House of Commons Hansard #177 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was water.

Topics

Question On The Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees Of The House
Routine Proceedings

February 9th, 1999 / 10:10 a.m.

Reform

John Williams St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 21st report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts relating to chapter 10 of the September 1998 report of the Auditor General of Canada on the Canadian Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal panel. Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, the committee requests the government to table a comprehensive response to this report.

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Government Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should, in co-operation with the provinces, place an immediate moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and interbasin transfers and should introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers in order to assert Canada's sovereign right to protect, preserve and conserve our freshwater resources for future generations.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on behalf of my caucus today with respect to this motion. I will read it into the record one more time:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should, in co-operation with the provinces, place an immediate moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and interbasin transfers and should introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers in order to assert Canada's sovereign right to protect, preserve and conserve our freshwater resources for future generations.

May I begin by saying I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Kamloops, Thompson and Highland Valleys.

This is a very important motion. We have hope on this side of the House, in the NDP particularly, that there may come a day when parliament could express itself perhaps even unanimously in favour of this motion. It would be a historical moment. For the first time as far as I know, parliament would have said clearly that there is a need for the government to act immediately with respect to a moratorium, and that there is a need for the government to proceed quickly to bring in legislation in the context as well of a larger national water policy that has been absent since the beginning of time in spite of Liberal promises to the contrary.

There have been many occasions when the Liberal Party in government and in opposition made commitments to bring in a national water policy, to ban the bulk export of freshwater from Canada and we have had no action on this. We asked the question of the government in the House last Thursday and we had no commitment to legislation or to a moratorium.

This motion forces the government, we hope, to focus its thoughts on what needs to be done here and to join with us and hopefully with colleagues from other parties in the House of Commons in saying something decisive today, on February 9, 1999, about what Canada's intention is with respect to the export of freshwater, particularly with respect to bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers.

Water is something that all Canadians have a common image of in our country. Water is as Canadian as hockey, the RCMP and the beaver. We want to make sure that we do not have happen to water what has already happened to hockey and to the RCMP. We know that hockey has gone south for all intents and purposes and has become Americanized. It has become an export over which we have no control. This is very much at the expense of the way in which hockey used to be done in our own country. We know the RCMP has sold its copyright to Disney.

Let us make water a last stand. Let us make sure that at least when it comes to freshwater resources, we as a country show some fortitude and determination, that what has happened to many other aspects of our country both with respect to natural resources and culture will not happen to water. This is the intent of this motion.

This motion is very important and I urge the government to consider it. The government may also have an opportunity to consider, in the course of reflecting upon our amendment, their own dark side on these issues. The dark side for the Liberals on this issue as in others is the international trade and investment agreements, in particular those which they have had a penchant for signing even after they ran against them and even after they said they would not sign them.

Let us say the government votes for this motion, and the Liberals pat themselves on the back about their determination not to permit the bulk export of freshwater. We do not want to be in the situation three, five, or ten years from now where the Liberals say then what they are saying now about magazines and about drug patent legislation. “Oh well, yes, we were against extending the drug patent legislation and we are for protecting the Canadian magazine industry, but what can we do because we are in NAFTA and we are in the WTO. It really does not matter what we said before. It does not really matter that we vigorously opposed the drug patent legislation or that we were vigorously in favour of protecting the Canadian cultural sector. We are hapless victims. We are at the mercy of these trade agreements”. Of course many of those agreements, particularly NAFTA and the WTO, the Liberals themselves signed.

We have had enough of this self-inflicted powerlessness. That is why we intend to move an amendment which would ask the government to go beyond the initial motion and give some indication of whether or not the Liberals would have the fortitude on behalf of the Canadian people to not be a party to any international agreement which in future was found to compel us to export freshwater in bulk against our will.

I look forward to that debate. I look forward to hearing from other members of my party on this. I also look forward to hearing from the Liberals as to whether or not this is just an expression of goodwill and good intentions that will once again be thwarted by the victim mentality that has overcome Canadian governments in the last several administrations, whereby they want to do the right thing but they cannot because of the trade agreements they have signed.

We also bring forward this motion in the context of knowing that we need a much fuller debate in this country, not just about exports but about water management in general. It is not just a question of exports, although the motion addresses itself specifically to that. It is about the lack of a national water policy in general. It is about the lack of any commitment on the part of this government or any other government to make sure that water, even when it is not exported, remains in the public domain. It is about water not becoming privatized as it has become in so many other countries and not being treated like any other commodity such as oil, gas, wheat or whatever.

Canadians think and say very clearly that they see water as being very different. They see water as having a national dimension and also an environmental dimension that they feel should not be threatened by coming to view water as any other commodity.

To those who say, quite rightly in the geopolitical sense but wrongly in principle, that water will be the oil of the 21st century, we say no. We do not want water to be treated like oil. We do not want water to be treated like any other commercially exploited natural resource.

By this motion today we hope to contribute along with others who are acting in an extra-parliamentary sense, like the Council of Canadians who I believe are having a conference and a press conference on water today. We hope to stimulate a national debate about conservation of water, about a national water policy, about water management and about the environmental dimension of the water question.

Having said that we should not be involved in the bulk export of freshwater from Canada, I think we should also admit as a country that we cannot do this from the high ground of being a country that looks after its water, of being a country that is committed to strict conservation of water and therefore in a position to lecture other countries about water conservation. We are not in that position.

Let us not be self-righteous about it. Let us admit that not only do we not want to export water but we have a need to treat the water which we keep within our boundaries a lot better than we do and to conserve it.

There are all these things. There is the environmental dimension. There is the public-private dimension. There are the free trade and investment agreements which could prohibit us from prohibiting bulk water exports.

I look forward to hearing from other members of my party and members from other parties on these issues today. Hopefully at the end of the day, we can look back on this day as a time when we entered a new political period with respect to the attitude of parliament and the country toward our freshwater resources and look to the government to finally act on this particular issue.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

John Finlay Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened with interest to my colleague across the way. I agree with much of what he says, certainly about conservation, the environmental nature of water and so on, and let us not be self-righteous. I do not think we are doing nearly a good enough job on looking after our water.

We understand that we have about 25% of the world's freshwater. Our population however is minuscule compared to that. I know my friend is compassionate and concerned about everyone and about Canada's place in the world. I would like to know what he thinks the eventual outcome will be. Are we going to build a wall? Are we going to mount machine guns? Are we going to stop the rivers flowing south? What are we going to do when people outside our borders need freshwater, as they will in a few years or more and we have it all?

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Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a good question. It is precisely why we think the government should bring in legislation. It is precisely why we think there should be a national water policy. In the context of actually having something on the floor of the House of Commons, that is to say in the context of actually having the government act, these kinds of issues could be addressed.

I do not think we should assume that under any condition or under all conditions that we would be open to this sort of moral demand which the member talks about. We need to create a regime in which if we want to make exceptions when there are people who need rather than want our water we could do so. We are not anywhere near that particular point in time. We are at a point now where our water resources are vulnerable to the trade agreements and vulnerable to the absence of a national water policy.

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Government Orders

10:25 a.m.

NDP

John Solomon Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, I just want to say a couple of words and then ask my colleague the member for Winnipeg—Transcona a question.

I congratulate the member for moving this motion and the seconder, the member for Yukon, and the NDP caucus for taking this issue to the public once again and for trying to get the consent and support of the House of Commons in this very important issue.

As Canadians know, we need three elements for life on this planet. We need good soil, clean air and water.

I want the members and the people who are watching this debate to understand that we have international agreements when it comes to the flowing of rivers and other bodies of water south. These agreements are agreed upon. We have to release a certain amount of the water that flows into these basins and that is something that will remain status quo. We are not planning to dam the waters if this motion is passed. Those waters will continue to flow freely.

We are very concerned about the great water supplies that we have. I do agree with the hon. member for Winnipeg—Transcona that we should be husbanding our resources. We should be conserving them. We should be recycling water. We should be reusing water as many countries are now doing. We have not done enough of that.

The question I want to ask is extremely important to many Canadians, not just on the issue of water but on other issues pertaining to trade agreements. The United States has in all its trade agreements, whether the NAFTA or the WTO, a public interest clause which says that if it is in the public interest of the United States, its governments can make decisions superseding trade agreements.

I ask the member how our amendment would sit and whether we need to go further on the trade agreements to have a public interest clause for Canada as the United States does?

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10:30 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, we do not think Canada should be a party to any international agreement that compels us to do things against our will, particularly when it comes to our freshwater resources. I think this is very clear.

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Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I too want to congratulate my colleague from Winnipeg—Transcona for introducing this motion today.

Perhaps by the end of the day we will look back at this being an historic occasion, when the Parliament of Canada for the first time in history says it considers water as unlike any other natural resource in Canada and wants to give it a special priority that it has not given other natural resources.

It is fair to say that one of the major issues of conflict in the early part of the 21st century will be access to freshwater. We understand that Canada has a relatively unique role in this regard in that we are the world's largest reservoir of freshwater with 9% of the globe's volume. If we look at the almost 200 countries identified in the world today, only 3 have an adequate supply into the future of fresh potable water. Canada is one of those.

The issue is crucial for us. As my friend from Winnipeg—Transcona indicated, it is absolutely mandatory that we have a thoughtful and strategic water policy in place as soon as possible. Today we call on the Parliament of Canada to send a very clear message to those who would like to export bulk water from Canada into other jurisdictions as a business commodity. We are calling for an immediate moratorium on bulk water exports and we are asking for immediate legislation to protect Canada's water and to exert our sovereignty over this critical resource for the future.

We know to what extent nations will go to secure access to oil. We have seen wars over this issue in a variety of areas. Let us face it, water is a whole lot more valuable than oil even today where we take it in a rather cavalier way. Today a litre of water costs more than a litre of oil. Still we waste this resource more than any other country with one exception, the United States. It wastes more water than we do but we are second.

Some ask with all this water, why not sell it? We have sold every other resource. Foreign interests have access to every natural resource in Canada except one. As my friend indicated, why not make a stand as a country and say “This is it. We consider water to be unlike oil, coal, codfish, timber or wheat. This is a resource of life itself”. We can go without eating for seven or eight weeks but we cannot go without drinking water for more than a handful of days. It is life itself. Today we have to say clearly that Canada has no excess water to export. There is no such thing as surplus water in an ecosystem. The life along a river's course and watershed is the product of both the high flows and the low flows. If you alter them you change the river.

Diverting water from a salmon river will mean traditional spawning grounds along the river bank will not flood. Taking water from the mouth of a river will deprive the estuary, one of the most productive biological areas on earth, of vital nutrients. Clearly water is not a resource like all others and requires special protection and special strategy in terms of how we are to use it in the future.

My friend has indicated there are many concerns. Being a country that holds 9% of the world's freshwater, it is crucial that we have a water policy in place as soon as possible.

I cannot imagine a single thoughtful person in this country saying that we should not do this and that we should not do it as quickly as we can.

Let us not loose sight of the fact that today could be the beginning of a movement down this crucial pathway to developing a strategic water strategy for our country into the 21st century. Passing a motion in the House does not necessarily accomplish that. The will has to be there as well. In 1989 the House unanimously passed a motion to eradicate child poverty by 2000. Unfortunately things have become a lot worse since then. We have a long way to go before we meet that goal.

Again, it is fair to say that we want to advance this cause. We want to ensure that water in our country is preserved for the use of future generations. Let us face it, if an American community becomes dependent on Canadian water we can imagine the reaction if in some future point we decide to cut it off. We can replace wood with products from another country or with some other building material. But we cannot replace anything with water. Water is a strategic resource. It is a crucial life giving resource.

When it comes to dealing with water Canada's reputation is anything but sterling. We have more water diversion projects than any other country on earth. We have 600 dams and 60 large diversion projects that transfer water between basins. Most of them are part of large hydroelectric projects. We have shown ourselves more willing to alter the life of rivers and lakes for commercial purposes. No other nation even comes close to us in that respect. As my friend from Winnipeg—Transcona indicated, when it comes to dealing, preserving and conserving freshwater in our country our track record is anything but sterling. Perhaps today is the beginning of a new era and a new trend to preserving and conserving Canada's water for the future.

In light of the fact that a number of people have referred to many of the international agreements we have signed, it is difficult to pass legislation that would protect Canadians, protect the Canadian environment, protect water resources and protect the health of Canadians. I refer back to the MMT issue of not long ago where in spite of the efforts of the elected representatives to preserve and save the health of Canadians by passing legislation banning MMT, the government backed off because of the pressure it felt was coming from the United States as a result of agreements that we had made.

I would like to propose an amendment to today's supply day motion:

Between the words “transfers” and “in”, insert, “and should not be a party to any international agreement that compels us to export freshwater against our will”.

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10:35 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the amendment.

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for my colleague.

He made reference to the trade agreements and moved an amendment to the motion which has to do with international agreements under which trade agreements would fall. He will know that the government has often said that when it comes to NAFTA water exports are not covered. Yet if not covered by NAFTA, and this is the position officially taken by the three governments involved, why is it so difficult to get the Canadian government to seek from these other governments an unambiguous memorandum of understanding having international legal standing equal to NAFTA which says so so that the matter can be cleared up once and for all?

In the absence of the Canadian government being willing to seek such an international memorandum, the suspicion lingers that somehow NAFTA does involve the bulk export of freshwater. Otherwise, why would the government be so reluctant to seek an unambiguous statement that it does not?

I wonder whether my colleague would like to comment on the Liberal reluctance to seek such a statement.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is fair to say that many in the legal field have argued that under agreements like the FTA and the North American Free Trade Agreement certain commodities were clearly excluded. Beer, logs and culture were named as exclusions and therefore, by implication, presumably everything else is left in. Bottled water was also mentioned.

It is clear that once water enters a container for sale it becomes a good, a commodity or a product. Whether that container is a vessel, a canal, a pipeline or whatever, the concern Canadians have is that we are not protected by the present wording of international agreements like NAFTA. I agree with my hon. friend that if the will is there by all countries then we should.

Let us face it, the northern part of Mexico, particularly in the Maquiladora zone where the big industrial belt is now developing as a result of NAFTA, and in the American southwest which is referred to as the sun belt where the large industries and populations are developing in the agricultural sectors, they are running out of water. It is clear that they are running out of freshwater. The wells and rivers are drying up and every conceivable ounce of that surface water is either being used or is locked up in legal agreements.

As those populations increase they are looking north to Canada as their obvious source to bail them out when the time comes, no pun intended. The issue of having as many cards in our hands as we can when the dealing begins is absolutely crucial.

While people will argue that we can pass legislation here banning exports and pass legislation in the provincial legislations of the country or wherever else, that trade agreement between three sovereign nations takes priority over national, state, provincial or local jurisdictions.

We have to do whatever we can to ensure that freshwater is in adequate supply for future generations of Canadians and that is why this motion is before the House of Commons today.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor Palliser, SK

Mr. Speaker, in one of the comments from the other side there was concern about the export of water, sharing our resources with other parts of the world. I wonder if the member could reference the fact that this motion does deal with the bulk shipment of water abroad.

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10:40 a.m.

NDP

Nelson Riis Kamloops, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. colleague. We acknowledge that today there are a number of agreements sharing water between Canada and the United States on the small scale. I am thinking Coutts, Alberta and Sweet Grass, Montana and others across the country.

However, let us also acknowledge that the country that wastes more water than any other is the United States. Crops are being grown in parts where they should never be grown. Swimming pools are filled with water from one end of Los Angeles to the other. Green lawns are all over southern California. There is a car wash every third block.

The day is not far off before the United States runs out of water because it abuses it so much. It pollutes and misuses its water resources. We want to send a clear signal that we are not going to be an easy source of bailing it out.

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10:40 a.m.

Halton
Ontario

Liberal

Julian Reed Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and certainly welcome the motion.

Some of the exchanges in the debate would lead me to put forward the thought that one of the reasons why previous governments have not taken the water issue seriously is a lack of knowledge or a lack of individual knowledge about the state of water in this country.

For instance, my colleague on this side suggested that Canada held 25% of the world's freshwater supply. Across the way the statement was 9% and in the notes I have information that it is 20%, so this is an indicator that the message is not clear.

What is clear is that water is a renewable resource. The water cycle replenishes our water supply on a continuing basis, but there is an old adage that you never miss the water till the well runs dry. This year in the province of Ontario the wells ran dry. There are wells that are still dry in Ontario. Farmers in the riding I serve are having either to buy water for their cattle or are having to move their cattle to other farms which have wells that are supplying water.

This year is the worst drought in recorded weather history in the province of Ontario. That should give us an indicator that we must be very conscious and very careful about the way we treat water and the way we look at it.

Until the present time it has been very difficult to convince municipalities and engineers that create domestic water supply to conserve water. It has always been the business of searching out bulk quantities of water without regard for water conservation. Yet many techniques could be put into place not only to help us conserve our water but to raise the consciousness of Canadians about the necessity to protect our water.

The concerns of members are very well founded. This is a domestic and global priority. Canadians feel strongly that water should not be removed from our country in bulk form. There are global shortages at the present time. The location of water is paramount. There may be demands placed on Canada's water in the future.

For environmental considerations more than anything else we need to protect our watersheds and the health of the ecosystems. The government is acting now and has acted in the past on behalf of all Canadians to preserve what is one of our most precious resources.

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10:45 a.m.

An hon. member

Where is the legislation?