House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nafta.

Topics

Business Of The House

10:05 a.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell
Ontario

Liberal

Don Boudria Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, there has been consultation among all parties in the House and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, notwithstanding any standing order or usual practice, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts shall meet this day at 12.30 p.m. for the purpose of hearing evidence from the Auditor General of Canada and that, if the chair or vice-chairs of the committee are not present—

Although I understand one of the vice-chairs is available now.

—the committee may choose any other member to be acting chair of the meeting and that the committee be authorized to broadcast its proceedings.

For the information of hon. members, the room that has been made available is Room 237-C if members wish to note it.

Business Of The House

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Business Of The House

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion agreed to)

Business Of The House

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have another motion that I want to bring to the attention of the House. I ask hon. members to pay close attention to this one. It relates to the fact that I received a communication from the other place late yesterday evening indicating that if by 10.30 this morning we refer Bill C-44 to it, the bill will be passed this day.

Therefore, I would move that Bill C-44 shall be deemed to have been read a second time, referred to a committee of the whole, reported without amendment, concurred in at report stage and read a third time and passed now.

Business Of The House

10:05 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, we could pass a motion at any time to do anything in this place, it seems, but I believe the motion really is not in order.

We have rules in this place that say there are ways to handle bills and motions. It includes a second reading debate, a referral to committee where witnesses could be brought in to answer any questions we may have, report stage amendments and debate, and a third reading debate.

To say that we are going to proceed with this bill, a bill that involves billions of taxpayer dollars, without debate and at all stages in order to get it to the Senate and into law just because there will be an election call on Sunday, is not wise use of House time. It circumvents the rules in a way that was never intended.

We are more than prepared to debate it. We are more than prepared to put forward our amendments and our ideas on it. However, we are not prepared to proceed, nor do I think this motion should even be accepted that we circumvent the rules of the House because an election is imminent on Sunday.

Business Of The House

10:05 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, as was indicated by the House leader for the official opposition, there are certainly some problems with the method by which the government is attempting to move this legislation forward.

That said, the lesser of the evils here is that many seasonal workers, many Atlantic Canadians and Canadians right across the country who would be the beneficiaries of this legislation, will not be able to avail themselves of the support that would be put in place.

All Canadians know and all members of the House realize that this legislation, were it really a government priority, could have been brought forward in a much more timely fashion.

What was alluded to by my friend is quite true. The government is in the death throes before an election. It is attempting to get this legislation through in a very cynical fashion. It is attempting to hold this in front of the faces of Canadians and tell them that this is fixed, that this is a done deal, just as it has with medicare. That of course is not the case, as we all realize.

What we do not want to do is hold up this legislation. If there is any way procedurally that we can proceed with this legislation to the benefit and greater good of Canadians who would therefore be eligible and able to avail themselves of this support system through the EI changes, we in the Progressive Conservative Party would be prepared to co-operate with the government to see that it happens.

The indication that the other place would also be open to receipt of this legislation to see that it would pass through before the end of the day is welcome news. I do not think any member of the House should throw up roadblocks to try to prevent that from happening.

It is with a very jaded view that the government is doing this. It is obviously doing so as more pre-election goodies, but we do not want to see this legislation held up any further if at all possible. It does circumvent rules. It does not allow us to have sufficient time to look at the content and the true inner mechanisms that would be brought about by this legislation, but it is done with the best of intentions, we hope, and therefore the Progressive Conservative Party would support passage of that legislation.

Business Of The House

10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Suzanne Tremblay Rimouski—Mitis, QC

Mr. Speaker, unfortunately, the Bloc Quebecois will not give its support to this motion and the leader of the government knows why.

The bill includes a clause that legalizes the diversion of the employment insurance fund, and the Bloc Quebecois can never allow the government to set the rate by itself. This responsibility must be assumed by the commission. We conveyed the message to this government that we would not support the motion, even though it really saddens us to do so, considering all the positive measures, however temporary, that the bill may provide for, among others, seasonal workers.

We would have loved to support this legislation, but once again the government has shown its arrogance, cynicism and disregard for democracy. No matter how we put it, this sad week is still unfolding, even today. Unfortunately, we will not give our support.

Business Of The House

10:10 a.m.

NDP

Gordon Earle Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, the NDP echoes some of the concerns expressed by my hon. colleague from the Progressive Conservative Party. We also are not completely satisfied with some aspects of this legislation. However, we are prepared to co-operate because we realize that employment insurance is very important for people in the Atlantic provinces. Even though this is being done, as has been indicated, as an election fulfilment or an election promise, we feel that in the end if the people benefit that is the important thing. We would be prepared to co-operate to allow it to be passed today.

Business Of The House

10:10 a.m.

The Speaker

We are faced with a very big decision but a fairly straightforward one. Is the House prepared to proceed in such a fashion?

Business Of The House

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Business Of The House

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Business Of The House

10:10 a.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, there was a motion just put before the House that was denied unanimous consent but perhaps the House would consent to debate the bill if it were renamed the Liberal vote buying bill.

International Boundary Waters Treaty Act
Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson for Minister of Foreign Affairs

moved that Bill C-15, an act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to say at the outset what a pleasure it is to speak to this particular bill. I thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs for allowing me the opportunity of doing so.

I would also like to mention that the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has been of great support to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and myself on this legislation and has indeed followed the issue of water quality in Canada with great care. Two other members I would like to quickly single out among the many are of course the member for Mississauga South and the member for Leeds—Grenville, who have been extremely supportive and helpful in the work of bringing forward policy in this particular area.

I am pleased to address the House on second reading of Bill C-15, an act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.

In May 1998, a company proposed a project to export water by tanker from Lake Superior. This sparked a debate among Canadians on the future security and preservation of Canada's freshwater resources. However, this is not a new issue.

Anyone who has followed the deliberations of the House over the past 40 years will remember the grandiose continental schemes dreamed up to transfer water out of Canada. The views of Canadians and the Government of Canada on this have not changed. Canada's water is not for sale. Our freshwater resources are too precious to allow bulk removal or diversion. They must be protected for future generations of Canadians who will follow us.

Successive Canadian governments have opposed the diversion or bulk removal of Canadian water. However, to date this has been little more than declarations. The time has now come to deal through legislation with the issue, and that is why we are taking action.

Bill C-15 will protect boundary waters, including the critical resource of the Great Lakes, from bulk water removal under federal law.

The act implements the 1909 Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty. This is one of our oldest treaties and a landmark in Canada-U.S. relations.

With over 300 lakes and rivers along the Canada-U.S. border, the drafters recognized the critical role played by water and the importance of providing a structure and mechanism to prevent and resolve disputes between the two countries. Ninety-one years later we are using the same mechanism to ensure that these waters will be protected for future generations of Canadians.

The amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act in Bill C-15 are based principally on Canada's treaty obligations to the United States not to take action in Canada which affects levels and flows of boundary waters on the United States side of the border. I would note that the United States has the same obligation to Canada, that is, not to take action in the U.S. which affects levels and flows of boundary waters on the Canadian side of the border.

These amendments also have a second objective; to protect the integrity of boundary water ecosystems. The amendments have three key elements: a prohibition provision; a licensing regime; and sanctions and penalties.

The prohibition provision will give the Minister of Foreign Affairs the authority to impose a prohibition on removals of boundary waters out of their water basins. Exceptions will be considered, such as ballast water, short-term humanitarian purposes and water used in the production of food or beverages, for example, bottled water.

While there are many boundary waters along the Canada-U.S. border affected by the prohibition, its most significant effect will be on the Great Lakes. This will provide to Canada the ability to stop any future plans for water removal out of the Great Lakes.

Separate from the amendments dealing with the prohibition, there will be a licensing regime. These licences will cover projects such as dams and obstructions in boundary and transboundary waters. Under the provisions of the treaty, these types of projects must have the approval of the International Joint Commission and the Government of Canada.

I would like to stress that the process of approving such projects has taken place over the past 91 years without any problems under the general authority of the treaty. In essence, the process is not changing, except that it will be formalized now in a licensing system. Also, the licensing regime will not cover bulk water removal projects. These, if they are proposed, are covered by the Act's prohibition.

Bill C-15 will also allow for clear and strong sanctions and penalties. This will give teeth to the prohibitions and ensure that Canada is in the position to enforce it.

I would also like to set Bill C-15 in the general context of Canada's strategy announced on February 10, 1999 to prohibit bulk removal of water out of all major Canadian water basins. Why did the Government of Canada take this initiative? The removal and transfer of water in bulk may result in irreversible ecological, social and economic impacts. We want to ensure, for future generations of Canadians, the security of our freshwater resources and the integrity of our ecosystems.

However, to be effective, any approach must take account of two factors. First, no single government has the ability to resolve this question. Flowing water does not respect political boundaries. In the case of the Great Lakes system, two federal governments, eight state governments, two provincial governments, and a number of regional and binational organizations are involved in managing and protecting freshwater resources.

Furthermore, it would be a gross oversimplification to view the issue only from one angle. It is a multidimensional issue involving removals, diversions, consumption, population and economic growth, the effects of climate change, and last but not least, the cumulative effect of all those factors.

All levels of government must act effectively and in concert within their respective jurisdictions. Hence, Canada announced in February 1999 that the Government of Canada would be acting within its jurisdiction. Bill C-15 fulfils this commitment.

Canada also announced a reference from the governments of Canada and the United States to the International Joint Commission to investigate and make recommendations on consumptive uses, diversions and removals in the greatest of our shared waters, the Great Lakes. It said that it recognized the primary responsibility of provinces and territories for water management. My colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, and I proposed a Canada-wide accord to prohibit bulk water removal out of major Canadian water basins.

As of today, all provinces have put into place or are developing legislation and policies to prohibit bulk water removal.

The International Joint Commission delivered a landmark report on March 15 of this year, that is, the protection of the waters of the Great Lakes. I would like to reflect briefly on the IJC's conclusions and its recommendations. They are consistent with and supportive of the broad environmental approach adopted by Canada on the issue of bulk water removal.

The International Joint Commission concluded that “water is a non-renewable resource” and the vast volumes of the Great Lakes are deceiving. Less than 1% of the water in the Great Lakes system is renewed annually. The other 99% is a gift of the glacial age. Taking water out of the water basin is in fact like mining. Once taken it will not return.

The report also stated that if all the interests in the Great Lakes Basin are considered, there is never a surplus of water. Every drop of water has several potential uses. Forty million Canadians and Americans depend on the waters of the Great Lakes for every aspect of life: day-to-day living, industry, recreation, transportation and trade.

On top of this, the ecosystem of the Great Lakes has its own, equally important, demands on the water. As we are dependent on the future health of the Great Lakes, the future health of the ecosystem is dependent on our action.

The IJC concluded that the Great Lakes require protection, given all of the present and future stresses and uncertainties. Recommendations for action were made to all levels of government in Canada and the U.S. These recommendations provide the basis for developing a consistent approach to protecting the Great Lakes on both sides of the border.

The Government of Canada agrees with the IJC's conclusions. The prohibition provisions of Bill C-15 will provide the protection to the Great Lakes called for by the IJC.

The Great Lakes are the largest reservoir of fresh water in the world. If the IJC, the International Joint Commission, considers caution is the watchword for the management of waters in the Great Lakes basin, is it not equally so for other smaller bodies of water and ecosystems across Canada wherever they are located?

I would also like to take this opportunity to address the trade implications of Canada's policy approach. A number of persons and groups have called on the federal government to use an export ban.

There is a consensus among Canadians that our water resources need protection. The issue before us, then, is not whether to protect the water, but how best to accomplish the goal.

Canada's approach, embodied in Bill C-15 and our overall strategy, is to protect water in its natural state in water basins. It is better than an export ban.

Water is protected and regulated in its natural state, before the issue of exporting arises and before it has become a commercial good or a saleable commodity. It is the most comprehensive, environmentally sound and effective means of preserving the integrity of ecosystems and is consistent with international trade obligations.

The critical point is that the Canadian government and Canadian governments of the past have full sovereignty over the management of water in its natural state and, in exercising this sovereignty, they would not be constrained by trade agreements. Canada's view of this matter has been supported by a wide range of expert opinion. The International Joint Commission, which is an independent binational Canadian-U.S. commission, came to similar conclusions in its final report after exhaustive public hearings and submissions that included government and independent experts representing every point of view.

The deputy United States trade representative, in a written submission reproduced in the IJC report, indicated that under customary international law, non-navigable rivers to a watercourse, including the right to control or limit extraction, belong solely to the country or countries where that watercourse lies. He further indicated that the World Trade Organization “simply has nothing to say regarding the basic decision by governments whether to permit the extraction of water from lakes and rivers in their territories”.

In this light, I am puzzled by the insistence of those who continue to recommend that we institute an export ban. It comes from people who apparently share our desire to protect Canada's water resources; however, it is clear their approach would make our water more vulnerable to trade challenge, not less, and make it harder to protect, not easier.

Unlike the Government of Canada's approach, which is focused on comprehensive environmental objectives in a manner that is trade consistent, an export ban does not address the environmental dimension, has possible constitutional limitations, and may be vulnerable to trade challenge.

An export ban would focus on water once it has become a good and therefore subject to international trade agreements, and would likely be contrary to Canada's international trade obligations.

Canadians are looking to all levels of the government to act. Bill C-15 will provide protection against the bulk removal of water from the Great Lakes and other boundary waters. Joined with the efforts being made in other parts of the federal government's strategy, including the Canada-wide accord on water and the Canada-U.S. reference to the International Joint Commission, it will provide the best protection possible for Canada's freshwater resources.

This is the best way to protect Canada's freshwater. It brings together a comprehensive, environmentally sound approach that respects constitutional responsibilities and is consistent with Canada's international trade obligations.

For all of these reasons, I urge members to support Bill C-15.

International Boundary Waters Treaty Act
Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Reform

Deepak Obhrai Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to thank you for giving me a lot of advice when I came into the House as a rookie. You pointed out a lot of things to me, and I highly appreciated your help. I learned a lot from you. I guess when I do come back I will have graduated from being a rookie to second term MP. I take this opportunity to wish you all the best in your future endeavours.

I rise today on behalf of the constituents of Calgary East to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the 80 year old International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. I will begin by explaining why we are compelled to debate this issue. Water is an issue that touches the lives of all Canadians. It is part of Canadian heritage. Canadians are very concerned at the thought of losing control of the country's freshwater resources.

It is a legitimate concern. Canada will face an increasing demand for this precious resource in the new millennium. I remind members and all Canadians of the failure of the Liberal government to protect Canada's freshwater resources.

Canadians also deserve to be informed of the past mistakes made by the government on this issue. The export of water was never supposed to be an issue in Canada. Various federal politicians in the early 1990s claimed that Canada had a right to manage its own water and that water would never be challenged under any international agreement. Unfortunately this is not the case. The water issue is back on the table.

On May 28, 1993, a few days before the election, the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who happens to be the minister who introduced Bill C-15, expressed his concerns about NAFTA and its implication for Canada's freshwater resource.

The government is on record as saying that NAFTA should be amended to prohibit bulk water exports. Had Liberals kept their promise, Canadians would not have to worry about the issue of bulk water exports and we certainly would not be discussing this matter today.

The 1993 Liberal red book said that NAFTA would be an opportunity to correct any flaws that existed with the free trade agreement with the U.S.A. and Mexico. Liberals promised Canadians we would retain control of our water. They promised to review the side agreements of NAFTA to ensure that they were in Canada's best interest. Regardless of these promises, the government signed the NAFTA deal without a side agreement on water.

Raw logs and unprocessed fish were exempted from NAFTA, but the best arrangement Canada could get on water was the following side deal signed by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico on December 2, 1993: “The NAFTA creates no rights to the natural water resources of any party of the agreement”.

Ultimately this side deal is of little legal value. Unless water in any form has entered into commerce and has become a good or product, it is not covered by the provisions of any trade agreement including NAFTA. Nothing in NAFTA obliges any NAFTA party to either exploit its water for commercial use or begin to export water in any form.

Water in its natural state in lakes, reservoirs, water basins and the like is not a good or a product. It therefore is not traded and never has been subject to the terms of any trade agreement. The side agreement worked as long as Canada never allowed water to enter into commerce and become a good or a product.

With the exception of international boundary waters, the vast majority of water in its natural state is owned and managed by the provinces. It is a provincial responsibility to manage the resources carefully, just as the provinces manage their forests and oil and gas. If one province enters the business of tendering contracts to export bulk water, then according to chapter 11 of NAFTA it must treat Canadian, American and Mexican companies in a similar fashion.

National treatment provisions give all corporations of our NAFTA partners the right to help themselves to our water the moment any Canadian company is given an export permit. In fact, water would not be exempt from NAFTA once we started shipping water. The government would be powerless to stop it. If it did, the government would have to compensate for lost income under the investor state provisions.

The government did not have the foresight to think that some provinces may one day look into the possibility of licensing the export of water, but recent examples show us the opposite. First, the province of Newfoundland granted an export permit to McCurdy Enterprises Limited to export water from Gisborne Lake. Second, in Ontario the Nova Group received a licence to extract water from Lake Superior.

Finally, in British Columbia, the California company Sun Belt wanted to export water from B.C. It is now demanding up to $10.5 billion in damages from the federal and B.C. governments alleging that its rights under NAFTA have been violated. Sun Belt is demanding restoration of the water export licence the B.C. government cancelled in 1991 and compensation for lost business opportunities.

Although the provinces eventually pulled out of these proposals, the agreements renewed fears about water export and the impact of our trade agreements.

Let us now look at the government's strategy that it believes will ensure Canada's control over its freshwater. This government, having failed to protect Canadian sovereignty over water during NAFTA negotiations, is now proposing a backup solution.

Liberals had six years to propose legislation since the ratification of the NAFTA but preferred to wait and be pushed to the wall before they reacted. This does not surprise me, since Liberal strategy can be defined as a wait and see approach.

Bill C-15 proposes to prohibit bulk water removal from boundary waters between Canada and the U.S.A. That covers only 15% of Canada's water resources. The provinces manage the remaining 85%. The government's water strategy includes a Canada-wide accord to prohibit bulk water removal. However, five provinces have refused to endorse the accord, leaving the country's water vulnerable to exportation.

The federal strategy was designed in the belief that all provinces would agree on a national ban. It is quite obvious after the two day debate in Kananaskis in late November 1999 that the government has failed to achieve this goal.

Bill C-15 legislates authority to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to impose a prohibition on the removal of boundary waters out of the natural water basin. It provides clear sanctions and penalties for violations. This means a licence will be required from the Minister of Foreign Affairs for any activity that would have the effect of altering the natural level or flow of water on the U.S. side of the border. Clearly another level of bureaucracy will be added. The government has shown in the past that it is exceptionally good at adding levels of bureaucracy when it is not needed.

Nowhere in the bill is the word export used. The government feels, and with good reason, the term will imply that water is a commercial good. What the absence of the word export really means is that water was part of the negotiations during the NAFTA talks. That is one thing the government should admit. The fact that the government is taking the route to ban bulk water export shows how little faith it has in the December 1993 side deal it signed after promising Canadians it would protect our sovereignty over water.

As it stands now we can say yes or no, but we have lost the right to say yes to Canadians only. Perhaps the government thinks the bill will somehow magically remove Canada from our international agreements on water. Unfortunately the bill is far from closing the door on the water export issue.

Several Liberal MPs, including the member for Davenport, have stated in the House that the proposed accord will lead to a patchwork of provincial initiatives making Canada vulnerable to trade challenges. He said:

It seems quite clear that a meaningful protection of our water resources requires the federal government to face the reality of international trade agreements.

Does this mean the member thinks NAFTA should be renegotiated to exclude water? The former foreign affairs minister thought that way when he was in the opposition. I quote the member for Winnipeg South Centre:

We should be making a direct proposal to the United States administration that in looking at the new environmental accords as part of NAFTA we include the exclusion of water as part of that accord.

He had the power to implement in government what he had said in opposition. Why did he refuse to do so?

The core issue up for debate today is the protection of our sovereignty and rights over water. Bill C-15 does not resolve that issue. The failure of the government to protect our resources leaves the impression that the government is using the issue of water export as a political tool, one that should give it enormous leverage as a future trade cash cow.

What should be done? In 1993 while the government was busy signing away our sovereignty over water, the Canadian Alliance made a specific statement on the protection of our fresh water. The Canadian Alliance stated that exclusive and unrestricted control of water in all its forms should be maintained by and for Canadians.

Canada possesses about 9% of the world's renewable water resources and 20% of the world's total freshwater resources. This includes water captured in glaciers and in the polar ice caps. Protection of our sovereignty over this valuable resource is critical to Canadians and to our national identity.

The Canadian Alliance believes that Canadians should retain control over our water resources and supports exempting water from our international agreements, including NAFTA. An outright ban on water export would run contrary to our NAFTA commitment because water was not exempt from that agreement.

A side agreement would have to be negotiated that would exempt water from NAFTA before a ban on water exports could even be considered. Until an exemption is achieved, we encourage the provinces to place a moratorium on commercial water licensing so that water in bulk form never becomes a good governed by NAFTA rules.

Once an exemption from NAFTA is in place, the decision to export water in bulk should rest with the provinces that own the resource. Natural resources fall under provincial jurisdiction and international trade is under federal jurisdiction. As a result of this constitutional division of powers, any water export scheme can only succeed with the support and co-operation of both levels of government.

In the absence of exempting water from NAFTA, the Canadian Alliance will support the proposed bill as it represents the only viable approach that the federal government can take and the only constitutionally valid NAFTA compatible ban on bulk water export. However, I would like to see the government propose real answers to this issue and show some leadership in exempting water from our trade agreements.

It would have been preferable to exempt water from NAFTA but failing that, Bill C-15 will have to do as second best. The Canadian Alliance is not asking the government to back out of NAFTA as has been proposed by my colleague from the NDP, but we wish the government had kept its promise for a side agreement.

Water is likely to become one of the hottest commodities in the 21st century. Because the government did a poor job of managing this resource, we will have to pay the price one day. Canadians should realize that we are no longer sovereign over our water. Neither will our future generations be if something is not done to change this reality.

Bill C-15 or not, the bottom line is that Canada's water resources are vulnerable to export. While I am a strong supporter of free trade, I believe it should not come at the expense of our sovereignty over water. Decisions about bulk water export should rest in the hands of Canadians only, not with Americans, NAFTA or WTO.

Perhaps one day Canada will decide to export water if it is proven environmentally sound. If that ever happens, and I strongly stress if, the tap should belong to Canadians only.

International Boundary Waters Treaty Act
Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to extend my thanks to my colleagues in the Bloc for making it possible for me to speak on this bill. Members will know that I do have a longstanding interest in this issue.

On February 9, 1999 I was the mover of an NDP supply day motion which called for a national ban on the bulk export of water from Canada. At that time that motion received the unanimous support of the House. It is in that context I would like to speak to Bill C-15 today.

Bill C-15 is not, as the Liberals are trying to suggest, a national ban on bulk water exports. It is not a piece of legislation one would have expected if they were actually trying to live up not just to their promises, but to the commitment they made to parliament that day when they supported the NDP motion.

This is a bill which aims to prohibit bulk water removals from boundary water basins only. This is a retreat from banning bulk water exports and this retreat is clearly, although the government will not say so, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The very language of removal tells the story. The Liberals refuse to use the word export because if they talked about water exports as opposed to water removal, then they would have a test case with respect to NAFTA because NAFTA deals with exports.

If the Liberals were as confident as they say they are that water is exempt in NAFTA, then why would they be afraid to use the language of exports? They themselves say they want to deal with the water question in the context of an environmental issue because otherwise, if they dealt with it in any other context, if they dealt with it as an export, this would, and I will use the government's language here, trigger its international trade obligations. International trade obligations is code for NAFTA.

The fact is that the Liberals are unwilling to admit that NAFTA is as inadequate as it truly is when it comes to water. If the Liberals did admit that, they would have to explain to Canadians why they are not actively seeking to either get out of that agreement or to change it, if in fact it leaves our ability to determine whether or not we want to export water completely subordinate to the agreement.

It is doubtful that even Bill C-15 is NAFTA proof. International trade tribunals have been more than willing to overturn environmental laws as disguised trade barriers. We have seen that happen. This is what has happened before to some of Canada's key fisheries conservation measures. The bill is therefore vulnerable to trade challenges even if the government claims it is taking an environmental rather than a trade approach. What is really being protected here is not so much our water but a certain part of the government's anatomy when it comes to its position on NAFTA.

Even on the more modest goal of prohibiting bulk water removals, Bill C-15 fails. It does not really ban bulk water removals or exports from watersheds, it only says it cannot be done without a licence. Bill C-15 is actually more of a licensing scheme for bulk water removal than a prohibition and it applies only to waters covered by the International Joint Commission.

The bill allows for huge exceptions to be provided for in the regulations. The government says these regulations will not deviate much from current practice. Indeed, but current practice allows for industrial withdrawals within a basin and many of these basins straddle the border.

The power to give out licences for bulk water removal is given to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, not to the Minister of the Environment. Again we see that water is ultimately a matter of relationships, fundamentally between Canada and the United States. If we think that is not covered by NAFTA, we have another think coming. The very fact that this power is given to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and not to the Minister of the Environment gives that away.

At a time when the activities of the Department of Foreign Affairs are being increasingly dominated by commercial concerns, one is not left feeling confident that environmental concerns will govern the licensing scheme.

Ultimately therefore, there is nothing really new in Bill C-15. It just formalizes in legislation what the International Boundary Waters Treaty already says and what the federal practice in these matters has been for more than 90 years.

The fact that the bill will die on the order paper means that yet another key part of the federal government's strategy on water is in tatters. Not only do we now lack protection for our water, we do not even have a serious plan to get one.

The government devised a hasty three-pronged strategy the day after the NDP motion was passed in the House. One of the prongs called for a national ban on bulk water exports. That never happened. One prong dissolved when the federal government's proposed voluntary federal-provincial water accord collapsed.

Now another prong, Bill C-15, will dissolve when it dies on the order paper. Perhaps that is as it should be because this never was a response to the motion that was passed in the House on February 9, 1999. This is a case of the Liberals continuing to deceive Canadians with respect to the reality of NAFTA.

One has to wonder though, in all these years with respect to water and NAFTA, were the Liberals deceiving themselves or deceiving Canadians? I think the cat is now out of the bag; they were deceiving Canadians and Bill C-15 is part of that deception. It is another broken Liberal promise. It is another example of federal inaction in terms of dealing with this issue. I regret very much that we are on the eve of an election and we do not have a chance to pursue this matter further.

If the government had been serious about keeping some of its promises not just with respect to banning water exports, but also with respect to health care, pharmacare, home care and you name it, we would not be here, Mr. Speaker, with you wanting to rise to cut me off. We would have a lot of time and a government program before us that actually kept the government's promises. Instead we have the pathetic emptiness that we see before us, broken promises and an election that should not be happening.

We should be having the government fulfil its promises on water as well as on many other things.