Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for this legislative initiative intended to better protect Canada's fresh water. The member dares tread where his government has refused to go, namely, toward protecting Canada's fresh water from the future threat of export in bulk.
Bill C-383 highlights the government's continued and stubborn inaction on this vital national issue. However, the fact remains that Bill C-383 is a timid response to four years of Liberal pressure on the Conservative government to show robust federal leadership on pre-empting bulk water exports. In the end, I believe Bill C-383 is intended as face-saving legislation meant to inoculate the government against charges it is not protecting Canada's fresh water.
Liberals nonetheless support sending the bill to committee to examine its shortcomings, of which there are at least five.
First, the bill is incomplete. It fails to cover the vast majority of Canada's fresh water. It leaves out of its scope more than 90% of Canada's water resources.
In retrospect, the government should not have combined with the Bloc Québécois to defeat Liberal Bill C-267, which was comprehensive and watertight legislation covering all water basins in Canada. For the record, two courageous Conservative MPs broke ranks and voted for the Liberal bill.
Bill C-267 was developed by Canada's foremost water policy experts and would have protected Canada's water from export in the event a province decided to lift its own internal prohibition on selling water in bulk outside its borders. At the moment, any province could lift its prohibition against bulk water exports at any time in future in response to economic or political pressures. Unlike Bill C-267, Bill C-383 does not provide a backstop against such an eventuality.
Bill C-383 fails to create an over-arching national prohibition against moving water from anywhere in Canada to the United States or elsewhere that would fill the void should a province lift its ban on water exports. Bill C-267's prohibition on taking water out of its home basin anywhere in Canada so as to protect aquatic ecosystems was such over-arching legislation.
Second, Bill C-383 may be dangerously counterproductive. It may unwittingly leave Canada open to a trade challenge under NAFTA should a province together with, say, an American entrepreneur decide at some point in future to challenge the bill's putative prohibition on water exports by pipeline. In other words, rather than resolving the current uncertainty surrounding the status of fresh water under NAFTA, Bill C-383 may amplify this uncertainty. I will explain in a moment.
In the meantime, I should mention that Bill C-267 avoided the possibility of a NAFTA challenge because it was primarily environmental legislation, not an attempt to create a trade barrier.
Third, Bill C-383's prohibition on moving water to the U.S. through transboundary rivers does not break new ground in protecting Canada's water security and sovereignty. It merely formalizes the core principle in the 1909 Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty which stipulates that neither country shall do anything to affect water levels on the other side of the border.
Fourth, while Bill C-383 has intuitive appeal because one can visualize rivers flowing into the U.S. acting as conduits for water exports, the fact is that most water export projects will likely involve tanker trucks, tanker ships, water bags, or pipelines.
The grandiose water diversion schemes where northward flowing Canadian rivers are reversed and diverted south to the U.S. appear to be a dream from the past. For example, the GRAND Canal project developed in the 1950s by Newfoundland engineer Tom Kierans is perhaps the most well-known and iconic of these unrealistic water export schemes. It envisioned among other things using transboundary rivers to channel water normally flowing northward toward Hudson Bay southward to the U.S. Not only does Bill C-383 merely consolidate prohibitions on water diversions implied in the boundary waters treaty of 1909, its approach appears to be outdated.
Finally, it bears mentioning that Bill C-383 does not prohibit water exports by tanker truck, tanker ship, or water bags from non-boundary waters, or even possibly by pipeline. For example, Bill C-383 would not have stopped Sun Belt Water's attempt in the 1990s to export water from B.C. coastal streams to Goleta, California in the absence of the fortunate provincial action that followed to block the company's efforts. Nor would it prevent the export of water from Newfoundland's Gisborne Lake should the current provincial prohibition on bulk water exports in that province ever be lifted.
Some would argue that exporting the water from coastal streams carries no negative consequences because such water is lost to the ocean anyway. Coastal streams do support sensitive coastal ecosystems, including spawning grounds.
As Ph.D. student and water expert Janine MacLeod has said, “The outflow of fresh water into the oceans at deltas and estuaries is not 'wasted'”.
With respect to pipelines, which are perhaps a viable means of someday exporting water to the U.S., Bill C-383's attempt to block water exports by such means could prove problematic. It is difficult to fathom that a Canadian law eliminating the possibility of building a pipeline from, say, a Canadian inland body of water into the U.S. would not be viewed by a NAFTA tribunal as a barrier to trade. It is one thing, as the bill does, to ban the construction of a pipeline into a transboundary river that would change the river's water levels in violation of the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty, but it is quite another to, as the bill also claims to do, legislate a ban on building a pipeline to carry water for export across the Canada-U.S. border and pretend that such a conduit, at the point where it crosses the border, becomes de facto a transboundary river—in other words, like water flowing in its natural state—and hence falling outside of NAFTA's provisions against erecting barriers to trade, according to some experts.
While some would argue that water in a pipeline is not a product in the strict sense, it is not really water in its natural state either. It is water that definitely has been captured. In conjunction with the fact that in the U.S. water in its natural state is viewed legally as a good because it is used to produce goods, it is not outside the realm of plausibility that a NAFTA tribunal would rule that water crossing the border in a pipeline should be seen as having entered commerce and that any attempt to prohibit such commerce constitutes an illegal barrier to trade under the agreement.
We have had mixed signals from Conservatives on the issue of bulk water exports for years. The current Conservative government, as well as previous incarnations of the governing party, have a history of sending contradictory signals with respect to their interest in and desire to prohibit bulk water exports, beginning with the Mulroney government through to the Canadian Alliance to the current government. Let me explain.
In order to allay fears that free trade with the U.S. would result in Canada eventually having to export its water south of the border, the Mulroney government introduced Bill C-156, which would have banned large-scale water exports. The bill died when Parliament was dissolved for the 1988 free trade election and it was not revived after Mr. Mulroney was returned to power in that election. No wonder there are those who believe the bill was merely a symbolic gesture meant to blunt opposition to the impending Canada-U.S. free trade agreement from those who feared a sellout of Canada's water resources if the agreement came to pass.
Later, in opposition, the Canadian Alliance admitted that NAFTA leaves Canada vulnerable to market-driven bulk water exports. Speaking in the House of Commons at the time, the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs thus advocated for reopening NAFTA to insert a specific exemption for water, similar to that which the agreement granted to Canada's cultural industries.
More recently, in its 2008 Speech from the Throne, responding to the earlier introduction of Liberal private member's Bill C-535, a predecessor to Bill C-267, the Conservative government promised to introduce legislation to ban bulk water exports by prohibiting interbasin transfers of water within Canada. This commitment reversed the government's position to that point that federal action on the issue of bulk water exports was unnecessary because of existing provincial prohibitions. However, the government never followed through on its commitment, reversing itself yet again, arguing as recently as this past fall that federal legislation to ban bulk water exports remains unnecessary.
In conclusion, Bill C-383 is a very modest step in the right direction by a member who has obviously grown weary of his government's procrastination on an issue of prime national importance involving our most vital natural resource. The bill appears to have serious shortcomings, including the fact that it could even weaken Canada's ability to control its water future.
We look forward to exploring these possible shortcomings in committee.