Madam Speaker, I would first like to say that our party will be supporting this motion, not because we find it a rigorous or well defined motion but rather because we find it a motion that sounds a sort of alarm with regard to freshwater.
The main point of the motion is simply to act to ensure that throughout Canada there is an effective freshwater management plan.
What is a little hard to accept is the fact that the NDP motion gives us the impression that life starts today only. I would point out to my NDP colleagues that considerable effort has been made in recent decades—not 100 years ago, but in recent decades—because that is a fact. Parliamentarians, like their fellow citizens, evolve at a normal rate. Problems arise, we become aware of them and we develop ways to resolve them.
The current government and the previous governments acted to protect flora and fauna, for example with the acid rain treaty. We realized that massive destruction was going on. The agreement was signed by the previous government, and I think it was effective. Sometimes we forget too easily.
In the area of the St. Lawrence action plan, I can tell members that tens of millions of dollars have been invested to protect our waterways, particularly the Saguenay fjord, where whole pockets of shrimp have been flooded with industrial waste. Some changes take place slowly, but at an acceptable rate.
I do not think we should address this motion as one that is dogmatic and that will make everything better. No, indeed. The issue requires realistic treatment. Things were done in the past.
Our NDP colleagues put everything in terms of the free trade agreement. People have spoken today confirming that the agreement protects this aspect, protects our country against massive exports of freshwater.
I will quote later from the speech that was made at the time on the protection afforded freshwater by the FTA and NAFTA.
This proposal is also somewhat petty and lacking in solidarity. Freshwater is Canadian property and international property as well. My colleague from Frontenac—Mégantic referred earlier to the whole commercial aspect of renewable resources. I think we must devise a work plan for efficient management, “in co-operation with the provinces”, as the motion states, I might add.
It is important that commercialization not be excluded from the word go. We can never tell what the future holds. At present, there are situations which we feel could potentially take on dramatic proportions around the world. In the early stages of developing a management plan, one cannot say “We are closing the door completely on providing any support to countries where there is a clear lack of other resources”.
Will the technology ever be developed to take salt out of seawater? Maybe, maybe not.
We must put in place an efficient management plan. That is what makes me say that there can be no jurisdiction. This is an objective we must set for ourselves as a nation, in fact as a continent. Nothing more clearly transcends municipal, provincial, national and continental jurisdictions than the introduction of a plan that will help us improve management of our resources on a large scale.
Large-scale plans are fine but, as a general rule, this calls for effective municipal action. I remember the water purification program of the 1980s. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, many municipalities in Quebec were denied the benefits of the national water purification program, but there is no doubt about the importance of having such a plan in our municipalities, however costly or technically challenging. Furthermore, it has not yet been completed.
We must approve this motion for its very laudable goal of having all levels of government work together to implement something sensible and intelligent, without closing the door to continental or international exchanges of assistance, because one never knows what the future holds in store.
It is also important that the government be able to react positively to this issue, because major changes are under way. Right now, we are not in a position to forecast future climatic changes. These changes are apparently happening faster than anticipated. This is therefore one more reason to urge the government to take rapid action in a sector that we feel is vital to our future.
It is my hope that, as was the case for the St. Lawrence action plan and the creation of a marine national park in my region, among other initiatives, the development of a national, provincial and even continental plan can take place without any bickering, since this would only make us waste time. I have often seen a lot of time being wasted during federal-provincial negotiations. In the end, the losers are our fellow citizens.
I was pleased to see government members confirm that both the FTA and NAFTA guarantee total protection against bulk exports of freshwater. Indeed, I was pleased to see this confirmation from government members, since they voted against free trade at the time.
The 1988 election campaign was run on that issue. The Liberals claimed that the Americans would come and take all the water from our lakes. It was going to be terrible. Yet, at the time, we had confirmation that freshwater exports in very small containers were the only thing that had been agreed to during the negotiations.
This shows that demagoguery often rules in politics. We must live with that reality. Over the middle and the long term, history eventually vindicated those who negotiated that agreement in good faith.
I have a quote that shows the position taken at that time. It is from Mr. Wilson, the Minister of Industry, Science and Technology and Minister of Foreign Trade, who said “Permit me to repeat what the free trade agreement expressly provides, and which will also go for the North American free trade agreement as well. It is clearly understood that neither this nor the agreement applies to water, meaning surface and underground water”.
He continued “What I said in my initial response describes the position and the policy of the Government of Canada with respect to the export of water. Water may be exported in bottles. Bulk export of water, especially the diversion of waterways, is not”. It was clear at the time.
In short, we will support this motion, which is a motion of principle sounding an alarm on the importance of having a management plan, in co-operation with all other levels of government, and I thank my colleagues for putting it to the House.