Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the House for the opportunity to address this motion.
The motion has been amended. The original motion reads, in part:
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 inter-basin transfers and should introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and inter-basin transfers—
The amendment reads:
—and should not be a party to any international agreement that compels us to export freshwater against our will—
The original motion then continues:
—in order to assert Canada's sovereign right to protect, preserve and conserve our freshwater resources for future generations.
Clearly our water is of critical priority to all of us. It directly affects Canada's agricultural sector, regional economic development, rural infrastructure, sustainable development, our environment and potentially our economy.
Reform agrees with the basic principle of this motion. The issue here is sovereignty and we agree that this House needs to take action to protect and control our water. I believe that all sides of this House would not have any problem with that comment. However, how we deal with the problem I believe is the question of this debate.
This motion is only a temporary solution. It will not fix the problem that Canada is now faced with as a result of this Prime Minister's actions. A temporary moratorium on bulk water exports will buy this government some time to negotiate a solution, a permanent solution. That solution is an amendment to the NAFTA which explicitly excludes water from the NAFTA.
It is interesting to note that before the Liberals came to power, when the Mulroney government was negotiating the NAFTA, the Liberals opposed the NAFTA deal and voiced their concerns about protecting our water.
During the 1993 election campaign the Prime Minister promised that he would renegotiate the NAFTA to exclude bulk water from the deal.
On November 19 the Prime Minister insisted “Water and the North America Free Trade Agreement do not mix. Water remains under the control of the Canadian government. I can guarantee that”.
Here are more quotes from our present Prime Minister: “I will make sure it is like that. It is one of the elements I intend to discuss with President Clinton. I want Canada to maintain control over our own water. It is not for sale and if we want to sell, we will decide”.
Clearly the Liberals are leaving the door open for water to be sold.
The Prime Minister said he had a message for President Bill Clinton, which was “I don't even dream that the NAFTA gives the United States unlimited access to Canadian water. That is because water and the North American Free Trade Agreement do not mix”.
Those are nice quotes, but they simply do not reflect reality. The reason we are debating this motion today is because Canada does not have control over its water. That is a clear fact.
The Mulroney government insisted that the NAFTA applies only to exports of water in containers and not to large scale transfers or diversions which the government maintained was never even discussed during the NAFTA negotiations.
Clearly there has been a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding over this issue. Since the government came to power it has denied the fact that when the Prime Minister signed the NAFTA without renegotiating to specifically exempt water Canada lost its control.
The Conservatives failed in 1988 and the Liberals failed in 1993 to protect our water.
When I raised this issue in the House during the last parliament in my motion calling on this government to take steps to protect Canada's sovereignty over water, the government denied that our sovereignty had been compromised.
Here are some of the facts. My colleague, our international trade critic, will be speaking later to clarify some of the issues regarding the NAFTA and the free trade agreement.
The NAFTA implementation act states that nothing applies to water, except bottled water, and water is not excluded from the free trade agreement itself.
Article 309 of the NAFTA prohibits controls by Canada covering the sale or export of any goods destined for either the United States or Mexico.
The only specific permission that the NAFTA gives for export controls is for Canadian logs and unprocessed fish. This, in my mind, is the answer. Right now Canadian logs and unprocessed fish are not in the NAFTA. They are exempt. If we add water to that list, that gives us the control that we are looking for. That is the solution.
It is also likely that if the government were to propose legislation to ban the export of bulk water, as proposed in the NDP motion, we could be challenged under the NAFTA. Our legislation could be shot down by a trade dispute panel as unacceptable interference in the free market.
This is a dicey point and it is the difficulty I have with the NDP motion. The motion proposes that by banning the export of bulk water the problem will be solved. That is not the problem. The problem is the sovereignty, ownership and control of our water, which the Liberals have failed to fix. If we fix that we do not need to worry about the rest. Provincial control of the resource will then handle the next issue.
In passing any law banning water exports Canada would define water as a commodity and it would trigger the national treatment provisions of the NAFTA. Trade experts say that Canada could face a challenge under international trade rules if we explicitly define water as a good by passing legislation banning its export.
The Minister of the Environment stated that she wants to ban water export through legislation. However the minister has publicly stated that the government does not know how it will do this, simply because by putting water in legislation it will become a commodity.
We often hear about the trilateral statement made by the Prime Minister, President Bush and the Mexicans that we have a side deal which protects our water. We do not. All that side deal says is that if we do not export bulk water, then it could be okay. However, as soon as we export it we cannot turn the tap off. That is all that side agreement was about. It had nothing to do with fixing the problem.
The only way for Canadians to regain control of their water is for the federal government to negotiate a side agreement to the NAFTA that specifically excludes bulk water from the agreement.
The situation is getting urgent. The U.S. is facing water shortages. There have been at least 13 proposals for large scale diversions of water from the Great Lakes to the U.S. Clearly the situation is quite volatile because we have read in the papers that companies such a Sun Belt of California, the Nova Group of Ontario and the McCurdy Group of Newfoundland are pushing to get permits. It is the job of this government to fix the problem, and the problem is getting control over our water.
As well, there are jurisdictional issues affected by this motion. The management and protection of water as a natural resource is constitutionally provincial. It is a provincial responsibility. The only time the federal government gets into it is if it concerns trade. Any legislation that the House is prepared to bring in clearly has to have the agreement of all the provinces. My understanding is that that agreement would not be forthcoming at the moment.
I call on the Liberal government to take concrete steps to protect sovereignty over our water. I call on the Prime Minister to negotiate a side deal that specifically exempts water from the NAFTA, as he promised in the 1993 election, as he has promised all along and as he has failed to do up to this point in time.