moved that Bill C-383, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased today to rise to begin third reading debate on my private member's bill, the transboundary waters protection act.
Since its introduction just over a year ago, we have had a fulsome, positive debate at second reading and again at the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. I thank all members of the House, and specifically those on the committee, for their contributions to the debate. I am hopeful that we will soon see the bill enacted.
The strong support that Bill C-383 has received thus far reflects the opinion of the vast majority of Canadians, who strongly oppose the bulk removal of water from Canada's freshwater basins. This is something I hear continuously from my constituents, family, friends and colleagues on all sides of the House.
This is an issue that I believe unites us as parliamentarians. Indeed, it is rare to have an issue that is so clearly one-sided in a country as large and diverse as Canada.
Canadians want to know that their federal and provincial governments will take the necessary steps to prevent bulk removals of water from ever happening. Why? Not only do bulk water removals pose a significant threat to ecosystems, but water is also an important component in the fight against invasive species. By removing a potential pathway for these species, we could help prevent the devastation these species' movement between basins could cause.
When I was before the foreign affairs committee in October, I commented that no bill was ever perfect. All along I have been open to ways in which this legislation could be strengthened, which is why I would like to briefly explain one amendment that was made to Bill C-383 in committee, an amendment that I believe makes it a strong bill. Here I refer to the addition of purpose clauses to the sections of the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act that contain the bulk water removal provisions. In my view these clauses clearly articulate that the purpose of these bulk water removal provisions is to prevent the potential harm these removals could cause to Canadian ecosystems and to reinforce our desire to prevent harm to the environment.
As most members know by now, Bill C-383 amends the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to bestow on transboundary waters—those that flow across the boundary—the same protections currently in place for boundary waters, those waters that straddle the border.
Speaking of that, I live on one of the Great Lakes, and that water also borders on the United States. I know exactly where we are coming from on that.
While the provinces have laws, regulations or policies in place to prevent the bulk removal of waters from their territories, our hope is that with Bill C-383 we will enhance protections at both the federal and provincial levels. Rest assured that we will continue to work with the provinces to ensure that these waters are protected.
The second amendment provided for in Bill C-383 is an amendment to the International River Improvements Act, which prohibits the issuing of a licence for an international river improvement that would link waters that are neither boundary nor transboundary with an international river if doing so would increase the annual flow of the international river at the boundary. This specific provision would ensure that an international river is not used as a conveyance or a pathway to move water in bulk outside of Canada.
This last amendment was recommended by water experts from the program on water issues at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto. In fact, testifying before the standing committee on October 25, the water experts voiced their support for Bill C-383, with one stating that:
—the goal of protecting Canada's water resources from bulk export is significantly accomplished by way of this proposed legislation.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Munk School experts for their role over the years in Canadian water policy debates, and especially for the assistance they have provided to me on the bill.
Next, Bill C-383 moves some definitions and exceptions from the regulations of the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act into the act itself. As has been touched upon in previous debates, moving definitions and exceptions into the act would entrench key definitions such as what constitutes the removal of water in bulk.
These exceptions would allow for the removal of water temporarily for emergency or humanitarian purposes such as firefighting, but not for commercial purposes. These exceptions are reasonable and are not inconsistent with the purpose of the bulk water prohibition. Now that these definitions and exceptions are to be moved into the body of the act, any changes would have to be approved by Parliament. This would provide members of this House with much greater oversight.
During committee consideration of Bill C-383, there was some discussion about the definition of “bulk removal”. In the bill, “bulk removal” is defined as removing water from boundary or transboundary waters and taking it outside the Canadian portion of the water basin in which it is located. If the means of diversion include canals, tunnels, pipelines or other channels, for example, any removal is prohibited. In other words, any attempt to transfer even a drop of water outside the basin of a boundary or transboundary water using a canal or some kind of channel would be prohibited. By other means, one could not take more than 50,000 litres outside the basin per day.
Some members of the committee were concerned that this would be a potential loophole in the legislation. I want to be clear that this would not be a loophole. Even though 50,000 litres seems like a large number, it is no larger than a tanker truck or average residential swimming pool. As such, this could not be considered a bulk removal, and in fact could not be considered economically feasible.
I would like also like to address another area of the bill raised at committee regarding manufactured products containing water. As the bill states, “bulk removal does not include the taking of a manufactured product that contains water...outside the water basin...”. This includes water and other beverages in bottles or containers. This is included to ensure legitimate commerce, such as the products of breweries, soft drinks, juice, or even bottled water manufacturers, is not interfered with. My goal in introducing this legislation, and I believe it is the goal of others in this House, is to remove the threat of bulk removals of water, not prevent breweries and other manufacturers from selling their fine products around the globe.
Finally, I would like to take a minute to highlight the deterrence aspect of Bill C-383. Bill C-383 proposes amendments to strengthen the enforcement authorities, fines and sentencing provisions of the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.
These amendments include mandatory minimum fines for designated offences and increased maximum fines for all offences. For instance, violations of this act could result in a fine of up to $1 million for an individual and up to $6 million for a corporation for a first offence. In addition, these fines would be cumulative, meaning that every day the violation occurs is considered a separate violation. Fine totals could increase very rapidly. I believe that in itself would provide a strong deterrence against even contemplating violating the terms of this act.
Added to this, there would also be the potential for further fines under this act. Bill C-383 contains provisions that would allow the courts to add increased fines for aggravating factors such as damage to the environment.
As members know, my riding of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound is nestled between Lake Huron and Georgian Bay. It is basically surrounded on three sides by waters that would come under this act. It is an area where we have some of the greatest sources of water in this country. Coming from this part of the country, I have a deep appreciation for Canada's water resources.
Although water seems abundant and everlasting, I do not, and we should not, take this resource for granted. I understand that we, as Ontarians, and we, as Canadians, must be responsible stewards of our water. I want to ensure this resource remains protected for my grandchildren, my great-grandchildren and for generations into the future. I introduced Bill C-383 in order to play a small part in protecting Canada's water.
We all agree that potential harm to Canada's water from bulk removals is too great to ignore. I urge all members of the House to vote for this measure.