Mr. Speaker, there is good reason to applaud the initiative of the hon. member for Kamloops in introducing the bill. The government supports the objective of sustaining Canada's water resources and Bill C-232 proposes one way in which we could do it.
I am concerned, however, that the prohibition of water export by interbasin transfers may be too narrow an approach to a complex issue. Access to adequate clean water supplies is critical to our health, to our quality of life and to Canada's competitive position. Much of our economy and jobs are tied directly or indirectly to our supplies in water from farming, forestry and industrial development to tourism and recreational sectors.
Growth in these areas will depend on sustaining the benefits of adequate and clean water resources.
To put it another way, water is an essential part of all ecosystems, from the functions and life support provided by lakes and streams to the role of the global hydrological cycle in sustaining water in all its forms.
Our drainage systems do not conform to political boundaries but continue to unite different parts of our country through travel and commerce and through co-operative efforts to conserve and protect these waterways and their ecosystems.
The Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River connect most of eastern Canada, as the north and south Saskatchewan Rivers link the prairie provinces; the Fraser, most of British Columbia; and the Mackenzie River and its tributaries, much of the north.
Current initiatives such as the Great Lakes, Fraser River andSt. Lawrence action plans are excellent examples of all levels of government working together and with industry and non-government organizations to address health and sustainable development within these aquatic ecosystems.
It is essential that our decisions reflect a comprehensive approach to sustaining water resources. On the question of water export, we must ask ourselves at what point water removal may result in damage to an ecosystem. It is clear that interbasin transfers have the potential to cause the most significant social, economic and environmental impacts.
What about other means of withdrawal of water for export purposes such as the use of supertankers taking water from coastal lakes and streams, the mining of groundwater reserves or the cumulative impacts of a series of small scale withdrawals from the same source?
Without doubt Bill C-232 is consistent with the federal water policy which explicitly opposes water export by interbasin transfer.
I have to take issue with the hon. member in his interpretation of the NAFTA when it talks about water as a good and refers to it as bottled beverages. It does not refer to the large scale exports of water to which he alluded.
Interest in water export has shifted away from proposals for the construction of megaprojects, despite the obvious vested interest of civil engineers, which would result in large scale interbasin transfers of water, the focus of Bill C-232. Large scale exports through massive engineering work such as the Grand Canal proposal are not considered viable under current market conditions. The costs associated with the delivery of water would greatly exceed the prices that users would be willing to pay for water. That is not to say that future water shortages could not result in prices that might meet the costs of such export proposals.
The current focus of water export proposals, however, is by tankership using water from coastal lakes and streams or by tanker trucks or pipelines carrying water from surface to groundwater sources.
Not only have the economics of water export clearly changed in terms of capital investment needs but our understanding of the scope and extent of potential environmental, social and long term economic impacts. Water is possibly the most basic and unifying element in ecosystems.
As I have already stated, water export must be viewed from an ecosystem approach. Concerns relating to all forms of water export which were not considered in the 1960s now must be factored in. These include the effects of climate change for which recent predictions suggest losses of water availability of about 20 per cent for some of the settled regions of the country; the potential biotic
transfer and contamination resulting from the discharges of ballast supertankers withdrawing water from coastal streams and lakes; the fragility of our ecosystems, particularly northern ecosystems, to disturbance; the concerns of First Nations whose ways of life are intimately tied to the cycles of abundance of water; the displacement of communities or depletion of water resources available to downstream communities; and the loss of recreational and commercial benefits.
The measures we propose to address the water export issue must reflect both the current and future focus of export proposals and the broad environmental, social and long term economic impact of such proposals. Bill C-32 fails to do.
This leads to a second concern. We should take action to address the broad range of concerns facing fresh water in a comprehensive way rather than limit ourselves to the one concern of water export. The need for such an approach is based on the growing recognition of the importance of water, the diverse and complex jurisdictional responsibilities associated with sustainably managing water, and the pressures on governments to continue to manage these responsibilities effectively in the current climate of financial restraint.
All Canadians have stewardship responsibilities for water. It is important that we consult with them in developing a comprehensive approach to water export and to the many other freshwater issues currently facing us.
Over the past 10 years the government has consulted Canadians on a wide variety of water issues, most recently through a series of workshops held across Canada to identify water priorities and directions for the next century. Contrary to the suggestion of the hon. member we are not silent. We are taking action. We are currently conducting a review of our programs and legislation relating to sustaining Canada's water resources. It is through this review that a comprehensive approach to water can be developed, including legislative measures to address water export.
I will conclude by reiterating that, first, it is imperative we address the full range of water export options to ensure the sustainability of Canada's water resources and the continued health of our ecosystems. We must adopt measures whether in legislation or by other means which provide a clear approach to resolving the issue and which reflect the concerns of all Canadians.
Second, we must not limit our actions to the single issue of water export in addressing the challenges facing fresh water. Taking a piecemeal approach to the broad range of fresh water issues reflects the ways of the past. We need an integrated and comprehensive solution to sustaining environmental, social and economic health, which depend on water.