue needs very close review in committee.
I would like to take advantage of the time I have been given to speak to the bigger issue. Instead of thinking about exporting water, I believe we need to be thinking about our habits in order to reduce the pressure to commercialize water. For example, we know that 70% of the fresh water consumed is used in agriculture. That number may not decrease, considering that the governments of Canada and the United States are encouraging corn crops for the production of fuel. It is the same thing for extracting oil from the oil sands. It is estimated that two to five barrels of fresh water are needed to extract just one barrel of oil. That does not even include the water contaminated by the so-called holding ponds.
More than ever, we need to become aware of our dependence on non-renewable energies and their effects on our environment and the depletion of fresh water. Although this government is determined to drive out those it calls environmental radicals, one day it will have to take into account the effects of climate change on the environment and Canada's water resources. Instead of cutting science budgets, the government should be investing in research in order to study types of drought and meteorological changes and to ensure that our water resources policy takes these things into account.
In closing, I would like to commend the associations, unions, NGOs, citizens and local authorities around the world who are gathering next week in Marseilles for the Alternative World Water Forum in order to discuss the various challenges of water management. Like them, I hope governments the world over, starting with the Canadian government, will work on better protecting our water resources. We have to ensure that water is recognized as a fundamental human right and as a public good, to be protected from corporations that far too often pollute it or exploit it for profit.
Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business
March 8th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.
François Choquette Drummond, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House of Commons today to talk about the bill introduced by my colleague and neighbour, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, Bill C-267, An Act respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources.
Canadians have been interested in protecting our country's water resources for decades, particularly with regard to bulk water exports. The NDP is in favour of sending this bill to a committee that could address the wording problems in the bill.
The purpose of this bill “is to foster the sustainable use of Canada’s water resources and, in particular, to prevent the removal of water in bulk from major drainage basins in Canada”. This bill has three components: first, the prohibition of the removal of water in bulk; second, the exceptions to this prohibition, for example, water that is removed for bottling and for producing beverages for commercial purposes, and water that is removed and used on a short-term basis, for example, for emergency situations or humanitarian purposes; and third, the enforcement provisions.
Canada has a large quantity of the planet's fresh water. It is true that this is a great resource and we must protect it and ensure that it is distributed fairly and equitably. It is a natural treasure that must never be taken for granted.
Water is vital to human health and life. In Canada, we do not have a national strategy to respond to urgent problems and, unfortunately, the Conservatives are not providing any federal leadership in terms of conserving and protecting our water. I hope that the Conservatives will do something about this situation soon and that, like us, they will vote in favour of this bill, which the hon. member has courageously introduced a number of times in order to protect Canada's water. It is a resource that we must not neglect.
The federal water policy is over 20 years old. It is very outdated, and this situation must quickly be remedied. We are facing more and more challenges with regard to our water supply, including contamination, shortage and pressure to export our water to the United States by pipeline or water diversion, for example. Other hon. members spoke about this at length earlier. I am wondering what the Conservatives are waiting for to take action. This is really urgent. Imagine if there were a pipeline allowing our water to be exported directly to the United States. It would be absolutely terrible.
The NDP is in favour of introducing a national water policy. It is an important and noteworthy undertaking.
Let us look at a bit of history. NAFTA has long been regarded as a threat to Canada's sovereignty over water. In 1999, following a debate, the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to place an immediate moratorium on bulk water exports and interbasin transfers. The motion also asked the government to “introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers and not be a party to any international agreement that compels us to export freshwater against our will...”. Unfortunately, nothing has been done since that motion was adopted in the House of Commons.
In June 2007, the House passed another motion from the NDP—which is very proactive when it comes to protecting water—asking the government to begin talks with its American counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA. And what did the Conservatives do? Nothing.
En 2010, the Conservative government tried something, but it was not enough and it was inadequate. It introduced Bill C-26, which sought to ban bulk water removals. However, this bill had a number of flaws, including a major one. Indeed, under that legislation, 80%—that is right—of surface waters in Canada were not protected, because the protection only applied to transboundary waters. It makes no sense at all to think that this tiny bill, this tiny measure could have a real impact on the export of Canada's fresh water in bulk.
This legislation paved the way for the construction of water pipelines, such as the one proposed in the 1990s, which did not make any sense. That is utterly shameful. That is Conservative inaction. That is a lack of action in this area.
Currently, there are growing water shortages all over the world. As I said, the NDP has always asked that bulk water exports be banned. This is a critical component of a national water policy, which does not exist in Canada, but which could set standards for clean drinking water, which could also provide strict environmental protection measures for water resources, and which could recognize water as a common right. It is really important to recognize water as a common right. So, this is a good plan and it is a plan proposed by the NDP.
As we said, water is essential to life, but it is not an infinite resource, far from it. Even in Canada, which is rich in water—and hon. members may not know that, but I am going to tell them—one quarter of Canadian municipalities have faced water shortages. That is a real concern. One third of them depend on groundwater, on which we currently have very little information, to meet daily needs. A national water policy must create a comprehensive conservation strategy and invest in research and in the monitoring of that resource.
I am going to talk a little about my riding of Drummond, where people are really concerned and have expressed grave misgivings about water. Three municipalities in my riding face water problems, whether in terms of quality or quantity. The municipalities of Saint-Germain-de-Grantham, Saint-Majorique-de-Grantham, and Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover are well aware of the importance of access to quality water in sufficient quantities. Every time that I visit these municipalities, the residents regularly ask me when the water problems are going to be addressed. I am currently lobbying for a national water policy to be a key priority in Canada, so that such problems do not recur in my riding’s municipalities, or elsewhere in Canada. Two of these municipalities are currently entering into an agreement with the city of Drummondville. I am really happy about that. It is good news, but it is not enough. There are still problems in the municipality of Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover, and the federal government must have a policy to help these municipalities.
There are other concerns regarding water in my municipality and the millions of litres of water necessary for the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas. This is currently the subject of a major debate in my riding, and I initiated a Canada wide petition to protect our water from the shale gas industry.
Six hundred shale gas wells in Quebec would consume the annual equivalent in water of 360,000 Olympic swimming pools. An Olympic swimming pool contains 20,000 litres of beautiful clean water. This water would be mixed with the equivalent of 900 Olympic swimming pools of chemicals. You can imagine the slop, the chemical laden mud, the dreadful, soupy mix that we would end up with, when we really need beautiful clean water.
The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks of Quebec stated in a report that there would be a shortage of underground water in a section where wells would be required to mine shale gas, and that there would not be enough water to meet all the needs. At some point, the choice has to be made between the public and the shale gas industry.
I am going to conclude by saying that water must be a human right. Moreover, on July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of the human right to water and to sanitary facilities, and for this to be an essential right to the survival of human beings.
In closing, it is truly important for my riding of Drummond that we vote in favour of my colleague's bill, and that we go still further and develop a national water policy that protects our municipalities, so that we can be sure that they have quality water in sufficient quantities.
Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business
March 8th, 2012 / 5:25 p.m.
Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC
Mr. Speaker, the issue today is critical. Fresh water is the source of all forms of life on earth. The protection and conservation of fresh water are political issues of the 21st century. Seen from space, Canada has one of the supplies of water in the world, but on the ground the situation is very different. Our water consumption is concentrated in a specific geographic area: 60% of our watercourses flow to the north of the country, but over 90% of the population is concentrated along the southern border.
As custodians of 9% of the planet’s renewable water resources, we have a moral obligation to preserve them for our generation and future generations. Thank God this is an issue on which there is consensus. For example, in the throne speech of November 19, 2008, the government said: “To ensure protection of our vital resources, our Government will bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins.”
We had that commitment before. I spoke of the Speech from the Throne in 2008.
When I worked many years ago, as part of the previous government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that was the last time Canada took a comprehensive look at our water resources. The federal water policy, which remains the only federal water policy passed to this date, was passed in 1987. The Government of Canada committed to a federal water policy, which included that we would ban bulk water exports. Yet we stand here, more than 20 years later, without that prohibition.
I am very grateful to my friend for the introduction of Bill C-267, which ascribes in every respect to the best possible approach to how to ban the transfer of bulk water from one basin to another. I am aware, and I thank my friend, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, for a similar bill, Bill C-383. I would wish we had the ability to blend the two. However, there is no question that Bill C-267 responds to the issue in a way in which it must be responded.
The bill respecting the preservation of Canada's water resources before us this evening deals with the issue in terms of the inter-basin transfer of water. There are five major drainage basins for all of the water of Canada. If we think about it, it is very logical and intuitive. All our water drains toward larger areas. The five major drainage basins are the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and even the Gulf of Mexico from which our Great Lakes drain toward the south. These are the five major drainage basins and it is to these drainage basins that Bill C-267 speaks by prohibiting the inter-basin transfer of water, prohibiting the massive transfer of water in bulk.
This is critical because Bill C-383 is quite similar to a previous government legislation, Bill C-26. It dealt only with boundary and transboundary water. It is important for us to remember that when we are looking at boundary and transboundary water, we are looking at 10% of Canada's water resources. In other words, 90% of Canada's water resources are found in basins that could not be defined as boundary or transboundary water. As such, the acts we will be looking at later in this session, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvement Act, are certainly laudable, but fall far short of what we need, which is why if it were possible to include the provisions of both bills together, we would have stronger legislation.
I do not have quite the same concern as the hon. member for Nickel Belt about the fact that it is left to regulations to describe a drainage basin. There is no question, however, since there really are five drainage basins for Canada and they are well known and are a matter of scientific fact, that it certainly would be wise to include them when the bill goes to committee and comes to amendment. That would leave no wiggle room for some sort of political fix that would deny the hydrogeology of Canada's land mass to try to say that there was something other than five major drainage basins. It is a scientific fact that is what there is.
We have always had the threat when we look at the transfer of basin water from one to the other. The most grandiose of these schemes was put forward repeatedly in the early 1980s. The grand canal scheme was the idea that we would move water from one basin, the Hudson Bay drainage basin, and put it into pipelines to ship down to the U.S. That grand canal scheme would not be at all affected by private member's Bill C-383, which deals with boundary and transboundary water. However, it would be completely caught by Bill C-267, which speaks to the key issue, and that is the removal of water in bulk.
Under the interpretation and definition section of the bill, it states, “removal of water in bulk” means the removal of water, whether it has been treated or not, from the major drainage basin in which the water is located by any means of diversion that includes a pipeline, canal, tunnel, aqueduct or channel”, which is a perfect way of ensuring the grand canal scheme never happens, “or by any other means of diversion by which more than 50,000 litres of water per day is removed from major drainage basin”.
This speaks to ecological realities. It is not a political statement of a boundary. It speaks to the key issue, which is how do we ensure that we do not commit a serious and egregious error in which Canada's water is moved from one basin to another. We think we are a water-rich nation, but the reality is we only have 9% of the world's renewable water, the U.S. has 6%. We are roughly in the same territory. For all the water we have, what we have is precious and we have to protect it.
The other reason for this legislation does not come from an ecological threat. It comes from the reality of NAFTA. We have a situation where under the North American Free Trade Agreement, should we allow a single transaction of the shipment of water in bulk from one drainage basin to the other, particularly from one drainage basin in Canada for sale in the United States, we would then have turned a tap on and would be simply impossible under the terms of NAFTA to turn off.
The reason one could say that water is not covered under NAFTA is that water in its natural state in natural water bodies and water courses is not a good in trade. The minute we make that a good in trade, then the taps are open everywhere.
It is critical that Canada protects our water sources by prohibiting the transfer of water in bulk, prohibiting its sale, prohibiting water in its natural state from ever being seen as a good in commerce.
One last reason why the legislation is essential is we may feel awash in water, but the impact of the climate crisis, as the previous member has mentioned, will have its primary initial impact on reducing our access to water, its quality and its quantity. That is why I am so very proud to stand as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands and as the leader of the Green Party of Canada to speak, to plead that the House lives up to the commitments that were made in 1987 in the federal water policy and to the commitment of the current Prime Minister in the Speech from the Throne of 2008 to ban bulk water exports.
We need to take precautionary measures now. I plead with all members of the House to ensure that Bill C-267 lives up to the promises of generations to protect our fresh water in our country.