House of Commons Hansard #172 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tax.

Topics

Income Tax Amendments Act, 2006
Government Orders

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

It being 12:52 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from May 10 consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Motion No. 249 in the name of the member for Lac-Saint-Louis concerning a water resources management strategy for Canada's freshwater resources.

Our Conservative government supports the principle of this motion, as we are committed to sound water management for Canadians. As we know, the motion actually asks for action on issues on which our government has already taken a leadership role. Indeed, the issues raised by this motion are already being addressed by departments such as Natural Resources Canada, or NRCan.

Let me highlight some of the work that NRCan is doing in the area of water use and sustainability.

Freshwater is our most essential natural resource and, along with air and food, is the basis for all life. While water is abundant in Canada, our earth does not have an endless supply of water.

Humanity faces tremendous challenges in maintaining a sustainable supply of freshwater. In fact, in many parts of the world, water quality continues to deteriorate rapidly due to urbanization, agricultural practices, industrialization and, of course, overpopulation. Climate change is already permanently altering the water cycle in many of our lakes, rivers and aquifers.

Yet Canada is a water-rich nation. We possess 7% of the world's renewable water supply and yet we have only one-half of 1% of its total population. This wealth is tempered by the fact that approximately 60% of Canada's water drains to the north, while 85% of its population lives along the Canada-U.S. border to the south.

Having such tremendous water wealth is both a privilege and an obligation. Canada's intense use of water places our country behind only the U.S. as the world's highest per capita users of freshwater.

Water management in Canada is largely the purview of the provinces. However, our federal government has many important roles to play, including the provision of scientific information and knowledge on the nature, extent and management of this resource.

Much has changed in the 20 years since the Pearse inquiry, which was the last major review of federal water policy in Canada. A number of pressures, such as climate change, population growth and urbanization, and also increased demands from industrial users, have increased since the inquiry reported its findings in 1985.

Certain regions of the country such as, for example, southern British Columbia and Alberta are now experiencing periods when current supplies cannot meet existing demands. Indeed, last summer in the tourist town of Tofino on Vancouver Island's west coast, the residents almost had to shut down their town due to water shortages. Even parts of southern Ontario face the same challenges, particularly during periods of drought. Studies suggest that future droughts in the Prairies will be longer and more severe. Clearly, even we as Canadians are not immune to problems related to the sustainable use of water.

As recent events have borne out, water-borne human health issues are chronic in some of Canada's rural and first nations communities. As a result, Canadians no longer take safe water for granted.

Industrial development in Canada, especially in the natural resources sector, can have adverse effects on the quantity and quality of our freshwater resources. These industries, such as energy, forestry, mining, and oil and gas, all use large quantities of freshwater in their operations. The waste water from these industries only exacerbates our environmental challenges.

Also, groundwater is an increasingly important source of freshwater, but we have a limited understanding of the extent and quality of this resource.

To better understand freshwater issues, Natural Resources Canada tries to understand these issues through the lens of the industries in the natural resources sector.

I believe that Canadians also must recognize that forests play a key role in the water cycle. They contribute to the regulation of water quality and quantity levels, especially in the boreal forests. Indeed, forests and forest practices can assist us in mitigating some of the challenges I have previously mentioned.

The department's current role regarding freshwater can be broadly characterized as, first, providing policy and science expertise to better understand the water resource and, second, minimizing the environmental impacts of mining, energy and forestry activities.

These initiatives include such things as groundwater mapping, which NRCan is doing, topographical and now digital watershed maps of Canada, treating mining effluent, sustainable forestry practices, and of course the efficient use of water.

As a first step in developing a national groundwater inventory, NRCan has completed an assessment of the groundwater present in Canada's key aquifers and we expect that a groundwater publication will be coming out in 2008.

NRCan recognizes the importance of applying the integrated water resources management approach to addressing water issues. Through the groundwater mapping program, NRCan is currently working with provincial, industry and university partners in Alberta to characterize sections of the Paskapoo aquifer system. This aquifer located in the southwest part of Alberta supplies 28% of all well water drawn in Alberta and covers approximately 10% of the province's area.

There are other initiatives. The P.E.I. department of environment, energy and forestry used the results of NRCan's program on nitrate dynamics in groundwater to support better agricultural practices. In my own province of British Columbia, the township of Oliver incorporated the program's groundwater vulnerability mapping and land use models into its current planning process. Nova Scotia acknowledged the value of the recently published Annapolis hydrogeological atlas in supporting the province's regional groundwater management.

As we can see, the work NRCan is doing in water resources management is benefiting all parts of Canada. That is why, although we support the spirit of the motion, we think it appears to simply duplicate the work that our new Conservative government is already doing in the area of water management.

NRCan also supports a number of other programs that seek to address important water issues. Consistent with the integrated water resources management approach, NRCan understands that surface and groundwater resources are closely linked components of the water cycle and that we have to manage these well.

Finally, the department has completed a major report entitled “Freshwater: The role and contribution of Natural Resources Canada”. This report is designed to inform interested Canadians, particularly practitioners of water management, about NRCan's unique role and contribution to freshwater issues.

In short, Natural Resources Canada, together with some 20 other federal departments, is contributing substantially to our understanding of Canada's freshwater resources.

It is almost as if the Liberal member for Lac-Saint-Louis wants to play follow the leader with our government. We are pleased that the member has taken the lead from our new Conservative government and wants to address these matters after the fact.

A closer look at the motion before us reveals that the very issues the member raises are already being addressed by our new Conservative government. We have every intention of supporting the main motion that the member has brought forward. I am glad that he supports the initiatives that Natural Resources Canada is undertaking.

However, there is something else in this motion. The hon. member introduced an 11th hour amendment to the motion, which calls on our government to appoint a minister of state for water resources. We already have a Minister of Natural Resources, so I have to ask myself, why now? The Liberal member and his party were in government for almost 13 years, yet not once did they propose establishing a minister of state for water resources, not once. Why has this issue suddenly become such a hot topic for the Liberal Party?

Our new Conservative government takes water quality seriously and is taking a leading role in ensuring that Canadians value their water resource and treat it responsibly. We are getting things done for Canadians after 13 long years of neglect.

I thank the House for its time. I trust that the debate will be a constructive one and will lead us forward in addressing the needs of freshwater management in Canada.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1 p.m.

Liberal

Joe McGuire Egmont, PE

Mr. Speaker, I want to take a few minutes to address this very important topic and very topical motion. I wish to commend the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for bringing this forward.

I want to commend also Senator Grafstein on the Senate's passage of Bill S-205 on fresh drinking water recently. It is an indication of some of the great work that senators do.

I can remember the seminal work on topsoil loss that a senator from Saskatchewan did many years ago. The findings of that particular study are still very relevant today, although a lot of the recommendations that he made in the report have not been followed and we continue to lose a lot of our topsoil into our streams. The very fragile inches of topsoil that our agriculture depends on are basically being wasted.

As the previous speaker noted, fresh drinking water is essential to the livelihoods of all Canadians. In my province of Prince Edward Island, recent studies have shown that there are high amounts of nitrates in our drinking water. In Prince Edward Island we are totally reliant on our groundwater for all our freshwater resources. We do not have any great freshwater lakes to rely on, so we are totally reliant on groundwater. We are totally reliant on the health and the purity of that groundwater in order to have healthy drinking water.

P.E.I. is an intensely agricultural province. Agriculture has been a number one industry since our island was established as a colony many years ago. It continues to be our biggest industry. It uses, and in some cases abuses, the essential source of fresh water that we all rely on as islanders.

Because of the health issues prevalent in P.E.I., because of our reliance on fresh groundwater and the intense agricultural industry over the centuries, the province of P.E.I. cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer. In recent years it has been taking a more active role in addressing the problem. We cannot afford to hide behind excuses not to address this problem. Not only is the health of our citizens at risk, but the health of our largest industry is at risk if we do not get serious about the problem.

A task force was established by the previous provincial government to look into and address the nitrate problem on Prince Edward Island at the end of April this year. During the recent election in P.E.I., Robert Ghiz, who was the then opposition leader, outlined a position where he would address the concerns about nitrates in our drinking water. He outlined plans for increased water testing and support for improved nutrient management practices. This is a good start. I suggest that our new premier make this a priority with his government and put adequate resources into addressing the problem of nitrates in the water of our province.

Although a major factor, agriculture is not totally to blame for the high nitrate readings in our drinking water in Prince Edward Island. Most of the weather systems go from west to east. A lot of the acid rain that contributes to nitrates in our drinking water comes from the central industrialized United States and the industrialized centre of Canada, mainly Ontario and Quebec. A great deal of acid rain has been deposited on our eastern provinces. We create very little of that particular pollutant in our area, but we are the recipients of it.

Fresh water is mainly a provincial jurisdiction, but it is an overlapping jurisdiction. I think the Department of Industry, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs need to address this.

Over the years we have read about some horrendous experiences with the drinking water in a lot of the reserves and aboriginal communities across the country. There has been lead poisoning. People are unable to eat the fish on which a lot of the more isolated aboriginal communities rely. We can point our finger directly at the pollutants coming from industry in that area. I think we have ignored to a great extent the health of our aboriginal communities as well as the health of communities right across the country. Walkerton is an example that precipitated a lot of new interest in the problems of our drinking water.

It is incumbent upon both levels of government to address this problem. As the previous speaker said, every province has problems with fresh drinking water. The provinces have primary responsibility. I think we should immediately get together with the provinces, show some leadership on this file and have a working committee of the various departments that are responsible for the health of our citizens. It is a problem that is getting more and more serious as time goes on, as we farm more intensely and we rely more on chemical fertilizers. Not only chemical fertilizers but manure also contributes to high nitrate levels in our water system.

We have to find solutions to this problem. The health of our citizens is at risk. Agriculture is the major industry in P.E.I. and it is one of the major industries in Canada. Thousands and thousands of people rely on our agricultural industry and our fish supplies. It is incumbent upon all governments to finally address this problem in a very serious manner. They must put the resources behind the problem and enlist the scientific community. We must try to address this problem before it gets completely out of hand and a lot of our streams and groundwater supplies become contaminated beyond recovery.

I commend the sponsor of the motion and Senator Grafstein for bringing this issue to the fore. I think all members of Parliament from all parts of the country will be interested in seeing solutions to the problem.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis has the floor for the right of reply.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I get into the body of my speech, I would like to respond to some points that were made by the hon. member for Abbotsford.

First, he mentioned that I had been in government for 13 years. That is not factual. I was elected in 2004, a few months prior to him being elected.

Second, he mentioned that the motion followed on the heels of the government's announcement that it would create a national water strategy, an announcement that the government appended at the last minute to the last budget. I remind the member that I tabled my motion back in the fall, many months before the government, as an afterthought, appended a paragraph or two on a national water strategy to the budget.

This kind of issue requires a proactive approach. The way things are structured at the moment, with 20 agencies and departments in the federal government involved in some way, shape or form in the water issue, I do not believe there is sufficient focus on this issue, which is why the amendment that we will be vote on calls for the government to appoint a secretary of state for water, who obviously would report to the Minister of the Environment.

The environment is an extremely complex and broad issue. It is a lot for one person, as we have seen, and the issue requires some focus to build the bridges among the departments involved.

I will give an example of one issue that involves two powerful ministers, who seem to have a split attention toward a particular water issue, and that is the issue of Devils Lake. The Minister of Foreign Affairs is involved as is the Minister of the Environment.

Pursuant to the events that occurred this week in North Dakota, we have seen that the government has not been proactive on the issue. The Minister of Foreign Affairs obviously has huge responsibilities. He is travelling to different parts of the world as is the Minister of the Environment, so this issue seems to fall through the cracks.

I will ask a question, but obviously there will not be a response because it is more of a rhetorical question. Why did we not foresee the opening of the Devils Lake outlet this past Monday? The hon. member for Abbotsford spoke of the great scientists and scientific resources the Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources had. How come they did not understand the water levels in Devils Lake were rising enough that the government of North Dakota would be tempted to open the outlet? Why did they not see this coming?

Not only do we have the scientific resources, but we have a U.S. desk in the Department of Foreign Affairs. Its job is to follow what is going on in the United States. Where was it on this file? Why did it not alert the minister to the possibility that the outlet would be opened?

On May 30, the minister seemed to say that he had sufficient information from Environment Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the Department of Foreign Affairs to assure us, in his usual way, that everything was under control. It was not under control. Now we have a filter that is so inadequate at the outlet for Devils Lake that fish are jumping through it. I saw pictures of the filter at the environment committee on Tuesday. The water coming out of that filter, even from a layman's perspective, looks quite putrid.

We need a minister to give some focus to this issue and to champion the water issue. I commend the government for reacting a few months late to my motion, when it was tabled and put on the order paper, but there has to be more done on this issue. I hope the government will support the amendment and the motion.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

All those opposed will please say nay.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Water Resources Management
Private Members' Business

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Royal Galipeau

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93 the recorded division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 20, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

It being 1:19 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today the House stands adjourned until Monday at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:19 p.m.)