Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in the debate on the bill introduced by my colleague from Kamloops. I know he has a very deep concern on this issue of water exports.
I share that concern, although I believe we are adequately protected. However, it is not as crystal clear as it could be. Therefore, it is important that we take whatever steps necessary to
make sure that Canada does not get into a situation where it is required to export water by any means such as interbasin transfer.
Water is a very important resource and will be even more important in the future. In my riding of Peace River we have a lot of oil and gas development. Oil and gas companies have consistently tried to use potable ground water for flooding their oil zones when salt water is available at a not much larger cost. I believe we should continue to resist this misuse of potable water because it is going to be a very serious problem in the future.
I support the bill introduced by the member for Kamloops and I will state my reasons for supporting it.
Reform policy dating back to 1993, prior to the last election and prior to the passage of NAFTA, makes a specific statement on water. It states that the exclusive and unrestricted control of water in all its forms should be maintained by and for Canada and that both free trade agreements should be amended to reflect this.
I admit it is a little late to be talking about amending NAFTA. Furthermore, there have been assurances from all sides that water in lakes, streams and basins can in no way be considered a commodity. Therefore, water in its raw format is not covered by NAFTA. Consequently, there is nothing in NAFTA that could force us to transfer water to the United States. Prior to signing the NAFTA the three governments issued a joint statement to this effect. It stated that the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico in order to correct false interpretations issued a joint public statement such as the parties in the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The NAFTA creates no rights to the natural water resources of any party to the agreement. Unless water in any form has entered into commerce and become a good or product, it is not covered in the provisions of the trade agreement under the NAFTA.
Nothing in the NAFTA would oblige the NAFTA partners to exploit water for commercial use or to begin to export water in any form. Water in its natural state in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, aquifers, water basins and the like is not a good or product. It is not traded and therefore is not and never has been subject to any terms of the agreement.
Just the fact that we are having to clarify it makes people wonder whether it was missed in the free trade agreement. I restate that we want to make sure we tie it down and not allow any possibility of it happening.
From this statement it would seem we are safe as long as water does not enter into commerce, but I do have that concern. Canada already has a policy of prohibiting interbasin water transfers, but policy is not law. New governments can bring in new policies. Why not take he advice of the member for Kamloops and back this policy with legislation? I agree that we should do it.
Back in 1988 similar legislation was introduced but it died on the Order Paper and was never resurrected. Off and on over the past decades the United States has faced significant water problems. Despite occasional droughts Americans have an extremely high water consumption rate per capita. This is partly due to irrigation practices of the agriculture industry and the fact that Americans persist in growing water intensive crops.
To deal with this recurring problem various American and Canadian interests dreamed up massive water diversion proposals in the mid-fifties and early sixties. There was the North American Water and Power Alliance, PRIME and the Grand Canal scheme. They used different methods like tunnels, canals, pipelines and dams to divert water from B.C., Alberta and Quebec south of the border. That was their dream.
Although the public uproar against such projects pretty much killed them, occasionally there is still talk about scaled down versions. Why have Canadians become so concerned? The fact is that Canadians have less clean fresh water than one would think. Many of southern lakes and rivers are polluted with industrial waste and sewage, and most of our rivers of course flow north away from our major centres. We cannot really afford to squander the fresh water that remains. Commercial interests that want to use fresh groundwater have put it under great pressure in some areas of the country. Water will be a very important issue in the future and we need to maintain it.
A further problem has to do with the environment. Sending our water south can have massive ecological repercussions. Interbasin transfers can introduce parasites and other organisms into new environments where they can have devastating effects. A recent example is the introduction of zebra mussels into the Great Lakes.
There could also be detrimental effects on fish and bird species where fresh water flows are introduced into estuaries affecting the salinity of the water. Massive water diversions can change climactic conditions and introduce mercury and other contaminants into the food change.
In conclusion, the House should support the bill. The Reform Party has always insisted that Canada maintain control of its natural water. It would have been preferable to include water rights under the NAFTA. We failed to do that. They should be included in legislation. We should have a policy that restricts interbasin transfer that might make water exports possible. We support our colleague from Kamloops.