Mr. Speaker, I rise to oppose the private member's bill put forward by the member for Kamloops. It seems appropriate that a bill to oppose water export has been introduced in the House by the member from British Columbia. No other province has figured as prominently over the past three decades in proposals to export fresh water from this country. He is justifiably concerned about this state of affairs, which I would like to review briefly.
In the 1960s the most publicized of all the mega schemes to redistribute continental water resources was the North American Water and Power Alliance, sometimes called NAWAPA, designed by the Ralph Parsons engineering firm of Los Angeles. It was premised on the capture of headwaters of the Yukon, Skeena, Peace, Columbia and Fraser Rivers and their storage in the huge Rocky Mountain trench of British Columbia before diversion elsewhere.
Geologists questioned the capacity of the trench to bear the weight of such a massive reservoir without increasing earthquake and slide hazards. In a mountainous province where habitable lowland is at a premium, planners were reluctant to take the risks that such a mega scheme implied. Agricultural acreage, wildlife habitat and communities as large as Prince George could be flooded out. West-east rail and road links between B.C. and the rest of Canada could be disrupted by this creation of such a huge reservoir. At the time, British Columbians were already experiencing enough valley floods in projects serving the Columbia River treaty and Peace River power projects and so the NAWAPA scheme was rejected.
In the mid-1980s, however, the provincial government in Victoria decided to entertain another form of fresh water export, inviting applications for marine transport from streams in its coastal region. When drought struck, American southwest communities like Santa Barbara looked north for supplemental supplies and B.C. entrepreneurs were quick to respond with supertanker proposals. Just as the first contract was about to be signed 1991, however, the province was forced by public controversy to declare a moratorium on this development. Problems included aboriginal land claims and a proliferation of applications by various proponents to draw fresh water from the same source region. As well there were concerns about navigation hazards and fisheries protection. This moratorium was replaced in 1995 by provincial legislation banning bulk water export of any kind.
This 1995 legislation effectively scuttled another interbasin transfer scheme. Multinational Water and Power Incorporated planned to divert 1 million acre-feet of flow from the North Thompson River to the Columbia River where it would flow across the international boundary and then be sent by pipeline to the Shasta reservoir in California. This was the proposal which motivated the hon. member for Kamloops to rally his constituency and neighbouring communities in opposition and to table well over 100,000 signatures in this House toward that end. Had the proposal not fallen flat among British Columbians, it might well have had a difficult time anyway passing existing federal hurdles, namely the approvals required under the International River Improvements Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act.
Meanwhile smaller exports of water have proceeded in several forms. Treated water from greater Vancouver regional district pipelines serves the community of Point Roberts in Washington. Ground water supplies in the northern Okanagan Valley are trucked in bulk to bottling plants south of the border. And of course bottled water is exported. These represent negligible volumes at present compared with available resources.
There is no conflict between the B.C. legislation and the federal water policy which was tabled in this House in 1987. The policy opposes large scale water export, as by diversion of lakes or rivers, but allows for consideration of small scale exports under provincial licensing, providing that federal interests such as navigation, fisheries, aboriginal rights and external trade and treaties are taken into account.
The Government of Canada therefore supports B.C.'s decision to prohibit the large scale or bulk export of fresh water from the provinces. The province's legislative initiative will encourage a growing water bottling industry and at the same time protect its salmon fishery and other public values.
As the hon. member for Kamloops suggested, the last chapter of the water export story has not been written. Further proposals will appear in response to international crisis or opportunities. If British Columbia has passed legislation specifically to address the water export issue to its own satisfaction, the federal government and other provinces have not taken the same path.
The issue and its many dimensions continue to evolve. It is more than likely that the British Columbia approach, which simply prohibits bulk water export, will not be the solution chosen by all other jurisdictions in Canada. Newfoundland, for example, has decided to take advantage of the latitude allowed by the federal water policy to explore small scale trade opportunities from supertanker exports.
Ontario realizes that protection of its Great Lakes advantages depends less on unilateral declarations against exports than on forming a common bond with neighbouring state governments in this international drainage system.
It is clear that the hon. member's bill is too narrow to resolve the longstanding water export issue. It addresses one prominent threat to Canada's water heritage, proposals for the diversion of lakes and rivers to flow to the United States. But it ignores other means by which water can be exported and it does not offer a framework of national applicability suitable for adoption by the Government of Canada.
I suggest that it is not necessary to rush Bill C-232 into law in order to save Canada's water resources from being lost to foreign markets. There is enough time for the federal government to consult with provinces and public interests about a more comprehensive approach that would apply across the country, one which is sensitive to the various water resources of our various provinces
and territories and one which will sustain Canada's regional and national advantages over the long term.