Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak on the motion before the House today on the marketing of water.
Before getting into the commercial aspect, I would like to address the environmental aspect. We are all familiar with water, as we use it on a daily basis. We need it as part of our diet and for washing.
But that is not our only use of water. Water is found in the environment, in the form of rivers, lakes and oceans. By fresh water, we mean water that contains no salt, the water in streams, lakes and rivers, as opposed to that in oceans.
Where does this water come from? It comes from rain, which runs off hills and mountains to become streams, which flow into rivers, which become lakes, which in turn empty into streams, and then rivers to finally reach the ocean.
If these patterns are disturbed, we change the way in which the lands through which these waters pass are irrigated. If we change the way in which these waters reach the ocean, we will eventually alter the salinity of parts of the ocean.
Water, however, does not just irrigate land or quench our thirst. It also transports heat. And one of the by-products of differences in salinity is that ocean currents transfer heat from the south to the north, where waters cool, drop to the bottom of the ocean and return south.
This creates a thermal equilibrium on the planet and large-scale changes. Therefore, if quantities of soft water were to end up in a specific part of the ocean, its salinity would be affected, and this could have a significant impact on the climate of the planet. When reference is made to transfers between catchment areas, we are speaking specifically and definitely of measures which could affect the runoff of freshwater into an ocean or oceans. The consequences of such a transfer might be considerably greater than we were able to foresee.
The greatest caution is therefore necessary, on the engineering level alone, when contemplating changing the movement of water from one basin to another.
The Bloc Quebecois shares the concerns that have been expressed by a large number of members of this House since this debate began this morning. We must, however, touch on the aspect of commercialization. Here it is possible that the Bloc Quebecois has concerns that are not shared by all hon. members in this House, particularly if they do not come from Quebec.
Where the commercialization of water is concerned, we are looking at water as a natural resource to be exploited, and no longer as an element of our environment. I have already addressed the question of the environment, and it must not be lost sight of.
Let us look as the aspect of exploitation of a natural resource, nevertheless. Small quantities of water are readily moved from place to place to meet humanity's needs. For instance, a municipality can draw water from a lake to pipe it into our homes. In the country, people drill up to hundreds of feet below the ground to tap the groundwater table for their drinking and washing water. These are small transfers.
If, however, these small transfers multiply, the consequences can be dramatic. In the southwestern United States, for instance, farmers and municipalities have made heavy use of the groundwater table for agricultural irrigation as well as other needs.
The water table has been lowered and is drying up. We recognize that water, our natural resource, must be treated in a very circumspect manner.
Water does not renew itself quickly or readily. Today, as it rains, there is an abundance of water. Next year, maybe it will rain less, maybe there will be less snow. The level of the lakes will drop. We must be very careful therefore on matters involving water; still, it remains a renewable natural resource.
So the question arises: Whose responsibility is it to manage the use of this resource on a daily basis? I think that, in all the provinces and in Quebec, municipalities have regulated the careful use of drinking water. A number of municipalities already meter the quantity of water used, ensuring that consumers are aware of the quantity consumed, and keep the cost down, with consumption limited to what is needed.
Other municipalities have regulations on watering. Occupants of even-and odd-numbered houses water their lawns on alternate days. Why? To make careful use of a limited natural resource.
The municipalities are also treating the environment with respect by processing waste water. Waste water containing matter in suspension that could harm the environment is not released back into nature, either domestically or industrially. Who is responsible for making sure such measures are in place? To my knowledge, it is the provinces.
In short, water as a natural resource may be used commercially, industrially or municipally in compliance with regulations that are put in place and applied by the provinces and by Quebec.
Today, we have a motion indicating clearly that this government should adopt regulations and impose measures to make better use of our fresh and drinking water resources.
I am very aware of the importance of caring for our natural resource, water. But I also have a dilemma: the federal government has never had to do anything to ensure communities' access to water resources. It was the provinces, and Quebec, which introduced water conservation, protection, filtration and purification measures. Quebec and the provinces have always shouldered their responsibilities in this sector. So why is the federal government butting in now?
I can understand the federal government, in consultation with the provinces, being given a mandate to make representations internationally, in order to negotiate international accords and amendments to agreements such as NAFTA. This was done in the past, and will no doubt be done again in the foreseeable future.
But if we are talking about authority for marketing the natural resource, I think the federal government is overstepping its bounds. Furthermore, this is an issue in which Quebec has taken an interest for many years and one which has already been in the news for several months in Quebec.
All of a sudden, the federal government wakes up and begins to make a fuss, without realizing that others have already taken the matter in hand, for the very reason that it was their responsibility to do so, not the federal government's.
While I share the concerns of our friends in the New Democratic Party, I differ with them on who has responsibility for marketing this natural resource. We in the Bloc Quebecois will therefore be voting against this motion, which would basically deprive Quebec of its historic rights to manage its water resources and turn those rights over to the federal government, which, to all intents and purposes, has never really concerned itself with them.
I would submit to the House that, if it were serious about playing a useful role in this respect, the federal government would have done so 50 or 60 years ago, by protecting the Great Lakes against the shameful pollution that travelled down the St. Lawrence River, turning it into a gigantic sewer for a number of years.
I can remember swimming in Wolfe's Cove, in Quebec City, in my youth. On a nice summer day, there were 5,000 people on the beaches at Wolfe's Cove. There were beautiful sandy beaches and the water was clean enough for swimming. Only 10 or 15 years later, the water had become a public sewer. And as members may suspect, the City of Quebec was not to blame for all this pollution; it was coming from down from the Great Lakes.
Today, with the international agreements on both the American side and Ontarian side, pollution has been controlled to a large extent. In another 10, 15 or 20 years maybe, we can look forward to having our river back, and swimming will be safe and will not pose a health risk.
As members can see, the federal government's record on protecting our environment and the issue of freshwater and drinking water is not great. I have a problem with a motion like this one being put forward today as if this government, here in Ottawa, were some kind of saviour for the planet, the country or Quebec. So far, the provinces have successfully taken their responsibilities. Arrangements are already in place in British Columbia, and steps are being taken in Quebec. What business does this House have debating a motion on a topic under provincial jurisdiction?