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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

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Just a small one. It is going to be so small that by the time I hit I am up again.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Reform

Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, just to clarify, I thank the minister for that. It has also been posted to the Health Canada website. In other words it is on the Internet. I would just like assurances that it has been removed from there as well.

I accept the minister's apology and thank him for that.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Could the hon. Minister of Health address himself to the point on the website?

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Allan Rock Liberal Etobicoke Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will direct that it be removed from the website and put in the appropriate place.

PrivilegeOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Good. This matter is settled and I will not have to rule on it.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to clarify an answer I gave yesterday to a question by the member for Wild Rose. May I be permitted to continue?

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

If it is clarification, it has to be very short. It is not debate so make the clarification now.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Eleni Bakopanos Liberal Ahuntsic, QC

Mr. Speaker, yesterday a question was raised by the member for Wild Rose regarding two cases involving sentencing of aboriginal offenders. I stated that these two cases were on appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada when in fact there are two other cases. There was confusion in terms of the cases that were before the supreme court under section 718.2(e). One of these cases, R. v Gladue, has been heard and is on reserve. The other, R. v Wells, also involves conditional sentencing and has not yet been heard.

I want to also put on record that the sentencing judges clearly stated that although they considered the offenders' aboriginal background, this was not a factor that affected the sentences that were ultimately imposed.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

An hon. member

Shame.

Points Of OrderOral Question Period

3:10 p.m.

The Speaker

Order, please. I think we have got to the point where the hon. member has made her clarification. The rest is debate.

The House resumed consideration of the motion and the amendment.

SupplyGovernment Orders

February 9th, 1999 / 3:10 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, of all the defining issues of the next century, indeed of the next millennium, water has to be the most important one.

As our pulse beats every 60 seconds we lose 50 hectares of forests around the globe. That means every year we are losing 30 million hectares of forests or well over twice the size of Nova Scotia. As a result the desert is gaining ground at the rate of 10 million hectares per annum or almost the size of Nova Scotia.

The environmental organization UNEP, United Nations Environmental Program, has shown through its statistics that if we were to add the desertified lands of the world together we would have a surface in deserts equal to North America and South America combined. This gives us an idea of the immensity of the water challenge.

Our forests are disappearing. The desert is gaining ground at an exponential rate. Our rivers are silting and drying up. Our groundwater is being depleted again at a huge rate. For all these reasons a country's water resources have become its most precious asset, its most valuable resource.

Many of us live under the comfortable but false assumption that our water resources are so immense as to be inexhaustible.

But it must be remembered that our freshwater resources represent only a fraction of the planet's total water resources. In fact, 97% or more of the planet's water resources are salt water. Only 3% are freshwater. And of these, the freshwater resources visible to us, our lakes, our rivers, the waterways that seem so never-ending to us, represent only a tiny proportion of the total freshwater resources, the great bulk of which lie beneath the earth's surface to form the water table.

The fact of the matter is that, in many American states today, particularly in the West and Southwest, the water table has been seriously depleted.

The more the water resources of certain American states dwindle, the more the U.S. has its eye on our resources in Canada. Certain companies, even in this country, see this as a golden business opportunity.

Thus pressure grows for Canada and its provinces to sell our water resources for commercial reasons and for profit. Those who would sell and buy our water resources would argue that we are blessed with water resources which are among the world's most prolific. This is true. Indeed the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes basin alone accounts for something like 20% of all surface fresh water of the globe.

I think we should put this in perspective. May I take the example of the same Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin to show how much we use, overuse and abuse our water. Every day out of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence we draw 655 billion gallons of water or 2.5 trillion litres of water. This is equivalent to putting water into 19 million jumbo tank cars each 65 feet long and with a capacity of 34,000 gallons. If we strung them together one after another they would stretch for 237,000 miles or 9.5 times around the earth at the Equator.

These mind-boggling statistics give us an idea of how much we have abused and used, day in and day out, the resources of just one water basin.

We should reiterate that of all our natural resources water is by far the most precious. I back the remarks of my colleague from Davenport that NAFTA has nothing to do with that. NAFTA provides for water in bottled form. We should not be constrained by ideas that we have to ask the Americans for permission to protect our water resources.

I congratulate the mover of the motion. We cannot at any price sacrifice our water resources for export whether on a large scale, medium scale or small scale. As parliamentarians and as Canadians we must send strong signals to the Americans and anybody else, to those who would sell our water for profit, to those who have grand designs for grand canals and small canals and bulk exports to make money, that our water and our water heritage are not for sale. They are not for sale at any price, not now, not tomorrow, not the day after, not the day after that or at any time thereafter.

This is why I agree with the motion. We must move without delay to protect our water resources. This is why I will support the motion when it comes to the vote.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, my question is for the hon. member and his colleague from Davenport for whom I have tremendous respect for their work on the environment committee.

He is saying that we do not have to be concerned over the NAFTA when it comes to bulk water shipments or sale of our water. We recently lost a court decision. Actually we did not lose it. In our perspective we caved in to the MMT decision and gave the Ethyl Corporation $13.5 million U.S. We were unable to ban within our borders what is known as the manganese additive in gasoline which is a neurotoxin.

Is he and his party that confident in terms of the current court case in California against the British Columbia government? I am assuming from his projection that they will not be successful in the courts in suing British Columbia or the federal government in their prevention of bulk water shipments from British Columbia.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, there is a very significant distinction between the MMT case as it was adjudicated in the internal provincial-federal trade tribunal. The gist of the case was the banning of interprovincial trade in MMT which was found by this particular tribunal to be invalid.

In the case of water it is very clear that this issue does not arise. It is also clear that NAFTA, as my colleague from Davenport underlined, does not refer to water except for bottled water. The very fact that it mentions bottled water and no other water means that the design or the intention of the drafters was not to cover other water resources than bottled water.

It would seem to be begging the question to try to introduce into NAFTA something that is not there in the first place. Also it is such a huge issue for us, far larger than any other, that we should move forward. We should produce legislation. We should challenge the Americans with the fact that this is our natural heritage. It is our water. They are our water resources. We have every right in the world to protect them and we will. I really believe our resolve should be there.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Harvey Progressive Conservative Chicoutimi, QC

Madam Speaker, I wish to congratulate our colleague, whom I had the pleasure of working with on the national marine park bill. His contribution was a constructive one.

I would like some clarification from him with respect to municipal, provincial and federal jurisdictions. As I see it, there is no issue more important to the province, the nation, or the continent than the issue of freshwater.

Would he comment on the issue of respecting jurisdictions? This is an issue that should lead to a very close partnership.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I could not agree more with the hon. member for Chicoutimi. In fact the gist of the motion is that the entire issue of protecting our water is one that naturally affects all jurisdictions.

One cannot think of water as coming under the jurisdiction of one government or another. All governments must work together, that is the meaning of the motion. My reading of the motion, which I support, is that there must be closer interaction between the provinces and the federal government. I think that all of the municipalities must be involved as well.

I am totally in agreement with the hon. member, that this must become a matter of the highest degree of partnership, and that is what the motion is all about.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:25 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, after a long period of drought no one can deny the feeling of exhilaration and renewal that a summer rain provides. I remember that as a small child wearing a light summer dress running along the street of my neighbourhood I was drenched while the rain came pouring down from the sky. The joy of the refreshing shower dances in my memory to this day.

As a child I grew up in Port Arthur, now part of the city of Thunder Bay, along the shores of the largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior. At night snuggled deep under my covers I would listen to the fog horns guide the ships safely to and from the harbour. I would play on the beach and swim with my cousins in the chill bracing waters of Lake Superior. With my father and mother I would walk along the harbour and watch the sailboats zip along its chalky blue surface, their tiny white triangular sails filled with the full force of the wind.

Water is inextricably linked to all forces that create and sustain life. As human embryos begin and develop they are sheltered within the watery womb of their mothers. Water makes up 70% of our bodies.

Healthy economies depend on healthy potable water. We need clean water for agriculture to grow our food, to manufacture our goods, and to mine minerals and metals from the earth.

We need the waterways that are provided by this tremendous natural resource to ship the foods and goods we grow and make. Our waterways provide natural playgrounds throughout all of Canada's seasons to allow us to recreate and refresh ourselves, to play together as individuals, families and communities.

In my riding of York North, Lake Simcoe has provided economic, social, recreational and spiritual benefits to all people who have lived there on Simcoe's islands, along its shores and within its watershed. From the Chippewas of Georgina Island, the first nation who claimed this area as its ancestral homeland, to the most recent immigrants and visitors to Canada and to the area, Lake Simcoe is crucial to the future well-being of York North.

Some think that Canada has an overabundance of water. It is true that Canada has one-fifth of the world's freshwater. However, Canada's water must not be for sale. Water is a blessing and as a people Canadians are well blessed by our many natural resources. However we cannot take our natural heritage for granted.

We fall into the trap of thinking water is a renewable resource. We must never forget that only 1% of the waters of the Great Lakes are renewed each year. The other 99% was stored at the time of the last glacial melt 20,000 years ago and was gradually renewed over time.

Water is not a limitless resource. It is finite. We must not only conserve the amount of water used. We must also protect our water quality from contamination.

Worldwide water consumption is doubling every 20 years, more than two times the rate of increase in human population. Canadians at all levels must act to conserve water and reduce consumption.

Governments can provide leadership and incentive for businesses and individuals to use water more wisely through new production practices, recycling waste water, low flow toilets, et cetera. Toxics enter our aquatic ecosystem through land and airborne means, jeopardizing water quality.

Strong legislation to control toxic substances is crucial to ensure safe potable water for Canadians and for Canadian industries. Canada needs a federal sustainable water strategy.

The Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Great Lakes United, in their recent document “The Fate of the Great Lakes: Sustaining or Draining the Sweetwater Seas”, have outlined a fundamental first step for preserving the Great Lakes basin. While this strategy deals with the Great Lakes basin, there are important insights for a federal water strategy.

The plan should include a water conservation strategy, plans to reduce the impacts of agriculture, the power industry and the mining industry on water levels and flows, guidelines for communities to live within water supplies available within their watershed and a determination of ways to avoid the negative impacts of privatizing water services, of free trade and of diversion.

Today members from many public interest groups are gathering in Ottawa. They have an event called water watch. It is a kick-off to a major initiative to raise awareness of water issues. I encourage all members of the House and Canadians watching today to follow this very important initiative.

Each level of government should adopt the strategy I just outlined in a way that makes it legally binding and by changing their laws, regulations and programs to ensure that the water strategy is carried out.

The motion before the House asks the government to place a moratorium on water exports and interbasin transfers and to bring in legislation that prohibits bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers in order to assert Canada's sovereign rights to protect, preserve and conserve our freshwater resources for future generations. I urge all members to support this motion.

Canadians expect their federal government to preserve our natural heritage. Depletion of water through use or by pollution is not acceptable. Water is not a commodity that can be sold to further a single economic interest.

Canada's water belongs to all of us. It is our responsibility to conserve it and protect it. It is our blessing to share as a people.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Madam Speaker, in addition to living things, our ecosystem is made up of four non-living things, and these four must be shared by all of the living things on this planet.

These are, of course, the air, the water, the earth, and the sunlight. As far as air and sunlight are concerned, members will agree that there is not much we can do to control them. As proof of this, a disaster can occur in Russia, and we bear the consequences three or six months later here. That is what happened after the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl. The radioactivity spread to the Canadian north, where the animals were the victims of the disaster in the food chain.

We can, however, control the water and the earth. When my distinguished colleague says that Canada is the sole manager of its water, I beg to disagree. In the Chicoutimi region, ground water is part of a natural resource.

Natural resources, whether you like it or not, are a matter of provincial jurisdiction. They are not going to seize on today's motion and use the need to manage and share water as an excuse to appropriate another area of provincial jurisdiction.

I would like the member who sits on the Standing Committee on the Environment to be more specific on the management of the water table.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his question. Certainly the hon. member was a very active member of the standing committee on environment and sustainable development in the previous session of the House. I think it is important to note, as I outlined in my speech, that we have to think about the quantity of water we have to preserve and about the quality of water.

I talked about airborne pollutants and pollutants that come by other means. These pollutants and toxic substances enter into our ecosystems and they enter into our groundwater as well. As the hon. member well knows, there was a recent case at the supreme court which upheld the federal government's role in controlling toxic substances, that it was indeed a matter of federal jurisdiction. We all know as well informed members on both sides of the House that pollution knows no boundaries.

I suggest that if we want to ensure the quality of our groundwater to ensure that Canadians, whether it is in their homes or in their businesses or on their farms, have access to good quality water, water that is coming from the ground. Groundwater, as the hon. member has pointed out, is a responsibility of the federal government in that the federal government has by the Supreme Court of Canada clear jurisdiction in the area of managing toxic substances.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, I congratulate the member for her reply to the member for Charlevoix and also for her fine speech.

The member spoke about the importance of water quality. I wonder whether she would like to elaborate for a moment on her thoughts as to how the quality of water could be improved at the present time.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, in a recent study on environmental attitudes in a wide variety of countries it was very clear that the vast majority supported strong environmental legislation for the protection of our ecosystems and for the protection of our health.

It is not just in Canada that we have a group of enlightened citizenry but indeed globally citizens are enlightened.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am sorry, but the time has run out.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from Vancouver East.

I am pleased to speak today on the motion by the New Democratic Party to ban the bulk export of our water. This issue is very important to me and to my constituents in the riding of Churchill and indeed to all Canadians.

One of Churchill's most important natural resources is its fresh water. My riding is known for its clear blue lakes and rivers. They are one of our best tourist attractions. Every year they draw thousands of campers, cottagers, hunters and fishers. The waters are also the lifeline of our commercial fishing industry.

The health of our lakes and rivers is the backbone of that important industry. Lakes and rivers are also extremely important to the way of life of my aboriginal constituents. They too understand the environmental damage that would result from the bulk export of our water.

I am very disappointed in the lack of action from the Liberal government to protect our freshwater up to this time. Its lack of action is what has prompted the New Democratic Party to bring forth this motion before the House.

It is not as though the Liberal government did not know this issue was coming. Last May the Minister for International Trade said: “Today's water is tomorrow's oil”. We all know we can live without oil but we cannot live without water, and it is the telling tale of this government when it considers water as a commodity like oil rather than the vital element it is.

For years the government has been assuring Canadians that the North American Free Trade Agreement would not affect water. Now we see that these assurances are not holding true. An American company is suing through NAFTA because of a B.C. law that bans the bulk export of water. At least B.C. has a law to strike down. The Liberal government has done nothing at the federal level to protect our water. It has left B.C.'s New Democratic Party government to fight alone to protect Canada's freshwater.

The heart of this issue is whether we are to treat water as a market commodity. Some free market theologians argue that everything should be a commodity. We in the New Democratic Party have nothing against free markets. However, we believe there are things that belong outside the free market. There are things that society should make a conscious decision to deal with differently and not leave to the whims of the market.

I am sure most Canadians would agree with this. One good example of something that most Canadians think should not be on the free market commodity is drugs. To steal a line from film maker Michael Moore, if absolutely everything was a free market commodity, General Motors would sell crack. This seems like a funny and strange thing to say, but it shows that some things do not belong on the free market. Society has decided that drugs should not be available on the free market and government has made the laws to make that happen.

Another thing that Canadians do not want to see treated like a commodity is health care. All we have to do is look south of the border to see what a disaster it would be if we treated health care like something to be bought and sold. Millions of Americans do not have the security of health insurance. The American health care system also blows away the argument that the free market is always more efficient than a public system. Americans spend more per capita than Canadians on health care. Yet Canadians have universal coverage. Our public system of health care costs us less and covers the entire population. So much for the myth that free market is automatically more efficient.

Canadians rightly believe that health care is a right. It should be available to everyone, not only to those who can afford to pay for it on the free market. This is the principle that drove New Democrat Party founder Tommy Douglas when, as premier of Saskatchewan, he introduced public health care to Canada.

We in the New Democratic Party believe that freshwater, like health care, should not be treated like a commodity. Like health care, water is a necessity of life. We all need it to survive. We use it to water our crops and raise the animals we eat. Comments like the trade minister's comparison of water to oil show that the government does not see it that way. The trade minister apparently thinks water is a commodity.

Removing large amounts of water from our ecosystem would be a disaster. It would damage our forests and our fish habitats. These habitats are vital to our tourism and our commercial fishing industries. On top of all that, we cannot predict how exporting large amounts of water from our ecosystem will affect our rain and weather patterns. If I were a farmer on the prairies I would be very concerned about this.

Our ecosystem cannot afford to lose those large amounts of water. If the government is sincere about wanting to protect our water and our environment, it will support our motion and it will move with great speed to initiate the required legislation. Canadians are tired of the government telling them our hands are tied by trade deals. We have seen a pattern of cave-ins from the government. It caved in on protecting Canadian magazines. It caved in on MMT.

Each time it points to the trade deals and says “it is not our fault, we have to obey our treaties. It is the government's fault. If our trade deals are to prevent the government from doing what is right for Canadians, then we should not be signing those deals. I am all in favour of trade deals but we should use some common sense and not sign deals that strip away power from our democratically elected governments. If this government will not stand up for Canada's sovereignty, it should move aside and let someone else.

Whenever I hear the Liberal government say we have to honour our trade deals, I cannot help but think about our treaties with the first nations, treaties that are as legitimate as the trade deals with other countries like the United States. I cannot help but notice the double standard. The Liberal government treats its treaties with foreign countries like they are carved in stone but feels free to ignore aboriginal treaties whenever it wants. It is interesting to note that our treaties with the first nations include rights and title to water resources, but it does not just apply on reserves and it applies to all traditional land use.

This motion is a chance for the government to do the right thing. It is a chance for it to stand up for the environment, a chance for it to say that water is the lifeblood of our environment and not a commodity to be sold. I urge my colleagues from all parties to support this motion which is so important for the future of Canada.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac—Mégantic, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Churchill is firmly opposed to selling freshwater.

In my riding, there are a number of places that sell water. Obviously, it does not mean redirecting a river or emptying a lake, I agree. It is a natural resource. All the parties are satisfied, including the producer, that is, the owner of the farm where the water is drawn, and the companies that buy this water of exceptional quality. Everyone is happy in this market. And I do not think I am exaggerating.

What if the people of Alberta were asked, for example, to stop selling oil because it is not renewable—there is a limited quantity of oil in the subsoil and once that is used up there is no more—what if someone came up with a similar motion, whereby the sale or extraction of oil would be banned, and the oil would be kept for domestic use? I do not think that would be so intelligent, because we in the east import oil.

Some countries do not have enough water. We, it appears, have over 20% of the world's drinking water and we say “We are going to keep it just for us, regardless of what you might offer us”. I remind you that while there is one extreme, there is another extreme too.

I wonder whether the member for Churchill could tell us how far we could go with her motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. member for the question. I do not think there is any question that the reasonableness of what happens with water in general is of concern here. We do not want to see the bulk export of water and large quantities of waters going outside their normal area. No one has ever argued that the sale of water in bottles should not take place.

What is really coming into question is the export of water to the point that we need something in place where we are not going to have a pipeline that brings water out of Canada to somewhere else. I was in Arizona during the break for a very short period of time and saw thousands of Canadians down enjoying the weather and also listened to those thousands of Canadians saying they are getting back up to Canada after because they know it will get too hot down there. They also commented on the way the water is being used there and how dried up the water is by the time it hits the Mexican border. If we take the approach that it is okay to send the water down to one area and use it all up, there will not be enough for everybody.

There is reasonableness out there. No one is saying that if people are dying of thirst somewhere that Canada is not going to help them out. That is not what we are talking about. We are talking about using water as a money making, money grabbing way. We are talking about the owner of an area selling his water where he can make the most money, and for what. For someone to have an extra swimming pool. That is what we are talking about. We are talking about having water available for things that are not the necessities of life and they want the export of Canadian water to do so.

That Canadians would not be understanding if countries or people were in need of water would not happen. Canada is not that kind of country. We are saying that we need to protect the resources we have.