House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

If members could give me a moment, on the point of order by the member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup, it is true that members are discouraged from making reference to the nature in which members manage their responsibilities in their own constituencies. While I do not see anything unparliamentary in what the parliamentary secretary has said, I certainly offer that as encouragement to other hon. members that they may steer away from this kind of narrative.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

Ajax—Pickering
Ontario

Conservative

Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I was only saying that her comments lacked credibility for the following reason: in her speech she urged the House and Elections Canada to conduct a thorough investigation into the allegations. That investigation is within the purview of Elections Canada, and everyone on this side of the House wishes to see the investigation carried to completion.

She also talked about electoral fraud that has already been proven. That is what she said. She was quite angry; everyone said so. She cannot say both things at the same time. Either she is in favour of a democratic process carried out by Elections Canada, or she has already decided what the outcome of that process should be. I ask the hon. member opposite: which is it?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member only has time for a brief reply.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Ève Péclet La Pointe-de-l'Île, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to apologize to all my constituents for the comments made by the parliamentary secretary. It is up to them, and not the hon. parliamentary secretary, to decide whether or not I am doing a good job. They voted for me, and it will be up to them to decide in four years.

I am sorry, but the Conservative Party has already been found guilty of electoral fraud. It already has to pay back $230,000 of taxpayers' money to Elections Canada. When it comes to electoral fraud, the Conservative Party is in no position to preach to the other parties and other members in the House.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 5:15 p.m., pursuant to order made earlier today, all questions necessary to dispose of the opposition motion are deemed put and the recorded division is deemed to have been demanded and deferred until Monday, March 12, 2012, at the end of government orders.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you see the clock at 5:30 p.m.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is it agreed to see the clock at 5:30 p.m.?

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Opposition Motion—Elections Canada Act
Business of Supply
Government Orders

5:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from November 23, 2011 consideration of the motion 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

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured as the New Democratic Party critic for natural resources to speak to this legislation with respect to Canada's water resources. We have seen this legislation twice before in the House. We welcome the bill at second reading.

I know that many Canadians are interested in fostering the sustainable use of Canada's water resources and preventing the removal of water in bulk from major drainage basins in Canada. We know how essential water is as a resource for life, people and our planet. In many ways, water defines and distinguishes our country.

As a member from northern Ontario, my flights home to Nickel Belt and travelling around the north of this province remind me of the abundance of this resource and, equally, the importance of its safekeeping. We have in northern Ontario part of Lake Huron and all of Lake Superior. Moreover, there are numerous border crossings with the United States and joint water tributaries that remind me of the importance of good legislation to monitor and protect this resource.

New Democrats will be supporting this legislation at second reading because we want it to go committee to receive the scrutiny it deserves and to deal with several concerns that we believe need to be addressed. Among those concerns is the absence of any guidance to direct the Governor in Council in setting the definition of what constitutes a major drainage basin in the regulations. This is a crucial definition that, by and large, will determine the effectiveness or real power of this bill. Without the definition, we would talking about all or no drainage basin. If the definition chosen by the government includes none of the major drainage basin, the act could be rendered inapplicable.

We are also concerned that the act gives the government very wide regulatory powers, including the ability to redefine the scope of the expectations through regulations, as well as the ability to make regulations providing for any other expectations. These regulatory powers seem overly broad and could permit the government to rewrite the act using these regulatory powers.

Further, the prohibitions in the act appear to be limited to the removal of water in bulk through diversion, and would not apply to the removal of water in bulk via pumping of water into a ship or truck, for example. If we are to oppose bulk water exports, we need to ensure that the act covers all means of exporting our water.

Finally, this act contains an exception for manufactured water products, including bottled water and beverages, a large loophole that we believe is also worth examining at committee.

I commend the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for again introducing this legislation.

Canadians have had an interest in protecting Canada's water resources for decades, especially when it comes to the issue of bulk water exports. The NDP has always called for prohibiting bulk water exports. We believe that this should be a key component of a national water policy—something Canada does not have—that would establish clean drinking water standards, provide for rigorous environmental protection measures for water resources, and recognize water as a common right.

A number of major water diversion plans in water corridors have been proposed in the past 40 years. These corridors would have transferred considerable quantities of water from Canada to the United States. None of these projects got off the ground, for various reasons. However, this remains a possibility. We must pass rigorous legislation to counter such projects.

I have seen other precious resources in our ground mined and exported with too little regard for Canadian priorities and needs. That must not happen with our water.

This legislation before us today also calls to mind the NAFTA agreement and how it has long been considered a threat to Canada's water sovereignty.

On several occasions, the NDP has brought forward motions here in the House of Commons to protect our fresh water. In February 1999 after debate, the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to place an immediate moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and inter-basin transfers. The motion also instructed the government to introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and inter-basin transfers and recommended that it not become party to any international agreement that compelled us to export fresh water against our will.

In that same year, 1999, the Liberal government of the day announced that it would consult the provinces and territories to develop a strategy that would prohibit the bulk removal of water from Canadian watersheds, whether for domestic purposes or export. Regrettably, the strategy did not address the trade issues and concerns posed by NAFTA, focusing instead on water protection through water management. There is a relative consensus that the Liberals' Canada-wide water accord, with its environmental focus, does not contain enough protection from bulk water export.

In June 2007, the House adopted another New Democrat motion calling for the government to initiate talks with its American and Mexican counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA.

We know that in 2010 the government tabled Bill C-26, which aimed to ban bulk water. The bill did not progress beyond first reading and, indeed, was quite a feeble attempt to ban bulk water exports. It actually left 80% of Canada's surface water unprotected, as it only contained a prohibition on the removal of transboundary waters and not a prohibition on the inter-basin diversion or transfer of waters into transboundary waters, which left the door open for water pipelines to be built, like those proposed in the 1990s. We also opposed that bill for not addressing statutory exceptions that permitted the export of bottled water or other beverages. In fact, the bill did nothing to address bulk water trade concerns.

We want the government to acknowledge that Canada's water resources need further protection with respect to NAFTA via negotiations leading to an agreement that excludes water from NAFTA as a commercial good. Water should instead be listed as a human right and we need an acknowledgement of our respective sovereign rights to manage water as part of the public trust.

New Democrats have a history of defending Canada's water. In both 1999 and 2007 the House adopted NDP motions instructing the government to take steps to better protect Canada's water resources, and we are urging the government to respect the intent of those motions.

We must get it right this time to genuinely protect our water. We know that an overwhelming majority of Canadians support a ban on bulk water exports. We need to ensure that Canada maintains control through both a bulk water ban and the protections offered by a national water policy.

Bulk water removal poses concerns not just for the Canadians' drinking water but also for the cumulative effects it could have on the ecosystems of our water basins and watersheds. Policy-makers should also consider issues of water consumption as well as population and economic growth.

Further, we need more study of the effects of climate change on Canada's environment, and water resources must be examined in that regard, in particular, drought and changing weather patterns. Our water resource policy should take that into account. Here I would note that residents in northern Ontario with homes or cottages along Lake Huron and Lake Superior have seen dramatic changes in the water levels of the Great Lakes. In some recent years they have been able to walk hundreds of feet on new beaches that were once under water.

Policy-makers should also consider issues of consumption, population and economic growth.

When I look around our new Parliament since the May 2, 2011 election, I see that the members elected cover an amazing seven decades in their ages. This new dynamic of intergenerational partnership reaffirms the need to pass forward-thinking legislation that recognizes that a healthy and ecologically balanced planet is the most important gift we can give to future generations of Canadians.

To do this, parliamentarians have the duty and obligation to ensure that they understand the environmental consequences of current actions on future generations. This includes acting as responsible stewards of our water resources.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue today is critical. Fresh water is the source of all forms of life on earth. The protection and conservation of fresh water are political issues of the 21st century. Seen from space, Canada has one of the supplies of water in the world, but on the ground the situation is very different. Our water consumption is concentrated in a specific geographic area: 60% of our watercourses flow to the north of the country, but over 90% of the population is concentrated along the southern border.

As custodians of 9% of the planet’s renewable water resources, we have a moral obligation to preserve them for our generation and future generations. Thank God this is an issue on which there is consensus. For example, in the throne speech of November 19, 2008, the government said: “To ensure protection of our vital resources, our Government will bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins.”

We had that commitment before. I spoke of the Speech from the Throne in 2008.

When I worked many years ago, as part of the previous government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that was the last time Canada took a comprehensive look at our water resources. The federal water policy, which remains the only federal water policy passed to this date, was passed in 1987. The Government of Canada committed to a federal water policy, which included that we would ban bulk water exports. Yet we stand here, more than 20 years later, without that prohibition.

I am very grateful to my friend for the introduction of Bill C-267, which ascribes in every respect to the best possible approach to how to ban the transfer of bulk water from one basin to another. I am aware, and I thank my friend, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, for a similar bill, Bill C-383. I would wish we had the ability to blend the two. However, there is no question that Bill C-267 responds to the issue in a way in which it must be responded.

The bill respecting the preservation of Canada's water resources before us this evening deals with the issue in terms of the inter-basin transfer of water. There are five major drainage basins for all of the water of Canada. If we think about it, it is very logical and intuitive. All our water drains toward larger areas. The five major drainage basins are the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and even the Gulf of Mexico from which our Great Lakes drain toward the south. These are the five major drainage basins and it is to these drainage basins that Bill C-267 speaks by prohibiting the inter-basin transfer of water, prohibiting the massive transfer of water in bulk.

This is critical because Bill C-383 is quite similar to a previous government legislation, Bill C-26. It dealt only with boundary and transboundary water. It is important for us to remember that when we are looking at boundary and transboundary water, we are looking at 10% of Canada's water resources. In other words, 90% of Canada's water resources are found in basins that could not be defined as boundary or transboundary water. As such, the acts we will be looking at later in this session, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvement Act, are certainly laudable, but fall far short of what we need, which is why if it were possible to include the provisions of both bills together, we would have stronger legislation.

I do not have quite the same concern as the hon. member for Nickel Belt about the fact that it is left to regulations to describe a drainage basin. There is no question, however, since there really are five drainage basins for Canada and they are well known and are a matter of scientific fact, that it certainly would be wise to include them when the bill goes to committee and comes to amendment. That would leave no wiggle room for some sort of political fix that would deny the hydrogeology of Canada's land mass to try to say that there was something other than five major drainage basins. It is a scientific fact that is what there is.

We have always had the threat when we look at the transfer of basin water from one to the other. The most grandiose of these schemes was put forward repeatedly in the early 1980s. The grand canal scheme was the idea that we would move water from one basin, the Hudson Bay drainage basin, and put it into pipelines to ship down to the U.S. That grand canal scheme would not be at all affected by private member's Bill C-383, which deals with boundary and transboundary water. However, it would be completely caught by Bill C-267, which speaks to the key issue, and that is the removal of water in bulk.

Under the interpretation and definition section of the bill, it states, “removal of water in bulk” means the removal of water, whether it has been treated or not, from the major drainage basin in which the water is located by any means of diversion that includes a pipeline, canal, tunnel, aqueduct or channel”, which is a perfect way of ensuring the grand canal scheme never happens, “or by any other means of diversion by which more than 50,000 litres of water per day is removed from major drainage basin”.

This speaks to ecological realities. It is not a political statement of a boundary. It speaks to the key issue, which is how do we ensure that we do not commit a serious and egregious error in which Canada's water is moved from one basin to another. We think we are a water-rich nation, but the reality is we only have 9% of the world's renewable water, the U.S. has 6%. We are roughly in the same territory. For all the water we have, what we have is precious and we have to protect it.

The other reason for this legislation does not come from an ecological threat. It comes from the reality of NAFTA. We have a situation where under the North American Free Trade Agreement, should we allow a single transaction of the shipment of water in bulk from one drainage basin to the other, particularly from one drainage basin in Canada for sale in the United States, we would then have turned a tap on and would be simply impossible under the terms of NAFTA to turn off.

The reason one could say that water is not covered under NAFTA is that water in its natural state in natural water bodies and water courses is not a good in trade. The minute we make that a good in trade, then the taps are open everywhere.

It is critical that Canada protects our water sources by prohibiting the transfer of water in bulk, prohibiting its sale, prohibiting water in its natural state from ever being seen as a good in commerce.

One last reason why the legislation is essential is we may feel awash in water, but the impact of the climate crisis, as the previous member has mentioned, will have its primary initial impact on reducing our access to water, its quality and its quantity. That is why I am so very proud to stand as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands and as the leader of the Green Party of Canada to speak, to plead that the House lives up to the commitments that were made in 1987 in the federal water policy and to the commitment of the current Prime Minister in the Speech from the Throne of 2008 to ban bulk water exports.

We need to take precautionary measures now. I plead with all members of the House to ensure that Bill C-267 lives up to the promises of generations to protect our fresh water in our country.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, which is a step in the right direction.

We New Democrats have long been calling for a law that bans bulk water exports. On February 9, 1999, the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to impose an immediate moratorium on bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers. We thank the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his work on this issue, which is important all across Canada.

At present, any proposal for the bulk export of water from Canadian basins or the Great Lakes would create a precedent, a situation that the Canadian authorities could not subsequently call into question. At what point does water from a river or an aquifer cease to be a common good like air or sunshine and become merchandise? If bottled water manifestly constitutes merchandise, can water in all of its forms then be considered nothing but a commercial good?

NAFTA has long been considered a threat to Canada’s sovereignty over water resources, but fortunately, there is still time to act. We can correct the problem before it is too late.

Under NAFTA, articles 315 and 309, it states:

—no country can reduce or restrict the export of a resource once the trade has been established. Nor can the government place an export tax or charge more to the consumers of another NAFTA country than they charge domestically.

Exports of water would have to be guaranteed to the level they had acquired over the preceding 36 months. The more water exported, the more water required to be exported. Even if new evidence were found that massive movements of water were harmful to the environment, these requirements would stay in place. That is something we cannot enter into. We truly have to protect this precious resource.

In other words, in the event bulk freshwater exports were to begin, the United States would be the owner in perpetuity of a share of Canada’s water resources. Exported volumes could not be reduced unless the water were rationed in the same proportion for Canadian consumers and companies. The issue of bulk water exports in North America remains an explosive topic of debate, but the great majority of Canadians recognize the value of Canada’s water resources and are ready to ban the large-scale removal of water.

In late 2004, according to the EKOS firm, close to 66% of Canadians would have refused the idea of selling water to their American neighbours. Even though the Americans are our friends, we have to impose certain limits on that friendship. Water is a good place to start. Public reaction seems to be motivated by the fear of seeing Canadian sovereignty done in by the United States and multinational companies. Consequently, the concerns of critics, academics, environmentalists and economists have not been allayed in recent years. It is time to put an end to the uncertainty and to protect our water resources properly.

My hon. colleague's constituents in Lac-Saint-Louis are neighbours to my constituents in Vaudreuil—Soulanges. Our ridings are separated by some of the most important and historic waterways in the country. The St. Lawrence River, the Ottawa River, Lac des Deux Montagnes, which is a sacred lake to the Mohawk people, and Lac Saint-Louis separate the communities in our two constituencies, but they also bring us together in the sense that these water systems are integral to the collective identity and memories of all the communities along their shores. In short, these were the historical communication routes of our early country.

Our constituents are demanding that we protect these public goods from unrestrained exploitation and exportation. That is understandable. We do not understand how important something is until we lose it. I know the residents in Kirkland realized how important water was when their water resources were jeopardized. I realized it in my riding of Vaudreuil. When people do not have access to clean water, they realize how important it is.

This is a perfectly reasonable, not radical, request. The private member's bill in its current form does not give guidance to what constitutes a major drainage basin, which in my view is one of its shortcomings. A major drainage basin could be defined as every water basin in our communities or none of them. The strength of the bill depends on getting that definition corrected. I would encourage all the members to debate this point in committee so the bill will not one day be rendered inapplicable.

The prohibitions in the bill appear to be limited to the removal of water in bulk through diversion and would not apply to the removal of water in bulk by pumping water into another vehicle, which then would cross international borders. This should be clarified in the committee as well.

I will reiterate my support for this bill so it can be discussed further in committee to fix the aforementioned concerns regarding the strength of the bill. What is the official definition of a major drainage basin and what kind of loopholes does the bill provide for future exportation of water?

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

March 8th, 2012 / 5:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House of Commons today to talk about the bill introduced by my colleague and neighbour, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, Bill C-267, An Act respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources.

Canadians have been interested in protecting our country's water resources for decades, particularly with regard to bulk water exports. The NDP is in favour of sending this bill to a committee that could address the wording problems in the bill.

The purpose of this bill “is to foster the sustainable use of Canada’s water resources and, in particular, to prevent the removal of water in bulk from major drainage basins in Canada”. This bill has three components: first, the prohibition of the removal of water in bulk; second, the exceptions to this prohibition, for example, water that is removed for bottling and for producing beverages for commercial purposes, and water that is removed and used on a short-term basis, for example, for emergency situations or humanitarian purposes; and third, the enforcement provisions.

Canada has a large quantity of the planet's fresh water. It is true that this is a great resource and we must protect it and ensure that it is distributed fairly and equitably. It is a natural treasure that must never be taken for granted.

Water is vital to human health and life. In Canada, we do not have a national strategy to respond to urgent problems and, unfortunately, the Conservatives are not providing any federal leadership in terms of conserving and protecting our water. I hope that the Conservatives will do something about this situation soon and that, like us, they will vote in favour of this bill, which the hon. member has courageously introduced a number of times in order to protect Canada's water. It is a resource that we must not neglect.

The federal water policy is over 20 years old. It is very outdated, and this situation must quickly be remedied. We are facing more and more challenges with regard to our water supply, including contamination, shortage and pressure to export our water to the United States by pipeline or water diversion, for example. Other hon. members spoke about this at length earlier. I am wondering what the Conservatives are waiting for to take action. This is really urgent. Imagine if there were a pipeline allowing our water to be exported directly to the United States. It would be absolutely terrible.

The NDP is in favour of introducing a national water policy. It is an important and noteworthy undertaking.

Let us look at a bit of history. NAFTA has long been regarded as a threat to Canada's sovereignty over water. In 1999, following a debate, the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to place an immediate moratorium on bulk water exports and interbasin transfers. The motion also asked the government to “introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers and not be a party to any international agreement that compels us to export freshwater against our will...”. Unfortunately, nothing has been done since that motion was adopted in the House of Commons.

In June 2007, the House passed another motion from the NDP—which is very proactive when it comes to protecting water—asking the government to begin talks with its American counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA. And what did the Conservatives do? Nothing.

En 2010, the Conservative government tried something, but it was not enough and it was inadequate. It introduced Bill C-26, which sought to ban bulk water removals. However, this bill had a number of flaws, including a major one. Indeed, under that legislation, 80%—that is right—of surface waters in Canada were not protected, because the protection only applied to transboundary waters. It makes no sense at all to think that this tiny bill, this tiny measure could have a real impact on the export of Canada's fresh water in bulk.

This legislation paved the way for the construction of water pipelines, such as the one proposed in the 1990s, which did not make any sense. That is utterly shameful. That is Conservative inaction. That is a lack of action in this area.

Currently, there are growing water shortages all over the world. As I said, the NDP has always asked that bulk water exports be banned. This is a critical component of a national water policy, which does not exist in Canada, but which could set standards for clean drinking water, which could also provide strict environmental protection measures for water resources, and which could recognize water as a common right. It is really important to recognize water as a common right. So, this is a good plan and it is a plan proposed by the NDP.

As we said, water is essential to life, but it is not an infinite resource, far from it. Even in Canada, which is rich in water—and hon. members may not know that, but I am going to tell them—one quarter of Canadian municipalities have faced water shortages. That is a real concern. One third of them depend on groundwater, on which we currently have very little information, to meet daily needs. A national water policy must create a comprehensive conservation strategy and invest in research and in the monitoring of that resource.

I am going to talk a little about my riding of Drummond, where people are really concerned and have expressed grave misgivings about water. Three municipalities in my riding face water problems, whether in terms of quality or quantity. The municipalities of Saint-Germain-de-Grantham, Saint-Majorique-de-Grantham, and Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover are well aware of the importance of access to quality water in sufficient quantities. Every time that I visit these municipalities, the residents regularly ask me when the water problems are going to be addressed. I am currently lobbying for a national water policy to be a key priority in Canada, so that such problems do not recur in my riding’s municipalities, or elsewhere in Canada. Two of these municipalities are currently entering into an agreement with the city of Drummondville. I am really happy about that. It is good news, but it is not enough. There are still problems in the municipality of Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover, and the federal government must have a policy to help these municipalities.

There are other concerns regarding water in my municipality and the millions of litres of water necessary for the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas. This is currently the subject of a major debate in my riding, and I initiated a Canada wide petition to protect our water from the shale gas industry.

Six hundred shale gas wells in Quebec would consume the annual equivalent in water of 360,000 Olympic swimming pools. An Olympic swimming pool contains 20,000 litres of beautiful clean water. This water would be mixed with the equivalent of 900 Olympic swimming pools of chemicals. You can imagine the slop, the chemical laden mud, the dreadful, soupy mix that we would end up with, when we really need beautiful clean water.

The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks of Quebec stated in a report that there would be a shortage of underground water in a section where wells would be required to mine shale gas, and that there would not be enough water to meet all the needs. At some point, the choice has to be made between the public and the shale gas industry.

I am going to conclude by saying that water must be a human right. Moreover, on July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of the human right to water and to sanitary facilities, and for this to be an essential right to the survival of human beings.

In closing, it is truly important for my riding of Drummond that we vote in favour of my colleague's bill, and that we go still further and develop a national water policy that protects our municipalities, so that we can be sure that they have quality water in sufficient quantities.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-267, a bill to promote the sustainable and mindful use of water in Canada, and more particularly to prevent the removal of water in bulk from Canada’s major drainage basins. To begin, I would note that we support the bill in principle and we believe it will be possible to remedy certain flaws in the bill in committee.

Canada has the most abundant freshwater resources in the world. It is estimated that 8% of the world’s freshwater reserves are concentrated in Canada. That abundance prompts some people to advocate exporting it to the southwestern United States. In 2008, for example, members of the Montreal Economic Institute proposed that Quebec export 10% of its renewable freshwater in return for $6.5 billion per year. That is simply irresponsible.

In order to measure how lucky we are, we have to consider that the planet’s water stocks are 97% saltwater. The remaining 3% are virtually inaccessible, because they are locked in the polar icecaps, in glaciers or in deep water. In total, it is estimated that less than 1% of water stocks exist in the form of accessible freshwater. We must therefore manage this resource wisely. It is our duty to humanity, somewhat as Brazilians must manage the Amazon rainforest, which is described as the lungs of our planet.

This bill has been made necessary by the fact that NAFTA apparently does not adequately protect Canada’s sovereignty over its water resources. Even though the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico jointly declared in 1994 that NAFTA did not apply to water in its natural state, some people believe that surface water and underground water in their natural state are subject to NAFTA obligations and water could therefore be commercialized.

So the critics’ concerns have not been assuaged by the statements made by the three trading partners. It must be said that, were it not for the vigilance of civil society, certain bulk water export projects might well have materialized. I am thinking in particular of the Nova Group project, which in 1998 obtained authorization from the Ontario government to export 600 million litres of water per year from Lake Superior. People on both sides of the border had to mobilize to get the Ontario government to back down.

I remind you that, in an attempt to correct the problem, in February 1999 the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to impose a moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and inter-basin transfers.

The motion also called for the government, and I quote, to “introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and inter-basin transfers and”... “not be a party to any international agreement that would compel us to export water against our will...”.

The Liberal government subsequently announced that it would consult the provinces and territories in order to develop a strategy that would prohibit the bulk removal of water from Canadian drainage basins for domestic purposes or for export. However the strategy did not address the trade issues raised by NAFTA and focused mainly on water management.

In June 2007, again on the initiative of the NDP, the House adopted a motion calling for the government to initiate talks with our southern neighbours to have water excluded from the scope of NAFTA. The Conservatives, like the previous Liberal government, did nothing. This was a great surprise.

In 2010, the Conservative government did in fact table Bill C-26 to ban the bulk removal of water, but the bill died on the order paper because of its many deficiencies. The Conservatives’ bill addressed only a small portion of fresh water, for it left 80% of Canadian surface water unprotected, as the prohibition applied to transboundary waters only.

Nothing in that bill would have banned the construction of pipelines and other forms of exploitation of bulk water by truck or ship, for example. We have long been calling for the prohibition of bulk water exports, and view this as a key element of a national water policy which would establish standards for safe, potable water and solid environmental protection measures for Canada’s water resources.

We support the principle of the bill before us, but are critical of some of these flaws which, with a little goodwill, could be corrected in committee.

For example, we note that there is no guidance to the governor in council as to the definition of what constitutes a major drainage basin, in the regulations. In our opinion, the effectiveness or strength of this bill depends on that definition. If the definition adopted by the government includes none of the major drainage basins, the bill might then be considered inapplicable.

We note as well that Bill C-267 grants the government very wide regulatory powers, including the capacity to redefine the scope of the exceptions and to establish new exceptions by regulation. These powers seem disproportionate, and could lead the government to exercise them as a way to rewrite the act. As we know, faced with a government that is environmentally delinquent, it is best to be prudent and to set clear limits on its regulatory power.

We understand that the prohibitions are limited to the bulk removal of water from major basins through diversion. We shall attempt in committee to ensure that bulk exports by truck or ship are also prohibited.

My last observation is on the issue of bottled water. The bill creates an exception for manufactured products such as bottled water and beverages. This is a major loophole. We believe this issue needs very close review in committee.

I would like to take advantage of the time I have been given to speak to the bigger issue. Instead of thinking about exporting water, I believe we need to be thinking about our habits in order to reduce the pressure to commercialize water. For example, we know that 70% of the fresh water consumed is used in agriculture. That number may not decrease, considering that the governments of Canada and the United States are encouraging corn crops for the production of fuel. It is the same thing for extracting oil from the oil sands. It is estimated that two to five barrels of fresh water are needed to extract just one barrel of oil. That does not even include the water contaminated by the so-called holding ponds.

More than ever, we need to become aware of our dependence on non-renewable energies and their effects on our environment and the depletion of fresh water. Although this government is determined to drive out those it calls environmental radicals, one day it will have to take into account the effects of climate change on the environment and Canada's water resources. Instead of cutting science budgets, the government should be investing in research in order to study types of drought and meteorological changes and to ensure that our water resources policy takes these things into account.

In closing, I would like to commend the associations, unions, NGOs, citizens and local authorities around the world who are gathering next week in Marseilles for the Alternative World Water Forum in order to discuss the various challenges of water management. Like them, I hope governments the world over, starting with the Canadian government, will work on better protecting our water resources. We have to ensure that water is recognized as a fundamental human right and as a public good, to be protected from corporations that far too often pollute it or exploit it for profit.