Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to join with my colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, in speaking to Bill C-6. The protection of freshwater is a global as well as a major national responsibility. Canadians are deeply concerned about the long term security and quality of our freshwater resources.
There are concerns for Canada's freshwater on a number of fronts ranging from the safety of our drinking water, and I remind everyone of the problem of Walkerton, to pollution, to floods and droughts, and to the potential impact of climate change on the future availability on our freshwater resources. We are working with the provinces, the territories and internationally to ensure that these and other issues are addressed and that Canada's water is protected and conserved for future generations.
Last June my provincial and territorial counterparts and I agreed that we all share the common objective to ensure a clean, safe and secure water supply for our country. In meeting those objectives all orders of government, whether territorial, provincial or federal, and all Canadians have roles to play.
Among the issues of concern to Canadians is the possibility of removing and exporting large quantities of water from Canadian watersheds.
In February 1999, the government announced a three part strategy to prohibit the bulk removal of water from large Canadian watersheds.
When we talk about protecting wildlife, we also want to protect watersheds. The strategy recognizes that the safest and most effective way of protecting Canada's water resources is through an environmental approach enabling us to preserve our freshwater in its natural state, and not through an approach based on trade.
Our goal is to turn off the tap at the source, not at the border. The bulk removal and transfer of freshwater from lakes, rivers and aquifers can have profound environmental, social and economic effects.
We could witness the introduction of parasites, diseases and harmful non native species, the deterioration of ecosystems and the disruption of communities that rely on a natural water supply from a watershed.
The impact is the same whether the water is destined for foreign markets or other places in Canada.
Canadians are already informed of these matters based on experience with project effects of all kinds. To cite one instance, we continue to oppose the Garrison diversion in North Dakota on the basis that it would introduce non-native or invasive biota and pathogens from the Missouri system across the continent's divide to the Hudson Bay watershed.
Bill C-6 covers one of the three elements outlined in the government's strategy that I announced in February 1999. I therefore strongly support the bill introduced by the Minister of Foreign Affairs as one component of the federal strategy on bulk water removals, which is intended to cover all of Canada's water resources and at the same time respect the shared jurisdiction in Canada over water.
The amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act would give the federal government the legislative authority needed to prohibit bulk removals from the boundary waters shared with the United States, principally in the Great Lakes, but also on the New Brunswick-Maine boundary.
However the issue of removing water in bulk from watersheds is a complex one and the consequences can be wide ranging. These amendments are a key tool for assisting us in working with our American partners to protect the ecosystems in and around the Great Lakes which we share.
Freshwater is the glue that sustains the health of the environment, and if we change conditions in the water we risk irreversible damage to our North American ecosystems.
This is why the federal government has chosen an environmental approach to deal with this issue. It has to be a cautious approach based on objective scientific principles and an integrated response, taking into account the fact that it is a shared resource.
With that in mind, we must ask ourselves some important questions regarding the long term effects of bulk water removal, particularly in light of the cumulative impact of such a practice and the potential changes in the distribution and abundance of water as a result of climate change.
The need for better quality information brings me to the second component of the Canadian strategy on bulk water removals.
We requested, with the United States, to have the International Joint Commission study how water consumption, removal and diversions could affect the Great Lakes. Our objective here is to provide a basis for ensuring a consistent management regime for water shared with our American friends.
In March 2000 the International Joint Commission presented its final report to the Canadian-U.S. governments entitled “Protection of the waters of the Great Lakes”. The report is entirely consistent with and reinforces the federal strategy to prohibit bulk water removals.
The International Joint Commission concluded that international trade law does not prevent Canada and the United States from taking measures to protect their water resources and preserve the integrity of the Great Lakes. To those watching or to those in Canada concerned about the issue of the exportation of water, I urge them to read the International Joint Commission report. They will find material there of great interest with respect to trade law and water exports.
This brings me to the third element of our strategy which is the development of an accord with the provinces and territories to prohibit the bulk removal of water from major drainage basins of our watershed.
Each and every province and territory supports our goal to prohibit bulk removals of surface water and groundwater. Most of the provinces and territories felt that the agreement was the best way to protect our resources and that is why they ratified it.
In fact, I am pleased to say that all of the provinces have passed or are about to pass legislation and regulations prohibiting bulk water removals.
Such a high level of commitment guarantees that no bulk water removal or export project will be carried out in the near future.
To sum up, Canada's environmental approach, which is to prohibit the bulk removal or transfer of water from its watersheds, is the best way to protect Canadian water resources.
Our approach aims at preserving the ecological integrity of our watersheds. Also, it ensures that Canadians, and not, I repeat, not international trade tribunals, will be able to decide how our waters should be managed.
Since my time is running out, I will not go on with the speech I have prepared, but I do want to emphasize that Bill C-6 must come into effect as soon as possible.
This law is for Canadians a major indication of our commitment as a parliament and of the commitment of the government as the government of the country in the direction that we wish to go to protect our waters.