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.