Mr. Speaker, it is with great interest that I rise today to speak to the bill introduced by my colleague in the New Democratic Party, an act to prohibit the export of water by interbasin transfers.
Our colleague was undoubtedly motivated to introduce this bill because of the fear that one morning he would see Canadian water basins emptying into American ones. We would see these basins drained or greatly reduced without being able to do anything about it. In light of the present water shortages and climatic fluctuations caused by greenhouse gases, this fear seems entirely legitimate to me and certainly justifies our giving this whole issue serious consideration.
We must ask ourselves whether our water resources are in fact threatened in the short, medium and long term. It is clear to me that water will be an increasingly precious resource in the future and that people, industries and countries will therefore want to lay claim to it by any means possible.
In the era of free trade and globalization of markets, it should come as no surprise that fresh water is becoming a rare, not to say very rare, commodity. We in Quebec and in Canada are lucky enough to have large quantities of this precious commodity and could therefore export it.
The main question we must ask ourselves is this: Can we keep this resource, which is so abundant in this country, for ourselves while other people on the same continent as us are suffering shortages with very serious consequences? Can we not share this resource intelligently for the benefit of everyone?
Moreover, can we leave this resource unprotected, at the mercy of anyone who wants to appropriate it, which may have a disastrous impact on the resource?
The bill standing in the name of the hon. member for Kamloops is intended to deal with interbasin transfers, which means transfers of huge quantities of water. According to the hon. member, it is up to Canada to protect this natural resource, since NAFTA contains no measures to protect or prohibit the export of this resource. According to the hon. member, we need legislation to prohibit massive exports by interbasin transfers.
I agree there are a number of situations that must not be allowed to arise. For instance, the harnessing or diversion of rivers without a licence or without authorization from the appropriate authorities. We must of course prohibit anything that would have harmful consequences for our resource, but is a total ban really necessary?
Since the beginning of this century we have considerably modified our river systems. By using various technologies we have
substantially altered the natural course of our lakes, rivers and streams. Immense reservoirs like James Bay in Quebec, built to produce electricity, and the reservoirs created for the pulp and paper industry are good examples of the impact we have had on our waterways.
Today, few waterways are without a dam, a dike or at least some control mechanism. It is clear that all these changes have had are on a vast territory. Gradually, these changes will have consequences on a huge scale. I think we should consider the impact these changes have had and recognize our responsibility.
We must find out whether these artificial changes in our systems have not had a harmful impact outside Canada. And if so, should we not try to remedy the situation using intelligent strategies that respect the resource?
In fact, in addition to these artificial changes, we have actually changed quality of the water. Throughout the world we have been remiss in the way we treated surface water by polluting it. The consequences are reflected in the exorbitant costs of making water safe to drink, and, even worse, in the dwindling supply of fresh, potable water.
In fact, surface water that is potable without being treated is practically non existent. It is found exclusively below ground at varying depths, and we are now pumping this water in huge quantities to sell it as bottled water. This is another phenomenon which disturbs me and which we will have to look at seriously without delay.
The picture is pretty clear: in Canada we have a lot of water that we use exclusively for our own benefit. In recent years, we have contained and dammed it by various means. Should we today open the gates to the south, to the United States for instance, which sees us as a huge body of water that it may endlessly dip into? Our neighbour to the south feels that we are wasting water because we are not using the huge reserves in the north. But when it comes to waste, we certainly do not have anything to learn from our neighbours south of the border.
Another aspect of the bill introduced by my colleague from the New Democratic Party to which we should give our attention is once again the whole issue of jurisdiction. Even though the federal government has jurisdiction over international trade, is it desirable for it to legislate the export of water? Imagine the situation where Quebec decides to export water from its large reservoirs to the United States, without any significant impact on Quebec's system. Should the federal government block this export if it has no negative impact? The federal government again?
The federal government is certainly no guarantee that the environment will be protected these days. Its disengagement is obvious and very disturbing. I wonder therefore whether we can trust it when it comes to the management of water and the related analyses and evaluations.
Whether it be for personal consumption, irrigation or other purposes, I do not think we should systematically prohibit interbasin transfers. Of course we should conserve, protect and clean up our resource, but we can also share it.
I think there should be a broad public debate of this issue. I also think we must continue to keep water a public resource. It would be a much greater threat to water as a resource to leave it to the private sector. The prospect of making a large profit quickly could empty all of Canada's basins. The public nature of the resource therefore constitutes a good guarantee, a sort of safeguard against possible exploitation.
I think we should also look into this issue of export with an eye to all the possibilities for agreements with future foreign markets that would respect the resource itself and that would be based on complete and transparent impact studies. We must also develop policies with the long term in mind, based on sustainable management of the resource.
I cannot support the bill at this stage in the debate. However, I am considering it and I continue to weigh all the factors. This is a major issue that deserves an open-minded approach and greater study.