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House of Commons Hansard #177 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nafta.

Topics

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4:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

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.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member from the Conservative Party for his support for the NDP motion.

If he believes that NAFTA protects bulk water shipments and Canada's sovereign right over water, why does he believe then that the United States, especially the state of California, has launched a $220 million lawsuit against the province of British Columbia? The province has forbidden bulk water tanker shipments.

I refer again to the MMT case in which Canada capitulated and gave $13.5 million U.S. to a foreign national and maintained the gasoline additive MMT, which is a neurotoxin, within our borders. I suspect that the state of California and the companies that are there suspect they may have a legal loophole or a legal avenue in which to approach or sue the Government of Canada.

I want to ensure, from his way of thinking, that they would not have a legal approach and that they are basically blowing hot air.

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4:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

Madam Speaker, the free trade agreement was signed; the North American free trade agreement was signed. There is a tribunal to provide dispute arbitration. As far as I know, the trade agreement exists. In the past ten years, as far as I know, James Bay and the Great Lakes have not been moved to Las Vegas.

We must look to the future. We had legal guarantees in the agreement. Now, in the spirit of the motion, it is vital Canada do everything possible to create an effective plan to manage freshwater. It is a finite resource.

We must not forget it represents 3% of all the planet's reserves. That means that we have about one quarter of one per cent of these reserves. It warrants effective management, but it must be management in consultation with local governments, both municipal and provincial, and the federal government, which has the vital job of co-ordinator.

Nothing moves like water. It transcends jurisdictions and we call on the goodwill of all involved.

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4:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Madam Speaker, speaking of comparisons, I would like to remind my hon. colleague from Chicoutimi that, if one compares the planet to a grapefruit, a single seed would be the equivalent of all the water there is on the planet, just one seed. That is not much, compared to a whole grapefruit.

Of that amount, 98% is salt water, and only 2% fresh. Of that 2% freshwater, 20% is located in Canada, and a very large proportion of that in Quebec.

The hon. member for Chicoutimi said he agrees with the NDP motion, because it is a matter of principle, and because we must take care of our water, which is a vital resource. Everyone agrees with that.

I would, however, ask the hon. member for Chicoutimi whether he would be in agreement to the extent of seeing areas of provincial jurisdiction, including that of Quebec—he being a Quebec MP—encroached upon, in order to comply with the motion by the NDP. I await the response of my colleague and friend from Chicoutimi.

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4:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Frontenac—Mégantic, who always has highly pertinent questions, and whom I have the pleasure of seeing in the House on a daily basis.

Concerning this question, yes indeed, I see that as inevitable, since this matter, in the framework of negotiations, while honouring the respective jurisdictions of the various levels of government, calls upon common sense as well as upon a concept very dear to the heart of my colleagues of the Bloc Quebecois, the concept of partnership for attaining objectives of importance to our people.

This is the spirit in which all governments must pool their efforts in order to find a global solution. This affects not only the riding of Chicoutimi, but the riding of Frontenac—Mégantic as well, not only just Quebec or Ontario, but all Canadians, and all the people who live on this planet.

We must, therefore, speak to each other. There is nothing on this earth that brings out interdependency more than anything to do with the environment. I believe that a healthy dose of common sense is needed if we are to come up with any worthwhile results.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the attention being paid today to protecting Canada's freshwater resources. I am also very pleased that this concern extends beyond potential trade of our water resources. I refer more broadly to how we manage our watersheds and specifically to the need to prevent transfers of water between drainage basins or watersheds.

Indeed the watershed is recognized as the fundamental ecological unit in protecting and conserving our water resources. Bulk transfer or removal of water, whether for use elsewhere in Canada or for export purposes, could potentially have a significant impact on the health and integrity of our watersheds. It is important that Canadians work together to ensure that we take a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to protect our resources and our watersheds.

Water is an essential part of all ecosystems, from the functions and life support provided by lakes, rivers and streams to the role of the hydrological cycle in sustaining water in its various forms.

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4:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I have to interrupt the hon. member. I am afraid I have made a mistake. I had not seen the hon. member of the Conservative Party and it was his turn to speak. If you do not mind, he has 10 minutes and then we will carry on.

The hon. member for Kings—Hants, my apologies.

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4:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, we understand the occasional mistake and that is fair.

My apologies to the hon. member from the Liberal Party for he unwittingly was taking the space of a Conservative, which they seem to have done a lot of since 1993. That being the case, that will not always be the case so they can enjoy their time in the sun at this juncture.

The issue and the motion before us is one of critical importance. It is very positive that the New Democrats have brought forward this motion for an important debate today and for an important debate in the future on the issue of water and more specifically on bulk freshwater exports.

I have some concern about the motion upon first glance. I will quote the motion specifically. It recommends that the government “should introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers”.

I would support and our party is supporting this motion. We want to ensure that a debate on this very important topic occurs here in the House of Commons.

We believe that the government should introduce legislation such that there can be a debate in the House of Commons on this issue, a full debate that can delve into this extremely serious issue. That being the case, I think we all need more information before we would necessarily support in the future the legislation which the government brings forward in terms of prohibiting bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers.

We will be supporting the motion today because of the importance of this debate. That being the case, if and when the legislation is actually brought forward, we would appreciate the opportunity to debate fully the pros and cons of the legislation.

It was noted earlier, and it is very important to recognize, that the PC Party did in the NAFTA negotiations move to protect freshwater. During an earlier exchange between my hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party and a member from my party, some questions were raised as to the sanctity of water and the protection of water under NAFTA.

The fact is that trade agreements and trade negotiations are ongoing. This is not a static process. A trade agreement is not reached and then that is the end of it. An ongoing process of negotiation and discussion occurs, not just between countries, but between subnational governments within a sovereign state like Canada. That is an important issue which has to be discussed more fully within this House once the legislation is brought forward. We have to discuss the jurisdictional authority over water within Canada and the roles of subnational governments with the federal government in terms of the jurisdiction and beyond that, the role in terms of the conservation of water.

Water is a unique commodity. It is more fundamental obviously to human life than any other commodity and certainly any potentially exportable commodity.

It is not just a trade issue, it is not just an environmental issue, it is even a foreign policy issue. In a post cold war environment with an increasingly complicated world in terms of foreign affairs, with the declining role of the nation state, water is going to be—it is not a matter of will it be—but water is going to be the source of conflict in the future. In the past it may have been oil or some other commodity, but water in the future will be more important in the role it plays in our foreign policy and in terms of world conflict.

In an age where we talk more of human security versus national security, water certainly plays a role in both. Those will be issues that we have to delve into with significant debate. This type of debate has to exist in the committees for example, environment, trade, intergovernmental affairs, as well as in this House.

The U.S. and Canada have no shortage of things to fight over. We have beer, wheat, lumber, magazines, all kinds of trade issues to deal with on an ongoing basis. Canada has 20% of the world's freshwater supply, most of it in the Great Lakes. The remainder is pouring unchecked into three oceans. The United States with one-tenth of our freshwater has nearly nine times as many people, a great deal of whom want to live in the scenic but dry southwest, but all of whom need water.

Certainly there is growing pressure on Canada to export water in bulk. These attempts of course have run afoul of environmentalists, the Canadian government and Canadian nationalists. Naturally it has ended up in the courts as part of the ongoing process of international trade engagement.

The latest battle in California between Sun Belt Water company and the province of British Columbia is just another example of the types of ongoing negotiations and legal battles that we will have within the NAFTA framework.

We should always expect that these will occur periodically.

It is very important that we do not dismiss at hand the export of water. Some estimates are that 60% of our freshwater supply is wasted. All someone has to do is spend a rain soaked winter in Vancouver to recognize that we have a significant supply of freshwater. A significant amount of our water is running unchecked into oceans.

Certainly water is different. Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians argue that water is different. Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians believe that nothing should be traded. She and her organization do not believe that in any way, shape or form trade can benefit Canadians. I disagree fundamentally with that principle.

We are supporting the motion today because we feel it is an important debate. We will not be supporting the amendment, however, because the amendment is unequivocal and says that Canada should not be party to any international agreement that compels us to export freshwater against our will. The word compels has its inherent ambiguity.

I do not believe that any member of this House has all the facts to make that kind of unequivocal judgment at this time. We need the debate.

Currently the government will dither and dilly-dally as it is wont to do with a number of these types of issues. Water export opportunities are appearing. In Gander, Newfoundland McCurdy Enterprises, formerly a construction company, has a proposal to load water from Gisborne Lake into oil tankers and ship it to parched souls in Asia. There are issues in British Columbia.

There is an economic opportunity but we cannot partake in economic opportunities if they compromise our environmental policy in this country. That is something I would argue no member of parliament would want to do.

We cannot separate economic and environmental arguments. The separation of economic and environmental arguments has led over the years to the degradation of the environment. It is extraordinarily important that these two areas, economics and the environment, are inextricably linked in public policy. We have to get our heads around this.

We will be supporting the motion. We will not be supporting the amendment. We look forward to a legitimate debate in the House of Commons about this very important environmental and economic issue.

We would hope that when that debate occurs we can consider all the spheres of influence involved, including our foreign policy, our policy in terms of foreign aid and our obligations to people in a human security and not just a national security context, and that we deal very seriously with an issue that could very easily be turned into a political issue and not a public policy issue.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, I would just like to ask the hon. member about being compelled. That is part of the amendment we have put forward here.

I would like to ask him how he would describe the whole MMT issue that occurred recently with the federal government. The federal government was challenged on its legislation banning MMT by the Ethyl Corporation which sued it for damages and won.

It seems the federal government capitulated entirely in face of the NAFTA challenge. I would say it was compelled to capitulate by the nature of the trade agreements we have entered into.

Compelled is a strong word but we have to start using some strong language at this point given the history of what we have seen happen on the trade floors and in the courts.

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5:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for her question. It is a very important question. We have two areas of government policy in question here. One is domestic legislation on the environment brought forward by the current minister of trade when he was minister of the environment, and the other is trade policy. There are two separate areas.

I would argue the MMT legislation brought forward by the current minister of trade was badly designed legislation that was not designed to effectively stand up to the rigours of NAFTA and to the questions of national treatment.

National treatment is a fundamental part of trade agreements and our obligations under NAFTA. But national treatment simply means we are obligated in Canada to treat companies from another country with the same treatment that we would provide to our domestic companies.

If legislation is designed effectively that would apply for instance to our domestic companies in a non-discriminatory way, to protect the environment, that legislation would be tenable under NAFTA. If legislation is designed very specifically to target one foreign company it may not be tenable. That is why we have to become more rigorous as legislators in developing legislation that can stand up to the rigours of national treatment and the questions therein. I would argue that it was bad legislation. It was poorly designed and it did not stand up.

The whole question of national treatment boils down to one fundamental question. If we would not allow a Canadian company to participate in environmentally unsound behaviour then we would not allow a foreign company to participate in environmentally unsound behaviour. It is a national treatment issue. Pollution and environmental externals do not know national boundaries.

I do not see and have not been convinced by any of the opponents of liberalized trade how national treatment can jeopardize our environment if legislation in Canada is designed to stand up to the rigours of those trade agreements that we have signed and received the benefit of as Canadians.

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5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Bryon Wilfert Liberal Oak Ridges, ON

Madam Speaker, I welcome the attention being brought to the House today regarding the protection of Canada's freshwater resources.

I am pleased that this concern extends beyond potential trade of our water resources by referring more broadly to how we manage our watersheds and specifically to the need to prevent transfers of water between drainage basins or watersheds.

Indeed the watershed is recognized as the fundamental ecological unit in protecting and conserving our water resources. Bulk transfer or removal of water, whether for use elsewhere in Canada or for export purposes, could potentially have a significant impact on the health and integrity of our watersheds.

It is important that Canadians work together to ensure that we take a comprehensive and environmentally sound approach to protecting our water resources and their watersheds.

Water is an essential part of all ecosystems, from the functions and life support provided by lakes, rivers and streams to the role of the hydrological cycle in sustaining water in its various forms.

Access to adequate supplies of clean water is crucial 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 of water, from farming, forestry and industrial development to tourism and the recreational sector.

With 9% of the world's renewable freshwater resources it is easy for us to assume that Canada has an abundance of water. Given that Canada's land mass is approximately 7% of the world total, 9% of its water does not seem disproportionate.

If we consider the imbalances in geographical distribution of water resources, the question of abundance becomes more relevant. About 60% of Canada's water flows northward while 90% of the population and most of Canada's industrial activity are found within 300 kilometres of the Canada-U.S. border where freshwater resources are increasingly in demand and some areas are polluted and unsafe.

In addition to these geographical variations in water abundance, Canada also experiences significant variations over time in water availability. For example, the Red River in southern Manitoba has experienced flows ranging between 1 cubic metre per second and 2,700 cubic metres per second. The Great Lakes watershed, which is home to 9 million Canadians and 33 million Americans, is experiencing its lowest level in 15 years.

Compounding these short term variations, climate change is expected to result in significant changes to water availability in different parts of the country. Thus although Canada would seem to possess substantial water resources, there are regions in Canada in which scarcities exist or will exist.

We must therefore have a strategy to ensure that water resources are managed and protected for future generations. It is clear that interbasin transfers involving man-made diversions of large quantities of water between watersheds have the potential to cause the most significant social, economic and environmental impacts.

However, we cannot ignore other means of bulk water removal such as by ocean tanker or pipeline which may cumulatively have the same impact on watersheds as large scale interbasin transfers.

For this reason I consider it of paramount importance that the issue of bulk water removal, including for export purposes, be considered in its entirety and that we not develop solutions to one problem at a time at the expense of a more comprehensive approach.

Over the last 30 years concern about large scale export of Canadian water resources has risen primarily as a result of proposals to divert massive amounts of water to the United States to deal with water shortages or to allow for increased agricultural, industrial and urban development in areas of the United States with limited water supplies.

Several of these proposed megaprojects are worth mentioning. One of the largest continental water transfer proposals and probably the best known is the North American Water and Power Alliance project of the 1960s. This project would have involved the diversion of water from Alaska, northwestern Canada and watersheds surrounding Hudson Bay and James Bay to arid areas in the western United States, the prairie provinces and northern Mexico.

Another proposed megaproject was the grand recycling and northern development canal which would have transferred James Bay into a freshwater lake by building a dike between it and Hudson Bay and impounding the rivers that empty into the bay. The flows of rivers would have been reversed to deliver water to the Great Lakes and from there to other destinations in North America.

These megaprojects, while having the potential to create jobs and investments in Canada in the short term, would not benefit Canadian society in the long term.

The federal water policy of 1987 addresses Canada's experience with interbasin transfer projects by advocating caution in considering their need and by endorsing other less disputed alternatives such as demand management and water conservation.

The current focus of water exports proposals, however, is by tanker ship using water from lakes and streams such as last year's proposal to export water from Lake Superior to Asian markets, 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 so has our understanding of the scope and the extent of potential environmental social and long term impacts. As I have already stated, bulk water removal, including export, must be viewed from a watershed approach.

This leads to the second concern that we take action to address the broad range of concerns facing freshwater in a comprehensive way rather than limiting ourselves to one export of water.

I support this motion. I believe a comprehensive approach is what Canadians deserve and what Canadians will get.

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5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

It being 5.15 p.m., it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith any question necessary to dispose of the business of supply.

Is the House ready for the question?

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5:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Amendment agreed to)

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The next question is on the main motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(Motion, as amended, agreed to)

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

At this point I would like to ask for unanimous consent to consider the clock as being 5.30 p.m. so that we can proceed with tonight's votes.

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5:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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5:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

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5:40 p.m.

NDP

Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think Canadians who have been watching the debate all day should know that the motion that was debated today and the amendment proposed, by the NDP, passed the House unanimously just a few minutes ago. A statement has been made about water exports.

The House resumed from February 4 consideration of the motion and the amendment.

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5:40 p.m.

The Speaker

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, February 4, 1999, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the amendment relating to the business of supply.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 312Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the amendment defeated. The next question is on the main motion.

Division No. 312Government Orders

5:50 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Kilger Liberal Stormont—Dundas, ON

Mr. Speaker, I believe you would find unanimous consent to apply the results of the vote just taken to the main motion now before the House.