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

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North
Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-267 seeks to prohibit the removal of water in bulk from major drainage basins in Canada. Unfortunately, the bill is fraught with redundancies. I will spend my time today discussing why. I will start by giving the House a sense of the federal role in the shared management of our waters as it applies internationally and domestically. It is a role that is designed to respect both federal and provincial jurisdictions.

Canada's Constitution makes it a province's responsibility to manage natural resources within its boundaries. However, it does not explicitly assign responsibility for water management to either the federal or provincial government. Therefore, traditionally we have shared this role.

At the federal level, we have a long history of bilateral co-operation with the United States to manage boundary and transboundary waters through a set of treaties and agreements that have been mentioned here tonight, like the Boundary Waters Treaty. This treaty, with the International Joint Commission that it created, has successfully promoted co-operative solutions to shared water issues with the United States for more than 100 years.

Under the Boundary Waters Treaty, the federal government supports the International Joint Commission by providing expert technical and engineering staff to oversee the flow of water in these basins. The commission also engages experts from other levels of government from both sides of the boundary. It creates the structure for the federal, provincial and state agencies to work together in the best interests of the people from both countries.

Additionally, when Canada, the United States and Mexico ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement, they declared that it created no rights to water in its natural state.

Beyond the international dimension, the federal government also takes an appropriate role with the provinces in overseeing the apportionment of water that flows from one province to another, such as with the Prairie Provinces Water Board. The federal government acts as a neutral third party in making sure that the terms of the master agreements on apportionment are followed.

I would also like to note, and this has been discussed here previously tonight, that the federal government has already undertaken specific action to ban bulk water removals from waters that are within our jurisdiction.

Specifically, the Minister of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the administration of the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. For over a decade, that act has prohibited bulk water removals from the Canadian portion of the boundary water basins. These are basins that contain the lakes and rivers that form or run along the international boundary.

In putting in place these protections, the federal government has always been mindful that it is a provincial responsibility to manage water within a province's territorial boundaries and this is as it should be. In keeping with these shared responsibilities, it is important to underscore how active our provincial and territorial partners have been in putting in place the measures to be sound stewards of our water resources. Over the last 10 years, all the provinces have put in place laws, regulations or policies that prevent the transfer of water between basins, or outside their boundaries, and in some cases, both.

Therefore, the bill is an unnecessary incursion into provincial jurisdiction.

The former leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, the hon. member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, has questioned the constitutionality of this legislation at committee, a significant issue that is associated with the bill.

Bill C-267 would place the issue of bulk water transfers, domestically and internationally, wholly within federal jurisdiction. This is a departure from the federal government's traditional jurisdiction and raises constitutional issues. In particular, there are concerns whether it can be supported by a federal head of power, particularly given its focus on waters other than transboundary basins.

Similarly, it is unlikely that Parliament could rely on peace, order and good government to legislate in this case. The bill does not meet the national concern part of this test. In particular, there is no provincial inability to address the issue.

On this point, federal incursion into water management wholly within provincial boundaries, as proposed by the bill, would be duplicative and an intrusion on provincial jurisdiction. It would also imply that, without additional federal government oversight of the provincial protections already in place, the provinces would open the floodgates to bulk water diversion projects. This simply does not align with all the evidence to date of strong provincial actions to prohibit such removals, contrary to the alarmist nature of the member opposite's speech.

Additional redundancies relate to a law passed by the United States that explicitly prevents the removal of water from the Great Lakes basin.

This brought into force a political compact that was developed by the eight Great Lake states in 2008. When this occurred, the governments of Ontario and Quebec also signed a side accord with these eight states which adopted the same principles.

Let me conclude by summarizing the key flaws and redundancies contained in the bill. Bill C-267 would place the issue of bulk water transfers, domestically and internationally, wholly in federal jurisdiction. This is a departure from the federal government's traditional jurisdiction and raises significant constitutional issues. We do not want to federalize every drop of water in Canada, nor should we. We respect the role and the jurisdiction of the provinces with regard to the sustainable management of our water resources.

Robust protections already exist at the federal and provincial level to prevent the removal of water in bulk and there is, therefore, no justification for the federal government to act in prohibiting the transfer of water within the territory of a province. Also, we look forward to continuing the long-standing co-operative relationships we have established with our provincial, territorial and U.S. colleagues to continue our shared efforts to sustainably manage our water resources. As such, I encourage members not to support this bill.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will keep it pretty short because other colleagues would like to speak to this bill.

The member for Lac-Saint-Louis should rest assured the NDP will support this bill to get it to committee because it is really important for us to discuss some key issues.

The NDP has been strong on water issues for quite a long time. In 1999 we had a fantastic motion banning bulk water exports, and it passed this House with debate. We have a long history when it comes to water issues.

I appreciated my colleague's explanation about NAFTA and proportionality and how it is linked to exportation. That cleared up a lot of questions I had.

At committee I would like to hear from some folks about a few issues.

First, one thing about the bill is it appears that bulk water removal is limited through diversion only and would not apply to removal by, say, pumping water into a ship or a truck. Therefore, I want to ask questions, explore that issue and hear from witnesses about that.

The other piece that is interesting, and is missing, is the fact that there is a specific exception for manufactured water products, including bottled water, so it would be great to explore that at committee. I would like to see what the implications would be of having that exception specifically written into the legislation.

A technical detail that I would like to explore with witnesses is the fact that the bill gives government very wide regulatory powers and it includes the ability to redefine the scope of exceptions through regulations and make regulations for other exceptions. I feel that is overly broad. That could allow the government to rewrite the act through regulatory powers. We would want to see if in fact this broad regulatory scope does not actually undermine the legislation. If we find that it does, perhaps we could introduce some amendments.

The final piece I would like to discuss at committee is the fact that there is actually no definition, or guidance given to the governor in council on what constitutes a major drainage basin. The effectiveness of the bill, or the power of the bill absolutely depends on what is the definition of a major drainage basin. In theory, the governor in council could write a definition such that none of our waterways or drainage basins constitute major drainage basins. I would like to hear what witnesses have to say about it.

Those are things we can deal with at committee. That is why we have committee. That is part of the exciting legislative process here in Parliament. I look forward to voting for this bill. I hope it does get to committee so we can explore those issues.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

Liberal

Frank Valeriote Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this evening to speak to Bill C-267, An Act respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources, put forward by my good friend and colleague, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis.

I believe that all too often we take water for granted. It is something that is all around us, easily accessed, and few of us give it a second thought. Last week, in the face of the ongoing state of emergency in Attawapiskat, my party brought forward a motion calling on the government to take immediate action to ensure safe and clean running water for all Canadians and, in particular, on first nations reserves.

In this year's government-commissioned national assessment of first nations water and waste water systems, a national roll-up report, it was revealed that after examining 97% of all first nations water and waste water systems, 73% of all water systems on reserves were either a high 39% or a medium 34% risk to human health. Thankfully, that motion received unanimous consent of all parties in the House and we now wait impatiently for it to be acted on.

Not only must we keep water safe, but it is essential that we preserve this precious resource. Canada holds 20% of the world's fresh water. To place that in perspective, as was indicated by the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, the United States has one-tenth of our fresh water resources with almost nine times our population. The United States and the rest of the world covet our water supply.

There are those in Canada, industry and otherwise, who simply lack the necessary commitment to the conservation of our water supply. The false notion that water is an entirely renewable resource is far too prevalent and we need more awareness of the issue. Even our Great Lakes system is seen as an endless water supply. Few realize that only 10% is renewable.

Climate change is not only diminishing our own fresh water supplies but creates shortages in countries without the same natural resources as Canada. Take, for instance, countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India that face water depletion issues every day. Since the 1950s, proposals to export our fresh water to the United States have abounded, making bulk water exports an issue of profound national concern.

The Liberal Party believes the issue of bulk water exports is one of profound national concern and I am disappointed, as are most Canadians, that the Conservative Party does not, as expressed by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, and has proven that its former commitments to end bulk water exports are merely more hollow words.

We need to take action and this bill brought forward by my colleague takes appropriate, much needed steps to keep water in its home basin or in its ecosystem. This bill would also have the coincidental result of effectively prohibiting the wholesale movement of water to areas outside Canada's borders by, without limitation, tunnel, canal, pipeline, water bag or aqueduct.

It is especially timely as the calls to export Canada's water have increased in recent years. A previous Conservative government failed to secure Canada's right to preserve its fresh water within its national boundaries under both the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement and then the subsequent North American Free Trade Agreement, and we can only imagine what is secretly being done under CETA.

The present government has not, by any measure, shown it is willing to fight for Canadian natural resources as it kowtows to U.S. protectionism and gives away our competitive advantages, like the Canadian Wheat Board, and puts our supply management at risk.

The proposed Canada water preservation act is a necessary measure to backstop our fresh water. The bill would prohibit the removal of fresh water in bulk from one aquatic basin to another by any means. The bill would also accomplish another environmental goal, insofar as it would prevent the spread of invasive species from ecosystem to ecosystem. Take, for instance, the ravages caused by invasive species like the zebra mussel or the Asian carp. Moving water from one basin to another takes species from their natural basin and introduces them into a foreign environment, often with surprising consequences.

While all the provinces currently prohibit the export of water in bulk by establishing a national treatment for the issue of water exports, we signal not only that this is a vital pan-Canadian issue but also that it addresses the political realities of changing governments, province to province.

This bill builds on earlier efforts by a previous Liberal government to ban the export of water from the Great Lakes and freshwater bodies under joint federal-provincial jurisdiction.

We on this side hold steadfast Canada's water sovereignty, more so in the face of growing calls from conservative-minded bodies to export our fresh water. This is precisely why my colleague, working with the program on water issues at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, has tabled this legislation to close the door to bulk water exports. The time to act is now. Already, conservative think tanks are advocating for the privatization and corporatization of water.

In August 2008, the Montreal Economic Institute published a report that states:

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.

Meanwhile, last June the Fraser Institute called for a complete elimination of the provincial statutes and regulations prohibiting the bulk export of water. We should be frightened.

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians put it very well when she noted in her book Blue Covenant:

Imagine a world in 20 years in which no substantive progress has been made to provide basic water services in the Third World; or to create laws to protect source water and force industry and industrial agriculture to stop polluting water systems; or to curb the mass movement of water by pipeline, tanker, and other diversions, which will have created huge new swaths of desert.

I have said many times in the past that at the dawn of civilization, battles were fought over wells. I am afraid that in the future, if we do not act now, wars will be fought over lakes, and these wars will be much more devastating.

In October, I was pleased to attend in my riding of Guelph a launch for the Wellington Water Watchers' “Walk for Water”. The Wellington Water Watchers are not only doing a great job with the preservation, conservation, and restoration of our water resources, but they are tireless advocates and work diligently to increase awareness of the issues surrounding what many would consider our most precious resource. They know very well that water is among the most multi-faceted of public policy issues. It is ubiquitous and cross-jurisdictional. Water touches every aspect of life and society, including the economy. All levels of government are involved in protecting and managing this most precious of our resources.

Water is clearly a fundamental human right. This is a moral fact. No human being can live long without potable water. Contaminated drinking water kills over two million people annually around the world, the majority of them children. A lack of water for sanitation also undermines human health throughout the developing world.

It is our duty to ensure that our fellow human beings, wherever they may live, have affordable access to the water they need. This can be achieved only through conservation and by protecting the quantity and the quality of our water. Among the most complex of all water issues is the recognition and codification in international law of the human right to water.

We are today at the beginning of the road toward meaningful recognition of the right to water. The non-binding resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in July 2010 was a crucial step toward the goal of establishing a human right to water that hopefully can result in all people around the world having access to water that they require for survival and dignified living. Unfortunately, Canada abstained.

Having one of the largest supplies of fresh water in the world, we must accept our place as a leader on the issue of water conservation and be mindful of the need to protect this valuable resource. Canadians have a real need to preserve our water and respect its place in the environment. Doing nothing leaves us with a clear and present danger of the wholesale movement of water. Protection of our natural resources is imperative.

I urge all my colleagues on both sides of the House to make the preservation of our water resources paramount and to support the bill when it comes to a vote.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-267, the Canada water preservation act.

This private member's bill seeks to foster the sustainable use of Canada's fresh water, and in particular, to prevent the removal of bulk water from major river basins in Canada.

Canada's New Democrats have long called for a ban on bulk water exports, which we see as a key component of a national water policy that would establish clean drinking water standards and strong environmental protection for Canada's freshwater systems.

While there are parts of the bill which I believe should be addressed and possibly amended at committee stage, I support the bill passing second reading. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the House to do the same.

It is time for Canada to adopt a ban on bulk water exports. Water is a precious, renewable resource, but this resource has its limits.

While many Canadians may believe that Canada has an overabundance of water, this is a common misconception. If one actually looked at Canada's renewable water supply, one would see that Canada holds 6.5% of the world's renewable fresh water, not the 20% figure that is often touted. Furthermore, Canada ranks well below Brazil and Russia and has approximately the same amount of supply as Indonesia, United States and China.

Over one-quarter of Canadian municipalities have faced water shortages in recent years. While 72% of our country's population is concentrated within 150 kilometres of the United States border, most of our major river systems flow northward, creating a further disparity between supply and demand.

Furthermore, we know that the very real threats posed by climate change will only compound the challenges of managing Canada's renewable fresh water.

Indeed, the time is now for Canada to formally ban bulk water exports and to firmly oppose the notion that water in its natural state is a tradeable commodity.

For too long our federal government has left the door open to bulk water exports.

Looking back, 1993 was a significant year in the debate over water management. The North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, fundamentally changed Canada's ability to control domestic water policy. For example, under chapter 11, foreign businesses have the ability to sue for damages when they believe they have been harmed by local rules. This is exactly what happened in British Columbia after the provincial government, a New Democrat government, I might add, implemented legislation in 1995 prohibiting the bulk export of water. As a result, under chapter 11, a California-based company filed a claim for $10.5 billion in damages.

This case highlights the threats posed to Canadian communities, and even democracy, when Canadian water is regarded as a tradeable commodity.

Water has often been up for negotiation under the security and prosperity partnership. There is a strong push toward North American energy integration, which includes water.

In 2007, Canadians were infuriated to learn their government was planning to undertake secret negotiations with the United States on the issue of bulk water exports. Because of the public outcry the government backed down on the negotiations, and the then minister of the environment, the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean, stated:

The Government of Canada has no intention of entering into negotiations, behind closed doors or otherwise, regarding the issue of bulk water exports.

I hope this remains the case today, because Canadians are still overwhelmingly opposed to Canada allowing bulk water exports. In fact, 66% of Canadians expressed support for a ban on bulk water exports. This is why in 1999 the House of Commons adopted a New Democrat motion to place an immediate moratorium on bulk water exports and to introduce legislation to formalize a ban.

In 2007 the House adopted an NDP motion calling on the federal government to initiate talks with its American and Mexican counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA.

In 2010 members of the House will recall that the government introduced its own legislation to ban bulk water exports under Bill C-26. While the bill was inadequate for a number of reasons, it did not progress beyond first reading.

Again, Parliament has an opportunity to formally adopt a ban on bulk water exports. As I have already stated, the time is now. By continuing to leave the door open, we leave our environment, our economy, and most important, our people vulnerable to unnecessary risk.

As Andrew Nikiforuk stated in a 2007 publication, “Exporting water simply means less water at home to create jobs and less water to sustain ecological services provided by rivers and lakes necessary for life”. He talks about the concept of virtual water, which is the water used to support the export of other Canadian products, such as cattle, grain, automobiles, electricity, wood, and of course, oil.

In addition to industrial uses of water, Canadians' personal use must also be taken into account. Unfortunately, Canadians rank as one of the highest per capita users of water in the world. While Canadians have an individual responsibility to limit wasteful consumption of water, this alone is not enough.

As I previously mentioned, over one-quarter of Canadian municipalities have faced water shortages in recent years. Many aboriginal communities in particular have faced immense challenges in securing stable, sufficient access to safe drinking water.

This week the member for Timmins—James Bay drew national attention to the state of emergency declared three weeks ago by the Attawapiskat First Nation. Access to clean drinking water is one of the many grave issues this community faces.

Canada cannot afford to be negotiating the export of our water. It is time to start taking care of Canadians first. This means adopting a national water policy that protects our water from bulk export, that sets clean drinking water standards, and that establishes strong environmental protection of Canada's fresh water.

I call on the government to respect the will of Parliament as expressed in 1999 and 2007, and to respect the opinion of the majority of Canadians by lending its support to the legislation banning the bulk export of water.

Canadians recognize the value of fresh water and are not prepared to allow water to be traded away, as we do with other resources.

I will be voting in support of Bill C-267. I urge all members of the House to do the same, so that it can be given a thorough examination by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

November 23rd, 2011 / 7:40 p.m.

Liberal

Sean Casey Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak in support of the bill by my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis, who very kindly attended my riding of Charlottetown not very long ago. We had a very well-attended town hall on water. This is a very important issue right across the country, from coast to coast. The attendance and the participation at that town hall on water and the diversity of the discussion were testament to that. We also had a screening of the Maude Barlow documentary in my riding to fuel the discussion. This is truly a matter of national interest.

I am interested to hear the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment take the position on behalf of the government, especially considering the stance of the government in the past and, in particular, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The government has steadfastly claimed that Canada's fresh water is already well protected from the threat of export under NAFTA. However, the governing party has not always taken that position. The current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the MP for Calgary East, when in opposition, openly argued that NAFTA failed to protect Canada's fresh water from export and that consequently the only way to safeguard Canada's water sovereignty was to reopen the agreement to include a blanket exemption for water.

Specifically, speaking to a debate on Bill C-15, which is the predecessor to Bill C-6 on boundary waters, on October 20, 2000 in the House of Commons, the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs said:

The Canadian Alliance believes that Canadians should retain control over our water resources and supports exempting water from our international agreements, including NAFTA.

He reiterated those comments during subsequent debate on Bill C-6, on April 26, 2001.

In another policy reversal, the Conservative government, after previously arguing that Canada's water was sufficiently protected from the threat of export, announced in its November 2008 throne speech that it would bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins. As an earlier incarnation of Bill C-267, already tabled as a Liberal private member's bill, the government possessed a model for its own subsequent legislation.

However, in May 2010, it opted instead to introduce Bill C-26, again to borrow the pun used by my friend, a watered-down legislation that only addressed bulk removals from transboundary waters. According to water policy experts at the Program On Water Issues at the University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International Studies, while Bill C-26 effectively prohibits most bulk removals of water from transboundary rivers, it does not address the most plausible threat to Canadian water resources from inter-basin transfers.

As a practical matter, it seemed highly unlikely that Canadian water resources would be threatened significantly by proposals to remove water from a transboundary basin within Canada. The more likely scenario would be the transfer of Canadian waters from a basin that was neither a boundary nor a transboundary water into a transboundary river flowing from Canada into the United States for export to the United States. Such proposals would not be prohibited under the legislation.

Additionally, the definition of “transboundary waters” in the IBWTA, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, is narrow. It refers only to waters flowing in their natural channels across the border. It does not include other means of accomplishing inter-basin transfers across the international border, for example, a pipeline or a canal from waters that are neither boundary waters nor transboundary waters.

While a transborder pipeline from transboundary waters would fall under the prohibitions, as a practical matter, it is difficult to conceive a scenario involving a proposal to divert water by pipeline from a transboundary river in Canada southward to the United States.

The environmental justification for this bill can really be summarized with three main arguments. In essence, this bill aims to limit the manipulation of surface water in order to protect the environment. For many, however, the question will be why we must prohibit, for environmental reasons, large scale interbasin water transfers. It is because of the Conservatives' many reversals of policy on bulk water exports. If it were a gymnast, we would be forced to give it a 10 out 10 for its skilful and repeated flips on the issue.

Ecosystems need freshwater to survive and be healthy. The International Boreal Conservation Science panel, composed of leading scientists from Canada and the U.S., has said:

Canada has the unrivalled opportunity to protect the world's largest intact freshwater ecosystem and the responsibility to enact sound conservation and sustainable development policy to safeguard the boreal forest.

A recent report by the panel stated:

...more water diversion occurs in Canada than in any other country in the world. ...with significant impacts to wildlife, the ecology and aboriginal communities.

Many argue that it is time for Canada to inventory its water resources to better gauge the amount of its renewable water supply is "surplus" and available for sale. However, this may be easier said than done.

Brian Anderson states:

Scientists have only begun to understand the complexity of the world's largest freshwater ecosystems. Interactions between man, current diversions, and the tangled web of life dependent on these ecosystems may be imperilled by large diversions of lake water.

Similarly, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs points out that the replacement rate of water reserves is impossible to calculate, making it more difficult to know how much water Canada could afford to sell abroad, putting aside the negative environmental impacts of taking water outside its basin.

In summary, the Canada water preservation act prohibits the removal of freshwater in bulk, which is defined as over 50,000 litres a day from one aquatic basin in Canada to another. The interbasin transfer of water by any means, including but not limited to pipeline, tunnel, canal, aqueduct or water bag, would be prohibited.

Basin contours would be negotiated with the provinces and territories and be included in subsequent regulations. This bill adopts an environmental approach to banning bulk water exports. It is primarily concerned with ensuring the health of ecosystems and preventing the spread of invasive species that can occur when water is transferred outside its home basin. The bill prevents water from being moved from one basin to another within Canada and eventually outside the country for export. It does not apply to boundary waters as defined under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act that I referred to earlier.

I support the efforts of my friend from Lac-Saint-Louis on this important matter. It is something that we hear frequently from our constituents about. I would urge all members of the House to support this bill as well.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:50 p.m.

Liberal

Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak in favour of Bill C-267, an act respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources.

I congratulate my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis. He is a pioneer and a driver of the issue of protecting Canada's water.

We sometimes take water for granted. We can turn on a tap and access clean and abundant water. We have the impression that Canada is a vast country with the best freshwater supply on the planet. We need to fight to ensure those things are true. The member for Lac-Saint-Louis has made members in Parliament and people in his riding and across Canada aware of the fact that we cannot rest assured that our water supply is safe.

The member for Charlottetown spoke very convincingly about the bill. He understands and has explained the elements of it. I will take a different approach in my remarks this evening.

I want to reflect on the words of one of our premier water experts in Canada, Dr. Karen Bakker, who is a professor at the University of British Columbia in my riding, and also the editor and partial author of Eau Canada. Dr. Bakker spoke in Vancouver Quadra recently about our myths about Canada's water. I have spoken about that before, but it is worth repeating because this is the century of water.

In this 21st century humanity needs to pay attention to the fact that water is a top concern. There are enormous threats to our water, everything from climate change to industrial use to overuse. Complacency is the biggest threat. Dr. Bakker talked about the myths about water, that we do not need to be concerned about it. I have referred to those myths in speeches before.

I want to acknowledge my colleague for being clear that water is one of the top threatened resources that cannot be replaced in any other way and that we must protect it. This bill is important in that regard.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

7:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Vancouver Quadra will have seven minutes remaining when the House next takes up this bill.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:55 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am rising tonight to speak to the issue of what is happening within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and a question I put to the minister on Monday, October 17, with respect to trying to get a handle on exactly what is being proposed in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with respect to cuts and the implication these cuts have, not only in terms of the department itself but also to the industry as a whole.

The question I put to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans at the time had to do with the fact that Conservatives were shutting down the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council and closing down the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's, doing away with any in-depth science and research and really not moving forward in getting input from fishers, who really should be involved in these decisions because they are the experts and can bring so much to the debate with respect to the future of the industry.

The decision to shut down the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council will mean the loss of important science and the loss of that invaluable input from our fishers. Both are essential in rebuilding our fishery.

The Conservatives recklessly shut down the FRCC, the advisory council that was created with a goal of partnering scientific and academic expertise with an open and comprehensive consultation process with stakeholders.

Through this reckless decision, the government has chosen to wilfully ignore the experience of fishers in developing Fisheries and Oceans policy. Deliberating sidelining the very experts who fish daily disrespects the years of successful evidence-based partnership between the government and fishers. Under the former Liberal government, the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council focused on long-term conservation strategies. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know best that conservation is an integral aspect of fisheries policy and essential to ensuring the fishing industry's continued success.

The FRCC ensures that fishers' advice and knowledge would be considered in the council's recommendations. Clearly, the Conservative government does not see the value in listening to the experts on the water and their advice with respect to conserving our fish stocks to protect the fishing industry.

The fisheries minister continues to speak out of both sides of his mouth with respect to this issue. He and his government claim they support fisheries science, yet every decision they make, including closing down the FRCC, represents a direct attack on science.

First the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans risked the lives of those who use the sea to make a living, including fishers and those who work in the oil industry, by recklessly taking a decision that will close the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's. Now he wants to take the fishers out of the industry. His reference to an industry that is “probably broken” really speaks volumes in terms of where the minister is. He needs to get his head around the industry itself and how best to move forward to rebuild the industry.

The whole idea of cutting a council like the FRCC, the whole idea of not engaging scientists and the whole idea of not engaging fishers in particular speak volumes in terms of the handle that the minister and the government have on the industry. It is a resource-based industry and a renewable industry. If it is given the proper leadership and if we work with all of the stakeholders and partners in the industry, we can rebuild it, but at this point in time, I am again calling on the government to look at what it is doing in terms of the cuts it is making within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

7:55 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission
B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway

Mr. Speaker, I always welcome the interventions from my colleague, the member for Random—Burin—St. George's. She works hard for her constituents.

I appreciate the opportunity to respond and outline for the House how Fisheries and Oceans Canada is moving forward with improvements on how the department operates, where it deploys its resources and how it manages its science and regulatory duties. Together these changes will transform the department, helping it to more effectively deliver on its mandate and drive new approaches that respond to current and future needs.

The hon. member has raised specific concerns about the closure of the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. I will respond to that for a moment or two.

As the member knows, the council was founded in the early 1990s in the wake of fishery closures in Newfoundland, starting with northern cod in 1992. In the past, it provided advice to the department and to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. However, proactive stakeholder engagement is now a permanent feature of the department's policy and program development. In fact, since his appointment, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has travelled to every corner of our country to meet with those directly involved in the industry and hear first-hand how the government can support its economic growth.

Additionally, the department has established strong sustainability frameworks and consultative processes for managing important species, which means that much of the work that the council has done is no longer required.

We have a responsibility to spend taxpayer money prudently and where it will do the most good. I hope my colleague will agree with this idea. We must ensure that government programs are efficient and effective and that they achieve the expected results for Canadians.

In fact, it has been nearly two decades since the Government of Canada conducted a comprehensive system-wide review of all operating and program spending. Given the current financial environment globally, within Canada and within government, it makes sense to carefully assess all expenditures and, if warranted, set a new direction.

Deficit reduction is an opportunity for renewal and transformation; we need to take advantage of this opportunity to take a hard look at ourselves to find better ways to do things, and that is what we have been doing.

Like all departments of government, we want and need to emerge from this review process as a stronger, higher-performing institution that is nimble, connected, engaged and ready to face new challenges. We need to ensure that the services we are delivering meet the many new demands of the 21st century.

We have been focusing on what our core business should be. The effects of this process in the long term will be positive, helping us to improve the quality and relevance of our programs.

While the FRCC has historically served an important role, activities have been replaced by other approaches. Contrary to the hon. member's claim that we are gutting the department, we are in fact bolstering it through sound financial decisions. Over the past five years, the department's budget has increased by 20% from $1.4 billion in 2005-06 to $1.8 billion in 2011-12. Our government also injected over $440 million through Canada's economic action plan for the department to complete repairs in small craft harbours and other projects.

Canadians will continue to see changes in how the department operates over the next several years, but I can assure the House and this member that our decisions will follow discussions with affected stakeholders to ensure transition occurs sensitively and sensibly. The department's business and practices will be characterized by clear rules consistently applied, bringing predictability and stability to stakeholders.

8 p.m.

Liberal

Judy Foote Random—Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his acknowledgement at the outset that I do indeed work hard on behalf of my constituents. That is a different tune from when I put the question a couple of weeks ago.

What really concerns me are the bodies such as the Canadian Marine Advisory Council. This is a consultative body to Transport Canada. It is consulted on anything to do with marine activity. However, we had a meeting here in Ottawa a couple of weeks ago, and a petition was signed by close to 100 members of that body saying that the decision to close the Maritime Rescue Sub-Centre in St. John's was the wrong decision. They were not consulted on that, yet here we have a marine entity that is being shut down, and that puts people's lives at risk.

If the member is saying that the minister is travelling around getting input from stakeholders, how is it that the very body that is responsible for providing advice on anything marine was not even consulted on a decision as major as closing down a rescue centre?

8:05 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member does work hard on behalf of her constituents, but I think on this issue she has it wrong.

We are implementing changes that will enable us to advance our goals for a viable market group and business oriented and sustainable Canadian fishing industry, safe and acceptable waterways and effectively managed and protected aquatic ecosystems. If she really wanted to work hard on behalf of her constituents, she would join us in this work.

We are focusing fully on our core mandate. We are modernizing our program and policy approaches, and we are transforming how we do business on behalf of Canadians.

Focusing on the future is the only option. We cannot afford to continue with the old way of doing business. We are committed to ensuring that government programs are efficient, effective and achieving expected results for Canadians.

8:05 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, on June 16, more than five months ago, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs a direct and straightforward question: When did he or his government intend to begin doing their job and secure the release of New Brunswick potato farmer, Hank Tepper? Mr. Tepper has been held by the Government of Lebanon, on behalf of the Algerian government, in a Lebanese prison. He has been there since March of this year.

For eight months he has been jailed in that Lebanese prison. What has he been accused of? A load of potatoes he was exporting to Algeria was found to have ring rot. It is really because of a commercial transaction that he sits in a Lebanese jail.

Mr. Tepper has been involved in the export of potatoes for a number of years. His livelihood depends on his exporting the highest quality potatoes he can.

Every MP in this place, on this side of the House or on the other side, who represents a rural riding with farmers involved in the export business has been asked to intervene from time to time when something goes wrong in a distant port or destination, or with quality, or a ship is stopped at a dock, and politics takes over. However, one would never know that by the government's behaviour in this case.

The role of this government, or any government, is to defend Canadian citizens aggressively, diligently and without reservation. In this case, the Government of Canada has failed and failed absolutely. Every farmer involved in the export business of his or her products abroad should pay careful attention to the inaction of the government in this case. In fact, every Canadian should be worried. If someone travels on foreign soil and gets into trouble and carries Canadian citizenship, is the government going to be there for that person when he or she needs it? We have seen example after example, and this is a prime one, where the government has basically left people on their own. That is not what we expect from the Government of Canada.

From the beginning of this sorry matter the government has maintained a deafening silence. The Department of Foreign Affairs, beginning with the minister, has decided to leave Mr. Tepper to his fate. The Prime Minister is more concerned, it seems, about getting a photo op with the United States president than ensuring that a Canadian citizen has the benefit of the aid his office could provide by contacting the Lebanese authorities directly.

While the government and its MPs, especially those representing rural ridings, sit on their hands, Hank Tepper's neighbours have demonstrated their support once again. A rally in Grand Falls, New Brunswick was attended by more than 400 people, all there to support Mr. Tepper and his family. It was pointed out during that rally that the Conservative government was quite prepared to intervene in the internal affairs of Libya, yet it refused to intervene with a serious diplomatic initiative on behalf of this Canadian citizen detained in a country that has not accused him of anything, other than it doing the work for Algeria over this commercial involvement.

I ask the parliamentary secretary, when is the ambassador going to show up at the door, or when is the Minister of Foreign Affairs going to show up at the door in Lebanon and demand that Mr. Tepper be brought home to Canada and, if necessary, face justice here?

8:10 p.m.

Calgary East
Alberta

Conservative

Deepak Obhrai Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, this government remains concerned and active in Mr. Tepper's case. We know this is a very difficult situation for Mr. Tepper and his family. I understand the concerns raised by the member across. However, due to privacy concerns, I cannot share details of Mr. Tepper's case.

The responsibility to provide consular services to Canadians detained abroad rests with Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Since first learning of the arrest and detention of Mr. Henk Tepper in March 2011, the department's consular officials, both in Beirut and Ottawa, have provided Mr. Tepper with continued assistance and support as per the department's established service standards. This includes conducting regular visits to Mr. Tepper in custody, monitoring his health and well-being and maintaining regular contact with Mr. Tepper's lawyers in Lebanon. Consular officials in Ottawa are also in contact with Mr. Tepper's family in Canada and are providing assistance as required. Moreover, Canadian officials have been engaged with senior Lebanese officials on this case.

It is important to underline that the Government of Canada cannot interfere with the judicial process, including extradition proceedings, of a sovereign country, just as we would not accept it if a foreign country interfered in our own judicial process. The member across was in the government and he is very well aware of this.

The simple fact is that Canadian citizens are not exempt from local and international laws by virtue of their Canadian citizenship. The Government of Canada cannot override the decisions of the local and international authorities. What Canada can do is provide effective and appropriate consular services to those detained abroad. Canada's consular services are provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through a network of more than 200 offices in over 150 countries around the world. Currently, there are close to 2,000 Canadians detained abroad.

Under the Vienna Convention, Canadians who are detained abroad must be advised by foreign authorities of their right to consular assistance and notification. Our aim is to make initial contact with a detained Canadian within 24 hours. In the case of Mr. Tepper, as I have outlined, we have been assisting him in this case.

Therefore, the role of the Government of Canada, as in the case of Mr. Tepper, as in all cases of detention abroad, is to ensure that he is safe, treated fairly and afforded due process within the local laws and international laws.

8:10 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, if anybody has not been granted due process, it is Mr. Tepper. The parliamentary secretary says that the government remains concerned. That is not good enough. The parliamentary secretary says that consular services are involved. That is not good enough.

What needs to happen is an initiative from the highest reaches of the Canadian government to ensure that Mr. Tepper is brought home. The parliamentary secretary said that I should know that the government cannot get involved in legal matters in that country. I understand that, but the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister can make a phone call directly to the government of Lebanon to bring this man back home. They can do that.

For the government to basically leave a man on his own, a Canadian citizen, over a commercial transaction is absolutely wrong. The government can, indeed, do better.