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.


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11:35 a.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I have a question for the hon. member who made clear his party's intention with respect to the main motion. Unless I missed it, he did not say how his party feels about the amendment which states that Canada should not be a party to any international agreement which compels us to export freshwater in bulk form.

The member made an argument about NAFTA and the FTA which I might have expected from someone from the party that was the original architect of the FTA and NAFTA. I contend that his analysis of NAFTA is wrong and he is free to contend that it is right.

Should the hon member's analysis prove to be wrong over time, would he or would he not agree with the following which is contrary to his own analysis but not contrary to mine? If NAFTA proved to be an agreement whereby at some future date, after we had in some way commercialized the export of water and therefore subject to the terms of NAFTA were not able to put an end to that, should we no longer be a party to such an agreement?

Just to elaborate, under the investment provisions of NAFTA when the discussion here today has focused so far on whether or not NAFTA would prevent us from banning exports or putting a ban on exports after we had begun to commercially exploit our water resources for export, it might also be that the investor provisions of NAFTA would be a hindrance to the Canadian government acting. We already know that there is a company in British Columbia which is bringing an action against the Canadian government pursuant to NAFTA in the investor state provision because of a provincial ban.

There are a lot of reasons to believe that the member might be wrong on this. If time proved him wrong, would he be willing to support the kind of action we have recommended in our amendment?

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11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, I do not think it would be in Canada's interest to belong to any kind of an accord where we would be compelled to sell anything that we did not really want to sell, that being bulk water.

With respect to NAFTA as it currently stands, I would like to quote the current Minister of Foreign Affairs when he stated in the House last week “The minister knows from past decades that the issue debated in this House is whether or not Canada is obliged under NAFTA to export water. Of course, it is not”.

I would also like to refer to another position. Tom Hockin who was the minister of state for small business and tourism stated in this House on September 17, 1992 “Here are the provisions under NAFTA. As in the FTA, only water packaged as a beverage or in tanks is covered in NAFTA and water itself was not discussed during the NAFTA negotiations with the U.S. or Mexico”.

If we engage in some kind of a trade dispute with the Americans or another country pertaining to water, should we step aside from the free trade agreement? I would think that would be very wrong for Canadians. I would like to point out to the member that if we have had any kind of record growth in this economy over the last number of years it has been largely due to our resource base and our export driven economy. Our trade with the Americans prior to free trade was about $90 billion in 1988. Today it is well over $240 billion.

Free trade has been very good for Canada. It has been very good for the growth of our economy. However, Canadians want to ensure that we maintain our environmental sovereignty including that of bulk water.

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11:40 a.m.


Dennis Mills Liberal Broadview—Greenwood, ON

Madam Speaker, I want to suggest to the member for Fundy—Royal that the fact that Clayton Yeutter who was the free trade negotiator spent his entire life studying and planning North American water management should give us a heads up. Clayton Yeutter is now on the record as saying that water is a part of the free trade agreement, something he would not say 10 years ago.

It is very important that this House gets its head around this issue.

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11:40 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Madam Speaker, if the hon. member and the government really were that concerned over this issue, they have had six years to bring forward legislation and that has not been done.

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11:40 a.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Madam Speaker, I am very honoured to have an opportunity to speak on a very crucial issue, the debate on water.

The motion before us challenges the federal government to consider that the export of bulk freshwater could be a major detriment to this country's ecosystem and that the federal government act on this.

We have also seen a diminishing responsibility by the federal government by its transferring of responsibilities to the provinces. Water is fundamentally different from any other natural resource on earth. Without water life would cease to exist.

When we look at countries that are asking for our freshwater resource we must ask ourselves whether the unnatural transfer of water is enough to sustain everybody on the planet. Interbasin transfers would require water to be moved over tracts of land that historically may not have been bodies of water. We know that when hydro development floods areas the mercury contamination of that body of water is of vital concern. Environmental, ecosystem and human health concerns must be a large part of the debate.

When we look at Canada's freshwater on any geographical map or when we fly in small airplanes in northern Canada, we view Canada as an indefinite supply of freshwater. I believe hon. members would see through that mirage because that is all it is. The gift of water that has been given to us is very limited. We have to treasure it for our use and under the principles of sustainable development extend it for future generations. We must do this in a collective manner.

The motion also deals with Canada's sovereign right to water. Before any trade agreements are even considered or implicated in the issue of water our in house issue of sovereign right to jurisdiction over water must be addressed.

As I have had a wake-up call, I must remind the Chair that I am sharing my time with the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre.

I will give a lesson to the secretary of state by referring to Winnipeg. Winnipeg is a Cree term, Winnipek. It means dirty water. If we deem the sources of our water to be unclean, just imagine what we have done to the country and its sources of water with the impact of the industrial revolution on the continent.

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11:45 a.m.

An hon. member

The Winnipegization of North America.

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11:45 a.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

The Winnipegization of North America. I challenge the House to clearly define the jurisdiction of water in the country. When the country was negotiated under treaty with the aboriginal peoples the term and rights to water were not defined. Referring to the oral history of treaty negotiations, I will read a passage from a report called “Aski Puko” which means the land alone in which Daniel MacKenzie asked:

When the land was sold what exactly was sold? When the treaty obligations were made, was that just dry land or did that include the lakes and rivers of this country?

In the treaty there is no mention of water being transferred, negotiated or sold. The people mostly make their living from the water and also from the land. However in the treaty there is no mention of water.

The water was assumed as the lifeblood for all nations and all people. Ownership of water was assumed. It was assumed that everybody had access to it. When we discuss interbasin transfers, bulk export, the whole concept of the ecosystem and the impact, obligations under the treaty are in breach.

Let us look at our opportunities under sustainable development. Our challenge is to look after our environment and social and economic needs in an even manner. Water will play a major role in our future.

If we start transferring water to deserted areas such as the desertification of the southwest, climate disruptions are forecast by science. We have seen evidence of that. If we transfer water prematurely it may not address the needs of urban and growing populations to the south or the urban populations of countries that need our exports.

We have to look at how we can sustain our lives in this country. As more people move to Canada and find a home here they must have a place in which to live. We cannot recklessly abandon our water resources.

China will be the first country in the world to literally restructure its economy to respond to its water scarcity. Countries are making such changes. We see examples of cities collapsing in some countries because water is no longer usable. We also have a UN commission on sustainable development that found water usage growing at twice the rate of the population increase.

If we have an abundance of water in Canada we may be abusing the gift of water as we have it now. Jurisdiction is of vital importance. There are communities in northern Canada, most of which are aboriginal communities, that do not have running water or sewage treatment plants because the economic and commercial interests of those regions cannot afford it.

We have an opportunity to create clean, fresh water in the country. In terms of federal jurisdiction there was a major change in the early 1990s when Environment Canada started cutting budgets to deal with the science and research of water. We must revisit our federal obligations to the rightful use of fresh water, to our jurisdiction over water in dealing with our provincial, federal and aboriginal obligations. The Manitoba Natural Resources Transfer Act indicated in 1930 that traditional lands and waters for social and economic benefits must be considered.

All this debate about water is by no means complete today. It is an opportunity for us to review the federal jurisdiction over water and to put a moratorium on the export and interbasin transfer of water.

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11:55 a.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to an issue that is very timely, very critical. I feel strongly about the issue.

Coming from the province of Manitoba, I would like to start my remarks by pointing out that I have some personal knowledge and background of how striking it can be when people get seized of the issue of moving water around on a grand scale in terms of moving water from one basin to another.

As a carpenter working on hydro projects, I personally witnessed the diversion of the Nelson, Churchill and Burntwood River systems to feed water to power hydro electric dams and the devastation that caused, certainly the flooding of the area, et cetera, they had to reclaim to create this great reservoir and the impact it had on aboriginal communities. I think of that first and foremost as we deal with this subject.

I want to share a story with the House because it points to the absolute fixation generations have had on moving water around in a grand scheme. Another reason I raise Manitoba as an example is that the current Premier of Manitoba is an engineer by trade. His engineering thesis was on an idea to use nuclear blasts to blow up the Red River Valley to divert the water from Lake Winnipeg and reverse its flow, as unbelievable as that sounds, to sell the water to the States.

This is recent history. We are talking the mid-1960s. People were seized with the issue. People in universities were playing with ideas that today sound almost comical. They are ridiculous. Serious people were dealing with the idea of moving our water around, never mind the impact on the environment or on future generations.

Contrary to what Brian Mulroney said in 1986, I believe Canada's water is not for sale. I believe our freshwater is a public trust and not a private commodity.

Last May the foreign affairs minister of the current government promised to take measures to protect Canadian water after a public outcry greeted the news that companies were on the brink of exporting bulk water to foreign markets. We were anxiously awaiting measures that might satisfy the fear of Canadians in this regard and nothing has been forthcoming. It is all the more timely that the NDP used its opposition motion today to raise this critical issue.

A drain on our freshwater is a drain on the public trust. This generation of Canadians has been charged with the responsibility to care for this precious commodity. I use that term not in the marketing aspect. It is a commodity, as the previous speaker pointed out, that is more precious than any dollar value we could possibly put on it, given the nature of the health implications of access to free water for any successful community.

Increasing water scarcity and the world-wide destruction of the health of the aquatic ecosystem are creating a global water crisis. It is not overstating it to point out that virtually every country of the world, especially the developing nations, are seized with the issue of access to freshwater as a primary concern.

It is not only the developing nations. Obviously the main pressure on Canada is our partner to the south, our main trading partner, which has serious water problems. It should come as no surprise to us that the Americans are very interested in any idea that might help them to alleviate these problems.

The Colorado River runs dry before it hits the ocean. One of the great water systems of North America is being so taxed and resources are being siphoned out to such a degree that it no longer reaches the ocean. There is such a screaming demand as the population booms in California that the Americans are willing to entertain any idea no matter how ridiculous it may seem to Canadians to get access to something we have an adequate supply of at least currently.

When I lived in British Columbia I remember one of the ideas of Wacky Bennett, another premier under whom I have lived who had some questionable ideas about water. This was Wacky Senior, the original Wacky who wanted—this is wacky in itself—to flood the Skagit valley. He wanted to divert rivers to flood the Skagit Valley. Those members who have been to B.C. would know what a massive undertaking that would be, to divert huge river systems down that valley again into the United States and ultimately to the insatiable market of California.

These ideas keep springing up. This is what is truly worrisome to most Canadians. Often free marketers, often right wing governments, will do almost anything to make water a marketable commodity. It is very much a worry of ours when we heard the Minister of International Trade say: “Today's water will be tomorrow's oil”.

Any time we allow ourselves to think along those lines we are leaving ourselves open to the many people who would like to see water become a real trading commodity and would like to build it into free trade agreements, somehow have a default mechanism or some kind of tied selling mechanism. If we buy into the aspects of a trade agreement that we want and are interested in, we are also going to be tied into some aspect of having to share our water, maybe in a way far beyond whatever we wished or contemplated.

I would think the two examples I pointed out would be disastrous for the well-being of North Americans, using nuclear blasts to blast out the Red River Valley and divert Lake Winnipeg and then flood the Skagit Valley. Those are only two schemes. All throughout history we have been hearing these ideas, recent history certainly.

In 1959 there was an idea put forward by T.W. Kierans of Sudbury called the GRAND project, the great replenishment and northern development canal. His idea was that the rivers feeding James Bay would be dammed up and a series of pumps would then lift the river flow upstream and over the great east-west divide and from there into the Great Lakes.

On that kind of massive restructuring, how could we contemplate being so arrogant as to use the technology that we now have to irreversibly change the flow of water, the great divide? Imagine the impact on the ecosystem. We talk about environmental impact studies. We have never thought of anything on that grand a scale.

In 1964 General McNaughton, chair of the Canadian section of the international joint commission, talked about the North American Water and Power Alliance plan, which again is to flood the Rocky Mountain trench.

Now we have people wanting to flood the Skagit Valley and flood the Rocky Mountain trench and turn it into a giant reservoir for North America, again to divert water to the U.S. and Mexico.

Is it any wonder with ideas like this being floated by credible people, by knowledgeable scientists of the era, Canadians are now forming alliances to try to protect ourselves from those very ideas?

As we speak today the Council of Canadians is in Ottawa speaking to this very issue, voicing its concern that water is to be the next marketable commodity and we are going to be somehow tied through free trade agreements to a relationship that we are not comfortable with and not ready for dealing with water.

Look at the way our free trade agreements tie us into heating fuel, for instance. There are clauses in the NAFTA and in the FTA that if we run short of heating fuel domestically, we are tied to selling at the same rate we are selling it currently to our partners to the south. We are very fearful of similar things coming along to do with water.

There are a few things we must keep in mind. There is a global water crisis. There are corporate water giants eager to use water as a for profit basis to serve the world's needs and our government has not done anything to clearly state what our policy is to be on the international trade of bulk water or the diversion of water from one basin to another.

I hope this opposition day motion is dealt with favourably from all sides of the House. We can feel comfortable that as we form new trade alliances water will not be one of those marketable commodities that we would forfeit.

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12:05 p.m.


Myron Thompson Reform Wild Rose, AB

Madam Speaker, I want to make a short comment to the member.

I am going back a few years, long before he was born I suspect. I was not very old myself but I can remember a certain situation regarding the state of Colorado, the state of New Mexico and the state of Texas with regard to the Rio Grande River which starts in the state of Colorado and flowed down through the other states supplying a much needed water source for both drinking and irrigation purposes, as these farm areas are reliant on water for irrigation.

Somewhere around the 1940s, I believe, the state of Colorado decided to build what it called a continental reservoir. It dammed up the Rio Grande River at its head in an effort to try to conserve much of the spring run-off and then distribute it over the year through some kind of agreement it tried to come up with.

I can remember during those years the emotions and how high they ran over water. I never saw a group of people more emotional, to the point where they were ready to take up arms and have range wars. They were willing to do anything over this supply of water.

I am thinking largely of tributaries that start in Canada and run through to the states. What extent does the member think this country should have over a natural resource such as water that flows to other areas of the world, particularly the United States? What kind of control should we have over that water situation? If he feels we should have strong controls, how do we enforce that without creating the emotional disturbance that I can guarantee it would cause through trying to control a water source?

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12:05 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I think that is a very reasonable question and a good example.

I think there are relationships that have been developed dealing with water rights even within rural municipalities where one creek will run through one person's property and on to another. At no time is the property owner allowed to cut off the supply of water altogether to create a backwater, a slew or a lake on their own property, a reservoir of any kind.

There are water rights agreements that are negotiated. Right back to the Magna Carta there is reference to water rights I believe. I do not think anything in our motion deals specifically with that international flow of natural sources of water. We were more specifically talking about the bulk sale of water and the diversion from one basin to another to make water move in an unnatural way and force it into another basin.

To answer the member's question, which is very legitimate, I believe there are international water rights treaties currently in effect just as there are interprovincial treaties. The most relevant example I can think of is the Garrison diversion project in southern Manitoba which deals with farmers in North Dakota. The river actually dips across the international boundary many times as it snakes its way along the North Dakota-Manitoba border.

The farmers in North Dakota, worried about source, wanted to build the Garrison diversion project on the American side obviously which would nip off the flow back into Canada. That has been stopped by very rancorous negotiating between the provincial government and the state government.

I am comfortable that we have the wherewithal to negotiate the free movement of natural sources of water across international borders. Our motion does not specifically deal with that natural flow of water.

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February 9th, 1999 / 12:05 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Waterloo—Wellington.

Usually when I speak on the identity of Canadians I find myself speaking on our health care system. Today I am pleased that I am able to speak on what is truly our Canadian heritage which is clean lakes and rocky shores.

This discussion is a welcome response to the efforts begun by the federal government over the last year to review and update the 1987 federal water policy. Last summer we began a dialogue with all the provincial and territorial agencies with an interest in water management and on the development of a federal freshwater strategy. Provinces and territories indicated their interest in working with us on solutions to the full range of freshwater issues. Their involvement is important given their primary responsibility for water management in Canada.

The Government of Canada recognizes the priority that Canadians place on clean, productive and secure freshwater resources and ecosystems. It recognizes its responsibility to provide leadership. We believe that stewardship over waters is the responsibility not only of governments but of all Canadians. This dialogue in the House today advances participation, decision, commitment and action by all of us on the entire spectrum of concerns.

I would like to put the discussion on this topic in perspective in the context of our endowment of freshwater resources from coast to coast to coast and the full range of issues which challenge us.

The proposed federal freshwater strategy will focus on issues where we can strengthen co-operation and ensure a more effective response to the challenges we share in the management of our inheritance. It will provide a snapshot of the state of freshwater in Canada, a review of the federal policy over the last 10 years and an overview of federal objectives, principles and strategies and a summary of issues and policy directions.

When the hon. member prepared this motion I am sure he was struck by the breadth, depth and complexities of the issues that define the scope of freshwater policy in Canada today. I hope we can all agree that the policy concerns that face us are much broader and pervasive than the single issue of bulk water exports.

In Canada we are in situation unique in the world. Our supply of water is abundant. In our rivers almost 10% of the world's renewable supply of water flows to the sea. Our lakes cover more than 7% of our land and our wetlands cover almost 15%. Our needs for water are many. Essential for all life, water is required for irrigating crops, supporting fish and wildlife, commercial fisheries, farm animals, recreation, tourism, transportation, manufacturing, for living in a city or at home. Most of our industry and population is located within that narrow band along our southern border. Most of our rivers flow north to the Arctic Ocean.

As a group, Canadians are not doing a very good job of managing our supply of water. At home each of us uses more than 300 litres a day, twice as much as the average European. But there is good news. Manufacturers are making steady progress toward more efficient use of water. In the steel, pulp and paper industries new technology, recycling and higher efficiencies are substantially cutting the amount of water used in production processes.

As elected officials, custodians of our natural resources, we must meet the challenges of conserving, enhancing and passing on to our children and grandchildren our great wealth in water resources. Some of the opposition today raised concerns about drinking water and sewage systems in our cities and towns. This is an issue that must be addressed in the full context of managing our waters. The provision of municipal water and sewer infrastructure is primarily the responsibility of provinces, territories and municipalities in Canada. They are facing significant challenges. Demand for water is increasing while water revenues have not kept up with maintenance costs. Canadians rank second in the world in their per capita water consumption and pay only half the costs of water supply. Over the next 10 years the costs of maintaining this infrastructure are estimated at $40 billion to $70 billion.

Federal water policy has been clear on this issue since 1987. We want to ensure that Canadians have ready access to safe, clean drinking water and to protect our freshwater systems from pollution for municipal sewage systems. We have also worked through the council of Canadian Environment ministers on a plan to encourage municipal water use efficiency.

One of the best ways we have to protect our water is to reduce the demand. Canadians must begin to take steps to conserve this precious resource. In recent years the federal government has contributed over $700 million to water and sewer infrastructure improvements in Canadian communities.

In another area public attention is focused on atmospheric change. Human induced changes to the atmosphere including climate change, ozone depletion and pollution have the potential to profoundly affect the health and viability of ecosystems. Increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases may play a role in increased frequency of floods, tornados, severe storms and similar events.

These could cut down our supplies of clean, productive and secure freshwater sources in various parts of our country.

The government will continue to co-ordinate and conduct research on the impact of atmospheric change on our freshwater ecosystems. The federal government's commitment to research into our water resources is reflected in the science, impacts and adaptation component of the climate change action fund. This fund, which was created in the 1998 budget, commits $50 million per year for the next three years.

Pollution is another important issue. Merely looking at the lakes and rivers in our country, let alone entering the water or drinking it, makes it obvious that pollution is a most urgent concern. Federal legislation in recent years, along with such programs as pollution prevention, a federal strategy for action, has achieved some success in preventing the growth of pollution.

Increasingly aggressive management of toxic substances has responded to Canadians' concerns about the protection of public health. The federal government is committed to having strong legislation and effective programs to protect human health from all forms of pollution, especially those that threaten safe drinking water.

The federal government is co-operating with provincial and territorial governments to advance the science of flood prediction and provide information and services for weather warnings to enhance our forecasting capabilities.

I have indicated the water context in which this motion should be considered. There are many aspects to federal freshwater policies and programs as urgent as bulk water exports.

Let me for a moment address the opposition's concern related to the interbasin transfers of water. The federal government, as clearly articulated in the 1987 federal water policy, does not support in principle interbasin transfers because of the potential impact on the social, economic and environmental integrity of our watersheds. Most provincial water management regimes also respect this principle.

Examples of impacts on interbasin transfers include the potential biotic transfer and contamination, the fragility of our ecosystems, particularly northern ecosystems which are very vulnerable to even small changes and recover slowly or not at all, the concerns of first nations whose ways of life are intimately tied to the cycles of abundance of water, depletion of water resources available to downstream communities and the loss of recreational and commercial benefits.

Again I congratulate the hon. member for initiating a dialogue in the House on this important issue. However, when we consider what legislation and regulation is required, it is vital that these encompass all the major issues. We must not approach legislation piecemeal.

We must work in co-operation and collaboration with provincial and territorial governments which have primary and direct responsibility for the water resources of this country.

This debate is timely. We can support those parts of the proposed motion that call for co-operative action with the provinces and territories and for a focus on the prohibition of interbasin transfers. The federal government continues to work with the provinces and territories to protect, preserve and conserve our freshwater resources for future generations.

We are applying a comprehensive approach that will examine the demands and environmental pressures on Canada's watersheds and water basins. We will be inviting interested Canadians to participate in the development of a federal freshwater strategy this spring. I look forward in the future to a debate on the full range of issues which comprise a proper federal freshwater strategy.

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12:15 p.m.


Nelson Riis NDP Kamloops, BC

Madam Speaker, the hon. member spoke about the context in which today's motion takes place, and I agree that it is a much larger context than simply the focus of the motion. She referred on a number of occasions to the co-operation required between the federal government and provincial and territorial governments.

Could she comment as to whether she sees any role at all for aboriginal people in this co-operation and consultation process? Would she agree that, in spite of what some have referred to as a renewable resource, water is not necessarily a renewable resource? If we upset the ecosystem or the drainage basin or whatever, we may find ourselves in a situation where it is no longer a renewable resource. I think of the Aral Sea situation.

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12:15 p.m.


Carolyn Bennett Liberal St. Paul's, ON

Madam Speaker, this past summer being in Nunavut and recognizing the importance those people place on water and how important it is to their everyday lives and in terms of the international perspective they feel in terms of Canada's responsibility to make sure the world, the north and all the polar nations look after their water, I heartily agree with the hon. member.

I believe that consultation with the first nations is an extremely important part of this government's next step in terms of the consultation process and that they will be involved.

I think the hon. member is right. We must on a daily basis remind all Canadians that we cannot count on anything. We can ruin this resource and that we have to always be prudent caretakers of our most precious resource and that calling it renewable, if we are not taking care, is indeed incorrect and foolhardy.

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12:20 p.m.


Lynn Myers Liberal Waterloo—Wellington, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an appropriate time for the House to discuss this motion regarding the issue of water exports.

I rise in support of the motion before the House today calling on the government to work in co-operation with the provinces to implement an immediate moratorium on the export bulk freshwater shipments and interbasin transfers and to implement legislation giving this moratorium greater force. I think that is very important.

Not only are Canadians very concerned about this vital resource, global demands for water are continually increasing and this trend is unlikely to stop in the near future. We must act now to ensure not only that domestic water resources are protected in times of future demand but that in times of plenty we maintain control of our water resources so as not to damage the ecosystems on which we all depend.

Several members have today mentioned the vital role which water plays in all our lives. This cannot be emphasized too much. We cannot live without water. That is obvious. It is a source of life not only for human beings but for plants and animals and the entirety of our complex ecosystems.

In many ways we are in a privileged position today with roughly 20% of the world's freshwater supplies falling within our borders. It would appear at first glance that we have little to worry about when it comes to protecting our water from commercialization by domestic and foreign investors. After all, since we have so much of it, it seems reasonable to suggest we might sell some of it off to increase our tax base or give it away to those in need.

Perhaps it appears too reasonable. In reality it is simply not that simple. With privilege comes responsibility. While we all understand in the most basic terms how water contributes to our daily lives, to agriculture and to industry, we do not understand the full extent to which water fuels each and every mechanism of life. If we abuse our privilege we may neglect our responsibility.

We have so much water in so many different forms, frozen, in marshlands and some of the world's largest lakes and underground. These different forms are interconnected but we do not fully appreciate how. We cannot afford then to permit actions, the consequences of which are uncertain. The cumulative impact of numerous withdrawals of water, whether for export or not, is a serious concern to all Canadians.

In a 1985 study the international joint commission repeatedly highlighted this issue in particular with respect to the Great Lakes. Individual export projects of apparently minor effect could create pressure to open the Great Lakes and other bodies of water to other commercial initiatives. To be certain the consequences are unpredictable.

We have a duty to protect our water. We have a duty to continue to develop advanced water management and conservation techniques, since the world's water resources are heading toward exhaustion and other countries are looking to Canada for leadership.

We can best fulfil our future role in this regard by taking actions now to protect our water for future generations. While there may be debate among members present on how best to prohibit future bulk water removal projects, whether for export or not, it is important that any public dialogue on this crucial issue be undertaken from a position of truthfulness.

How can I be clearer? Canada is not on the verge of opening the floodgates.

The first reason is grounded in simple economics. No removal of water in bulk export from Canada now occurs because at present the bulk export of water is not economically viable. Shipping by tanker, pipeline or other means is prohibitively expensive due to the high costs of shipping, infrastructure and the low present value of the product. Entrepreneurs continue to explore and propose export initiatives but the likelihood of a profitable venture is remote. For those few exceptions that do occur, none is undertaken for commercial purposes. They are limited to the sharing of treated water with a few neighbouring U.S. communities and a few instances of the trucking of small quantities and volumes of groundwater to the United States.

We do not expect a water export boom now or in the near future. Without the immediate threat of a water export boom or even a mild flow it is essential that we approach this very complex issue from a position of responsibility, bearing in mind that the global need for water could rise dramatically one day. We must take steps now to ensure the protection of the health of our environment for future generations. We must not be lured by the idea of quick votes or band-aid solutions.

The comprehensive approach that recognizes shared responsibilities for water management is exactly what is needed. We must work with our provincial and territorial partners and others to develop an all round strategy that gets it right the first time. We must ensure that in moving to stop bulk exports of water we do not mistakenly infringe upon existing uses of water, for example the case of the bottled water industry.

Value added products like bottled spring water are profitable exports. There is little evidence available to suggest that small scale removals can be justifiably prohibited on environmental grounds. Export trade in bottled water amounts to 240 million litres annually at a value of approximately $173 million.

A few moments ago I mentioned a second reason why Canadians should not be unduly alarmed by the threat of multinational corporations thirstily waiting to suck our lakes dry. Thanks in large part to the Canadian Constitution the provinces have embraced their responsibilities for water management. The federal government has responsibilities for boundary waters under the boundary waters treaty of 1909. Provinces have responsibility for water within their boundaries.

Through its consultations this past summer and fall, the federal government discussed with the provinces the growing network of policies, regulation and legislation in place or that soon will be implemented to prohibit the interbasin transfer and removal of water in bulk from within provincial boundaries. Six of ten provinces are pursuing or have formal legislation, regulations or policy dealing with exports or bulk removal from watersheds. For example, in western Canada British Columbia's water protection act prohibits the removal of water from the province except in containers of 20 litres or less in existing tanker truck shipments.

Alberta's 1996 water act amendment came into force with the promulgation of regulations on January 1, 1999. It prohibits the export of untreated water with special legislative approval. Manitoba opposes interbasin water transfers. Saskatchewan recently announced that it will continue to introduce legislation regarding the removal of water from its watersheds. Ontario has a new policy prohibiting the transfer of service water out of Ontario water basins, including the Great Lakes. It has recently announced its intention to implement regulations to give this policy greater force. Quebec is conducting a public review of provincial water policy at this time. Nova Scotia will soon release a water resource management strategy.

We have every reason to believe the provinces will address the issue of water export. We know that will happen in the very near future. These many legislative mechanisms are already in place or are in the works. It seems clear that the support of today's motion will extend well beyond the confines of this House which is important to note. I look forward to the results of today's vote so we can move forward quickly on this very important matter. There is much work to be done in this area and I look forward to it.

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12:25 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take part in the debate on the NDP supply day motion. The broad thrust of the motion is essentially to protect Canadian sovereignty over our water. While I take issue with the way the NDP may want to achieve that, no Canadian would probably disagree with the objective that Canadians need to have control over our water. We need to decide what we will do with it and Canadians have to come first in that equation.

It has been a longstanding Reform policy that we support the idea that Canadians have sovereignty over their water supply. We indicated that we would have liked to have had the Canada-U.S. free trade agreement and the subsequent NAFTA amended to reflect that position. Unfortunately that was not done, and we have to ask why.

In 1988 when the Conservative government negotiated the free trade agreement with the United States water was not dealt with. Essentially the result of that left some concern as to whether water was on the table. There was a great deal of debate as to whether water was subject to the free trade agreement between Canada and the United States.

Leading up to the negotiations for the NAFTA there was a lot of debate and an opportunity to correct any misinterpretation that might have existed under the free trade agreement itself.

The current Prime Minister was on record on several occasions stating that water would not be on the table in any agreement that he signed. The Liberal red book said that the NAFTA was an opportunity to correct any flaws that existed within the free trade agreement with the United States. Some of the comments made by the Prime Minister at the time suggested that this was a flaw, that water was not properly protected.

I will quote a couple of his comments to verify what I am talking about. On November 19, 1993 the Prime Minister said:

Water and the North American Free Trade Agreement do not mix. Water remains under the control of the Canadian government. I can guarantee that.

I doubt that is the case and I will explain why in just a moment.

A few days prior to that he said:

I will not allow any large water exports to take place as long as I am Prime Minister. Nor will I sign any international bilateral trade agreements that obligate Canada to export water.

Let us examine for a moment what in fact he got. When the NAFTA was negotiated the Liberal government said it would not sign it unless there was a labour and environmental agreement within the main body of the NAFTA. Presumably from his comments the Prime Minister was going to make the case that he would not sign the NAFTA unless he also received a specific exemption for our water.

He got exemptions for raw logs and unprocessed fish, but somehow a provision concerning bulk freshwater exports was not included. What he got was a side agreement that was not adequate. It does not in any way address the concern because it is an appendix. It is not a part of the agreement itself.

The side agreement states:

The NAFTA creates no rights to the natural water resources of any Party to the Agreement. Unless water, in any form, has entered into commerce and becomes a good or product, it is not covered by the provisions of any trade agreement, including the NAFTA. And nothing in the NAFTA would oblige any NAFTA Party to either exploit its water for commercial use, or to begin exporting water in any form.

The essential portion of the side agreement states “Unless water, in any form, has entered into commerce and become a good or product...”.

What does that mean? When could the United States or Mexico ask for Canadian water? As we are aware, water comes under provincial jurisdiction. Presumably any province could say that it wanted to export water, but I do not think that would happen. But that is not enough to cover it.

Water only has to come into commerce. It can be done domestically between companies in Canada. Then we could not say that American or Mexican companies do not have have access to a particular body of water.

The Prime Minister blew it. He said he was going to protect Canadian sovereignty over freshwater, but he did not achieve that. He got a side agreement which essentially says that when bulk water comes into commerce, even domestically in Canada, then under the provisions of the NAFTA and the free trade agreement before it all parties have access to that particular body of water.

Let us examine how that could take place. There have been several proposals put forward by the provinces to have that come into effect. If one province decided that it was going to drain a lake and sell the water to a Canadian company, that is all it would take to trigger the mechanism. Then, under the non-discrimination aspects of the NAFTA, that province could not deny access to an American or Mexican company.

That may not be a bad thing, but let us not try to fool the public. We do not have sovereignty or control over our water as a result of the agreement signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States. It simply does not exist. The only way that we can stop the export of water is to work co-operatively with the provinces to build the awareness that if water from a particular source comes into commerce other companies will have access to it.

It is important to support the NDP motion because we want to ensure that Canada maintains control of its water. We need to set the agenda and that is one way we could do it. The provinces do not have to give a licence to any particular company to build a domestic industry on water exports. The provinces have the right to say yes or no, just the way they do when they give access to forest products. In forest management areas in Alberta or British Columbia the provincial governments have the right to say “You have access to a certain amount of trees in this forest management area”. However, the provinces do not have the right to deny access to an American or Mexican company if a Canadian company has access.

We have to be careful of that provision. Let us not try to fool people. That is the only way that control over our water can actually take place.

I am not sure what the Minister of the Environment envisions in the legislation which she will be introducing in a couple of weeks, but it appears that provincial-federal co-operation is necessary if we are to maintain control.

It is important that Canadians maintain control over their water. What we decide to do with it has to be our agenda. I am not suggesting that at some point down the road Canadians may decide there needs to be some sale of water, but I do not think that is the case now.

This is a very emotional issue. Bottled water is sold on a commercial basis. Then there is the other extreme, that of the interbasin transfer of water which scares the heck out of people. I farm in Alberta. I know what can happen when people change water routes. It is a very emotional issue.

It is very important that we give serious thought to the NDP motion which is before us today. We will be supporting the main motion and we encourage others to do so to try to bring some sense and reason to the whole idea that we need to have federal-provincial co-operation in order to have control over our Canadian waters.

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12:35 p.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, the jurisdiction of water was a major aspect of the hon. member's debate. I had raised in a previous speech jurisdiction over aboriginal rights to water. Maybe he would like to share his views on that.

The motion states “the government should, in co-operation with the provinces”, but there seems to be unfinished business with the treaty obligations that were made during the acquisition of this country and the rights to resources.

Water is a major concern, along with a lot of the aboriginal rights that have been discussed recently.

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12:40 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that under the Canadian Constitution water is a natural resource that is under provincial jurisdiction.

If there are concerns in the area that my hon. friend is talking about, those concerns need to be discussed at the provincial level to see if some kind of an agreement or arrangement can be worked out.

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12:40 p.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, another situation concerning jurisdiction is the issue of Canadian sovereign rights over the freshwater resources of this country.

What is the member's view on the privatization of some of the water sources in this country, either drawn from wells or aquifers, at municipal sites? I know that everybody has assumed that municipal and local governments have jurisdiction over and manage water, but there have been recent developments in some provinces which have privatized water and sanitary services.

What is his view toward this evolution of privatizing those sources of water, which inevitably might be a concern for freshwater as well?

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12:40 p.m.


Charlie Penson Reform Peace River, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am very familiar with the whole aspect of water in terms of groundwater sources available to Canadian residents as a primary water supply. It is a very important issue.

In Peace River a lot of our neighbours farm. We have an oil industry that also uses freshwater from aquifers to recover more oil from the fields.

It is a very important issue that has just been raised. We have to make sure that we protect the water supply for residential use as a primary responsibility because there are other sources of water available to industry.

Saltwater aquifers can also be used to flood those oil formations. They do not have to use freshwater. It is a concern that I have.

A number of people in the area that I live have water wells which are either drying up or levels which are going down. That has probably been happening because the industry has been pumping for something like 100 years. I do not think the industry in that case should have the right to our aquifers of freshwater that have taken in some cases hundreds of years to develop into the quality of water that we have now.

We have to be very careful in allowing industry to use potable water. It is a precious resource that takes time to develop. It seems to me that industry should be allowed to use water in these endeavours, but it should have to use water that is not potable and does not compete with residential usage in Canada.

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12:40 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to the issue of control over our water.

I come from an area that was initially explored by Palliser, who went back to the old country and said “It is uninhabitable. People cannot live there”. However, we do live here and we have turned it into a garden of Eden where we grow specialty crops.

We have created cities, towns and villages in the area. We have a strong diverse agricultural base and it is all because of water irrigation.

My constituency is also unique because the Oldman River flows through the city of Lethbridge and eventually flows through Medicine Hat goes east and north and ends up in Hudson Bay. The Milk River in the south end of my constituency flows south and eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Water is a diverse, strange and important part of our lives. Actually water is the backbone of our life. It is our most important natural resource. It is not a resource like any other; it is unique because without it, we cannot live. We could learn to live without coal. We could learn to live without wood and we could probably learn to live without precious metals. Technology today has enabled us to become less dependent on raw natural resources but it has not enabled us to live without water.

Although every Canadian household pays for water every month on their utility bill, it is impossible to put a price on the value of freshwater to people, plants, animals and ecosystems.

In Canada especially, water has a certain mystique. It has the power to evoke strong emotions in the hearts and minds of Canadians. It is no wonder then that when it is threatened, it provokes powerful emotions. Today we are here to discuss the root cause of these strong emotions. We are here to discuss the future of our most precious resource, a resource that is being threatened.

My NDP colleagues have introduced a motion that would immediately act to protect Canada's control over its water. The motion with the amendment reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should, in co-operation with the provinces, place an immediate moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and interbasin transfers and should introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers and should not be a party to any international agreement that would compel us to export water against our will, in order to assert Canada's sovereign right to protect, preserve and conserve our freshwater resources for future generations.

Although I am glad that we are finally being given the opportunity to discuss this issue in the House, I am sorry it has taken so long. The Liberal government has promised time and time again that it would introduce legislation that would protect our water. Still there is nothing.

In 1993 the present Prime Minister promised that he would obtain a special exemption for water under NAFTA. Exemptions were already obtained by Canada's negotiators for raw logs, cultural industries and some fish products.

In November 1993 our Prime Minister assured Canadians that our water was not for sale. He said “Water is not in NAFTA. Water remains under the control of the Canadian government. I want Canada to maintain control over our own water. It is not for sale. And if we want to sell it, we will decide”.

Of course, we know all to well that NAFTA was signed into effect without exempting water. The problem was that water was never discussed in the appropriate fashion. It was never given the weight of importance it needed to have in those discussions, the importance that it has to Canadians.

In March 1996 the member for Kamloops introduced a bill that would prohibit the export of water by interbasin transfers. It was during debate on that bill that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Cooperation assured the House that the Liberal government was consulting Canadians, that his government was currently conducting a review of its programs and legislation relating to sustaining Canada's water resources. He promised that through this review a comprehensive approach to water could be developed, including legislative measures to address water export. This debate ended several years ago, and we have not seen a single line of legislation that would protect Canada's sovereignty over its water.

On May 15, 1998 the member for Davenport asked the Minister of the Environment if she had plans to introduce legislation to ban the export of bulk freshwater. The member was assured that he had nothing to worry about because the introduction of legislation respecting our water was a priority for her government.

Again in October when the government was asked about a national water policy, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs assured the House that water was of prime importance to the country and that his government would be laying out a comprehensive strategy on the issue in the fall. I have not seen any comprehensive strategies laid out by this government since the fall, let alone one on the protection of our most valuable resource, freshwater.

As time goes on, the issue of freshwater and its control becomes more and more important. We have seen in recent times some actions by foreign countries in regard to our water.

Time and again this Liberal government has failed to protect the interests of Canadians. I am concerned about the future of our freshwater resources. We all know that Canada has the world's largest reserves of freshwater, possessing 25% of the world's supply and 9% of the world's renewable freshwater. I would like to give some scenarios and examples of what has happened in the world and some of the things that have been proposed for our water.

In the last century many of the wars fought across the world were fought over oil. Oil was always considered our most precious resource. It was worth more than its weight in gold. During the 1970s oil crisis our economies were almost shut down because they were denied access to cheap oil.

We have here a resource far more valuable than oil. We have a freshwater resource. It is estimated that the world's consumption of freshwater is doubling every 20 years. By 2025 almost two-thirds of the world's population will be facing restricted water supplies.

The U.S. is the world's largest per capita user of water. Much of the pressure to export our water has come from the Americans. Because of this, some scenarios have taken place in the past. One scenario which has been looked at is the North American water and power agreement, an agreement that would divert the headwaters of the Yukon, Skeena, Peace, Columbia and Fraser rivers for storage in a huge Rocky Mountain trench before it would be diverted to the thirsty American south. The Grand Canal was another massive engineering project that would divert Canadian rivers to feed American industry. I might also add that a member of the Liberal government has recently called for studies to re-examine the feasibility of some of these plans.

As populations shift and move and as droughts intensify, more and more water becomes the topic of discussion. The point I want to make with these examples is that it is more critical now than ever before in Canada's history to protect the power to manage our freshwater resources in the best interests of Canadians. We need a comprehensive water policy, one that has been negotiated with the provinces to ensure the control over our water stays in the hands of Canada and the Canadian people.

The provinces were given control over their natural resources under our Constitution. The federal government is responsible for international trade. It is crucial therefore that this government move immediately to enter into discussions with the provinces to establish a clear and comprehensive policy.

The Reform Party supports the protection of Canada's sovereignty over its water and waterways. It recognizes Canada's unique position as a steward of freshwater resources and the need to protect the quality of our water as an inherent part of our national heritage to maintain biodiversity, to protect health and safety, to support the quality of life for Canadians and to facilitate responsible economic development. It is unfortunate that this government does not share those views.

It is true that water is not specifically mentioned in NAFTA. We allow the export of bottled water. However it is still recognized through a side agreement that water in its natural state in the lakes and rivers of our country is not considered a good. There is concern among trade experts that this side agreement does not go far enough. My colleague from Peace River mentioned earlier that we must open NAFTA through a trilateral discussion and demand that water be given an exemption similar to the exemption that is given to some other natural resources.

The government, in fact the Prime Minister promised to all Canadians that he would protect Canada's water. He guaranteed that water would remain under the control of the Canadian government to be managed in the best interests of Canadians. He has not done that. He has not reopened NAFTA and he has not obtained an exemption for freshwater. In short, he has not adequately protected Canada's freshwater resources. This failure to enact legislation has led to chaos and confusion, and as we have seen, some challenges to our sovereignty not to mention hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits.

It is time for this government to act immediately to protect Canada's freshwater resources. The time for talking has passed.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:50 p.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is certainly creating a challenge of the jurisdiction of water and for the federal government to act.

I wanted to highlight for the record and for the knowledge of the hon. member that the legal status of Canadian water law seems to encompass riparian rights under common law that there is no right to ownership of water found in its natural state. The underlying policy to this rule is that the public at large has a right to reasonable use of water, in such cases as fishing and navigation.

It is only when water is contained or controlled by someone that the characterization of personal property can apply. Examples would be swimming pools and bottled water and that personal property can now be sold. In its natural state under our law, nothing is said on the ownership of water.

We can look at surface water and surface bodies. We know that rivers flow and lake bodies hold the water that flows into them. But the underwater, the aquifers, is a situation where owners of land not adjacent to water have no common right to the water. But when groundwater is governed by the rule of capture, an owner of land can take as much subterranean water as he can capture. That is a question of our law.

When we use the legal term capture, does that mean it is contained or controlled? That is a major concern of the privatization and potential purchase of our water resources, either they are subterranean, underground, or surface. That is the uneasy journey we are taking as Canadians here.

Unless the federal government acts and clarifies these jurisdictions, responsibilities and rights, we are going into the millennium with uncharted water so to speak, because we are not protecting it for future generations of Canadians.

I think the challenge is to deal with that now.

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12:55 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for Churchill River for his question. We spend a lot of time together on the environment committee and I appreciate his concern and his background in environmental issues and certainly in aboriginal issues and how they pertain to the environment. Some of the member's revelations have been very revealing to us in how our native people look at the environment and how it interacts with their lives. Certainly the member's comments are what we are here for today.

We have a resource that is important; it means life to everything. Without properly managing this resource many scenarios and different laws come into effect. Some people think that after building a dam, the lake behind that dam is a container. Once that is done, is that water in a container? Is it then treated differently? Aquifers are treated differently.

Certainly we have to take the time and the government has to take the time to sit down with the provinces and work this issue out. We have called for it. It has not been done. The fact that it has not been done has added to the confusion, has added to the concern of Canadians. Canadians want control over their water. Plain and simple. Overwhelmingly. Very few issues can stir up emotions as discussions of water can.

Over the 20 years of my involvement with municipal politics, clean water and a source of water to feed the citizens of our communities has been on the top of the list for every municipality in this country. To ensure that we have the sovereignty over that, we have to get this government on the road to developing that policy.

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12:55 p.m.


John Duncan Reform Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, as my colleague mentioned, water is quite an emotional issue with most Canadians. We have great sensitivity to our reputation that we are hewers of wood and drawers of water.

Under the NAFTA agreement, unprocessed logs are an exemption. Would it not be most appropriate if water also fit under that same category?

I think that was addressed in the speech but I want to carry it a bit further. A contradiction in view has become apparent this morning, that is the role of the federal and provincial governments in terms of the whole question of bulk water exports. The parliamentary secretary said that this was federal jurisdiction. We certainly have outstanding permits in Canada to this day where provinces have actually issued bulk freshwater export licences.

Would my colleague like to comment on the role of the provinces from his perspective?

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1 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, my home province of Alberta recently passed a water act to control water and to deal with the issues we have come up with. When it comes down to it, the fact that parliamentary secretary has said it is a federal issue, it is not. The provinces have to be involved from the start to put the policy together.

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1 p.m.


Andrew Telegdi Liberal Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is no question water is one of the more important topics we will be discussing in the future. There is a real perception of that now. The hon. member was talking in particular about groundwater.

In terms of the world's freshwater supply, water in the ground in aquifers, which are basically slow moving rivers, accounts for over 90% of the freshwater on the planet. Many people think it is the lakes, rivers and glaciers, but the reality is that 90% is through the aquifers which are connected to lakes and rivers by the hydrological cycle.

One very important issue is who is exactly responsible for what. Certainly in the province of Ontario it is the provincial government that gives permits for the drawing of water. On the Great Lakes we have international treaties, but the fact of the matter is that a watershed is under provincial control. It also passes to federal control and across the border because, as I said before, aquifers are slow moving rivers.

This takes me to another point which is a very important part of the debate. We need to be vigilant in protecting the aquifers. There are many examples where very good quality potable water in aquifers becomes contaminated and is lost for many decades until there is some way of taking remedial action.

I will put a question to the member from the Reform Party in terms of the debate on water. He mentioned municipal governments, provincial governments and the federal government. Would the member agree that we virtually need a high powered conference on this matter to set—