Madam Speaker, on May 15, 1998 and again on November 3, 1999, I asked the Minister of Foreign Affairs when he planned to introduce legislation to ban water exports and removals.
Today, the minister introduced Bill C-15, an act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. These amendments will only prohibit the removal of boundary water between Canada and the United States.
While these amendments would cover only boundary waters such as the Great Lakes and Columbia River, they would leave out most of our lakes, many water bodies, the entire province of Newfoundland and et cetera.
This is a most frustrating situation considering the fact that we are still waiting for the water export policy as well as for the comprehensive water policy as recommended by the Pearse report 15 years ago.
Then there is the question of the proposed voluntary accord. I with to congratulate the federal environment minister for taking a watershed approach that would ban the removal of water from its natural basin. Clearly, this is more comprehensive than a simple export ban as it makes ecological sense to stop bulk water removal at the source and not only at the border.
However, the Minister of the Environment intends to do so through a federal-provincial voluntary agreement to ban water removal from major drainage basins. I submit this approach ought to be broadened to all Canadian water bodies and not limited to boundary waters. I am saying this for three reasons or at least two.
First, the proposed voluntary accord would be just that, voluntary. It would not legally bind any province to protect our water resources.
Second, the proposed accord would do nothing to prohibit export initiatives undertaken by municipalities, crown agencies, corporations or even private parties. Even if the provinces wanted to ban water removals and exports, it is the federal government that has the constitutional authority to regulate trade.
Understandably, the federal government hopes that a province by province voluntary ban would treat water protection strictly as an environmental issue and that trade lawyers will not see the disguise.
However, water removals and exports are already a trade issue since there is a challenge under NAFTA brought by a water export company against the Government of Canada for compensation because of British Columbia's decision to ban water exports. Through the proposed accord, the federal government is thus asking the provinces to take their own action on banning water exports.
The government's definition of basins as Canadian is weak because basin describes a geographical feature without regard to political boundaries. The concept of basin is problematic for an accord or legislation intended to secure resources management for political institutions. This is an essential concept for any legislation that intends to withstand trade challenges that are exactly intended to transcend political boundaries.
The proposed accord will lead to a patchwork of provincial initiatives, thus making Canada more vulnerable to trade challenges. The legislation tabled today is, it seems to me, too limited in scope to provide protection to most of our water bodies.
It seems quite clear, that a meaningful protection of our water resources requires the federal government to face the reality of international trade agreements. In search of the most effective strategy to protect our water resources from exports, I would recommend: first, to enact federal legislation designed specifically for the purpose of banning bulk transboundary water removals from Canada; and second, to renegotiate international trade agreements to seek an exclusion or waiver of water from such agreements.
I look forward to the parliamentary secretary's comments.