House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was farmers.

Topics

Points of Order
Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Points of Order
Government Orders

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #75

Points of Order
Government Orders

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

It being 6:54 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

November 23rd, 2011 / 6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

moved 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

6:50 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would request unanimous consent of the House that I might have the honour of co-seconding Bill C-267 put forward by the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to be named as a co-seconder?

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put my bill and the debate we are launching tonight into some context by referring to a couple of facts and a couple of quotes from eminent individuals.

While there are alternatives to oil, there are as yet no reasonable alternatives to water. That is fact number one.

Fact number two is that Canada holds 20% of the world's fresh water. The United States, on the other hand, has--

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Order, please. In fairness to the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, I would ask that all hon. members who need to carry on conversations to please take those conversations out to their respective lobbies.

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will start over. I would like to put my bill and the debate we are launching tonight into some context by referring to two facts and quoting two eminent individuals.

The first fact is that, while there are alternatives to oil, there are as yet no reasonable alternatives to water. The second fact is that Canada holds 20% of the world's freshwater. The United States has one-tenth of Canada's water but nine times our population.

At a conference in Peterborough not long ago, Robert Kennedy Jr. said, in reference to the United States:

We are in the midst of a water crisis that has no end in sight, and the place people are looking to solve it is Canada.

If you talk to the engineers and the planning and policy makers in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Phoenix and Las Vegas...they'll say, “Well we don't have to worry about this because we'll just get the water from Canada”.

The second quote is from Citi Bank chief economist, Willem Buiter, who declared in July 2001 his belief that the water market would become larger than the oil market in this century. He said:

I expect to see in the near future a massive expansion of investment in the water sector, including the production of fresh, clean water from other sources (desalination, purification), storage, shipping and transportation of water. I expect to see pipeline networks that will exceed the capacity of those for oil and gas today.

Water is not oil. It is a unique natural resource because of its life-sustaining qualities for humans, the environment and the economy. Water drives our economy, whether it be agriculture or the modern products of the computer age. Water is in high demand to allow those industries to grow and prosper.

I think a little history is in order to give a little more context to my bill.

The first proposals for exporting Canada's freshwater date back to the 1950s and 1960s. These involved the grandiose schemes for redirecting the natural flow of some of Canada's rivers toward the United States and other parts of Canada. In fact, in 1951, the U.S. bureau of reclamation undertook an extensive study called, “United Western Investigation”. The goal was to expand irrigation through the diversion of North American rivers.

In 1959, the GRAND Canal project proposed to build a dyke across James Bay to separate it from Hudson Bay, turning the resulting reservoir into a freshwater lake whose water would then be pumped southward into the Great Lakes and parts of the United States and Canada.

In 1964, the North American Water and Power Alliance project proposed damming the major rivers of Alaska and British Columbia to divert water into the Rocky Mountain Trench to create a 500 mile freshwater lake running the length of British Columbia.

In the 1990s, a series of more modest water export proposals made surprising and significant headway in three provinces, namely, British Columbia, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador, before being halted by governments responding to negative public reaction.

Despite the reversals of earlier attempts to sell Canada's water abroad, and in the face of public opinion that today still solidly opposes bulk water exports, calls to export Canada's freshwater have not subsided, surprisingly. Rather, they may be said to have increased, at times backed by studies by respected think tanks, I would add mostly conservative think tanks, that often combine the language of the human right to water as a means of adding moral impetus and justification to the traditional economic reasons for favouring bulk water exports.

I will give an example. In 2008 the Montreal Economic Institute published a report called “Freshwater exports for the development of Quebec's blue gold”. The report claimed:

Fresh water is a product whose relative economic value has risen substantially and will keep rising in the coming years. It has become a growing source of wealth and an increasingly worthwhile investment opportunity.

In June 2010 the Fraser Institute released a report entitled “Making Waves: Examining the Case for Sustainable Water Exports from Canada”. The report concluded that the myriad of federal and provincial statutes and regulations effectively banning water exports should be eliminated.

That is obviously the tenor of some of the reports that have come out of conservative think tanks in the last few years. We see a trend. We have the grandiose schemes of the 1950s and 1960s. Many of these are not particularly practical because of the cost and the damage to the environment. Then we see, in the second stage, in the 1990s, more modest projects involving tanker ships, projects that actually gained the support of three provincial governments. Then following prohibitions on water exports in the provinces, we still see think tanks proposing the idea and backing up their proposals with economic analysis.

In order to fully explore this issue, we have to refer to the North American Free Trade Agreement. It, of course, changed the trading environment in North America and raised questions about whether water would some day be traded within that common market. In order to fully grasp the implications of NAFTA for Canada's ability to control its fresh water, it is necessary to focus on three principles that are in the agreement: the principle of national treatment, the principle of investor rights, and the principle of proportionality. These principles govern and constrain the actions of signatory countries to the agreement.

National treatment could mean, depending on interpretation, that the consumers of one country must have access to the same goods or products as consumers in the other country. In other words, one country may not ban the export to the other country of goods or products already being traded within its domestic market.

The notion of investor rights means that a country cannot directly expropriate the interests of a foreign investor or take actions such as regulations that effectively diminish the earnings from and, hence, the value of an investment, actions that would be considered tantamount to expropriation.

Let us take the example of a hypothetical foreign corporation with a permit to ship water within Canada. If this were to occur, it could argue that a prohibition on shipping water to the United States devalues its investment. Afterward, an arbitration tribunal might agree and invoke the rights of U.S. consumers of water, for example, American farmers and consumers of farm products, to benefit from Canada's water in the same way as Canadian farmers and consumers of agricultural products do.

I would like to digress before explaining the meaning of the principle of proportionality by mentioning that the federal Conservative government made a very unwise decision recently in regard to a case brought to a NAFTA tribunal by AbitibiBowater, which is a Canadian firm incorporated in Delaware with sizeable U.S. assets.

The firm closed its pulp and paper mills in Grand Falls, Windsor, Newfoundland and Labrador, and then wanted to sell its assets, including certain timber harvesting licences and water use permits. As the House will recall, the Newfoundland government moved to re-appropriate these rights as they were originally contingent on production. AbitibiBowater sidestepped the Canadian courts and challenged the Newfoundland government under NAFTA's investor protection provisions.

In this particular instance, a foreign company asserted its right to Canada's water and the matter was headed toward deliberations in a NAFTA tribunal. The Conservative government settled out of court and gave the company $130 million and essentially created a private right of a foreign corporation to Canada's water.

Now, there are already foreign claims on water. That makes it more likely that a corporation could argue that its investor rights are being infringed upon if that corporation is not allowed to do what it wishes with the water for which it has a permit.

Finally, I wish to speak about the principle of proportionality. If we were ever to export our water in bulk, it would be difficult to prohibit those exports once they had begun. Proportional sharing means that if we were to apply an export tax or levy, for example, on a product that is sold outside Canada, thereby reducing the amount of exports of that product, we would have to take similar action in Canada to proportionately reduce the domestic consumption of that product or natural resource.

It is interesting to note that two types of natural resources were exempted under NAFTA by the previous Mulroney Conservative government. One of them unfortunately is not water. The Mulroney government did not have the foresight to exempt water from the proportional sharing clause in NAFTA. Timber and unprocessed fish were exempted. Proportional sharing does not apply to those two natural resources, but unfortunately it applies to water.

We have a problem. There is a great deal of uncertainty about what NAFTA means with respect to Canada's right to control its water sovereignty. Nine of our ten provinces have laws for the time being that prohibit the export of water from their jurisdictions. New Brunswick does not have a law but does have a policy against bulk water exports from its jurisdiction.

If NAFTA were to be superimposed on the complexities of the Canadian federal system, that uncertainty would continue because any one of those provinces could lift their ban on bulk water exports at any time. If more pressure builds from think tanks and interest groups or entrepreneurs in different provinces, one could see a day come when there would be pressure to lift those bans.

We need what is called federal backstop legislation and that is what my bill is. It is called the Canadian water preservation act. Its primary goal is to prohibit the removal of fresh water in bulk from what one aquatic basin in Canada to another, and I define bulk as over 50,000 litres per day. The interbasin transfer of water by any means would be prohibited, including but not limited to, pipeline, tunnel, canal, aqueduct or water bag. The basic contours of the basins would be negotiated with the provinces and would be the object of regulations.

What I am saying is that if we cannot take water from one basin and bring it to another and another, and so on until it crosses the American border, then we cannot export Canada's water and we are protecting the environment at the same time.

The bill would not apply to boundary waters because the Chrétien government had the foresight and the wisdom to protect boundary waters such as the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence River and Lake of the Woods from bulk water removal and bulk water exports, in 2001 when it amended the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada has a federal water policy that has been in place since 1986 calling for the banning of bulk water exports. It is the only one we had so it must be still in place.

The most recent statement on the matter was made in the Speech from the Throne in 2008 when the current government, in its minority form, pledged to put forward legislation to ban bulk water exports.

Does the hon. member expect the support of the government in ensuring that this important legislation gets passed? As he noted, under NAFTA, if we let any water get exported to the United States, we can never turn that tap off again.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, indeed, the 1987 water policy that was put forth by the Conservative government of the day clearly stated that Canada should bring in legislation to prevent bulk water exports. The government then, in its throne speech in November 2008, said it would do so, that it would prohibit exports by prohibiting interbasin transfers. It did not follow through on its own throne speech promise because it introduced watered-down legislation that did not ban interbasin transfers, as it had promised in the throne speech.

I would very much like the members on the other side to see the wisdom of this legislation, to see that it is consistent with their own statements, and support the legislation. However, I am not that optimistic.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, my friend has mentioned various trade agreements: the Canada-U.S. trade agreement and NAFTA. I wonder if he has any concerns about exposure of our water supply in the CETA discussions and negotiations.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I do and in other regards, not only in terms of how CETA would apply to potential future exports. It is very difficult to know what is in CETA because the government is not telling us what it is negotiating, so I will not be very specific in my answer.

When it comes to CETA, I am more concerned about the fact that, if Canadian municipalities decide to give a contract for the management of their municipal drinking water systems, they would be forced to allow foreign water companies to bid on those contracts, whereas now they can invite a foreign company to bid, but they are not required to have a European water company bid. I am a little concerned that we could be giving up control of municipal water systems to European multinationals. I am very concerned about CETA, but again, the government has not told us what it is up to.