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.