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.