Mr. Speaker, first of all I would like to extend my thanks to my colleagues in the Bloc for making it possible for me to speak on this bill. Members will know that I do have a longstanding interest in this issue.
On February 9, 1999 I was the mover of an NDP supply day motion which called for a national ban on the bulk export of water from Canada. At that time that motion received the unanimous support of the House. It is in that context I would like to speak to Bill C-15 today.
Bill C-15 is not, as the Liberals are trying to suggest, a national ban on bulk water exports. It is not a piece of legislation one would have expected if they were actually trying to live up not just to their promises, but to the commitment they made to parliament that day when they supported the NDP motion.
This is a bill which aims to prohibit bulk water removals from boundary water basins only. This is a retreat from banning bulk water exports and this retreat is clearly, although the government will not say so, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The very language of removal tells the story. The Liberals refuse to use the word export because if they talked about water exports as opposed to water removal, then they would have a test case with respect to NAFTA because NAFTA deals with exports.
If the Liberals were as confident as they say they are that water is exempt in NAFTA, then why would they be afraid to use the language of exports? They themselves say they want to deal with the water question in the context of an environmental issue because otherwise, if they dealt with it in any other context, if they dealt with it as an export, this would, and I will use the government's language here, trigger its international trade obligations. International trade obligations is code for NAFTA.
The fact is that the Liberals are unwilling to admit that NAFTA is as inadequate as it truly is when it comes to water. If the Liberals did admit that, they would have to explain to Canadians why they are not actively seeking to either get out of that agreement or to change it, if in fact it leaves our ability to determine whether or not we want to export water completely subordinate to the agreement.
It is doubtful that even Bill C-15 is NAFTA proof. International trade tribunals have been more than willing to overturn environmental laws as disguised trade barriers. We have seen that happen. This is what has happened before to some of Canada's key fisheries conservation measures. The bill is therefore vulnerable to trade challenges even if the government claims it is taking an environmental rather than a trade approach. What is really being protected here is not so much our water but a certain part of the government's anatomy when it comes to its position on NAFTA.
Even on the more modest goal of prohibiting bulk water removals, Bill C-15 fails. It does not really ban bulk water removals or exports from watersheds, it only says it cannot be done without a licence. Bill C-15 is actually more of a licensing scheme for bulk water removal than a prohibition and it applies only to waters covered by the International Joint Commission.
The bill allows for huge exceptions to be provided for in the regulations. The government says these regulations will not deviate much from current practice. Indeed, but current practice allows for industrial withdrawals within a basin and many of these basins straddle the border.
The power to give out licences for bulk water removal is given to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, not to the Minister of the Environment. Again we see that water is ultimately a matter of relationships, fundamentally between Canada and the United States. If we think that is not covered by NAFTA, we have another think coming. The very fact that this power is given to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and not to the Minister of the Environment gives that away.
At a time when the activities of the Department of Foreign Affairs are being increasingly dominated by commercial concerns, one is not left feeling confident that environmental concerns will govern the licensing scheme.
Ultimately therefore, there is nothing really new in Bill C-15. It just formalizes in legislation what the International Boundary Waters Treaty already says and what the federal practice in these matters has been for more than 90 years.
The fact that the bill will die on the order paper means that yet another key part of the federal government's strategy on water is in tatters. Not only do we now lack protection for our water, we do not even have a serious plan to get one.
The government devised a hasty three-pronged strategy the day after the NDP motion was passed in the House. One of the prongs called for a national ban on bulk water exports. That never happened. One prong dissolved when the federal government's proposed voluntary federal-provincial water accord collapsed.
Now another prong, Bill C-15, will dissolve when it dies on the order paper. Perhaps that is as it should be because this never was a response to the motion that was passed in the House on February 9, 1999. This is a case of the Liberals continuing to deceive Canadians with respect to the reality of NAFTA.
One has to wonder though, in all these years with respect to water and NAFTA, were the Liberals deceiving themselves or deceiving Canadians? I think the cat is now out of the bag; they were deceiving Canadians and Bill C-15 is part of that deception. It is another broken Liberal promise. It is another example of federal inaction in terms of dealing with this issue. I regret very much that we are on the eve of an election and we do not have a chance to pursue this matter further.
If the government had been serious about keeping some of its promises not just with respect to banning water exports, but also with respect to health care, pharmacare, home care and you name it, we would not be here, Mr. Speaker, with you wanting to rise to cut me off. We would have a lot of time and a government program before us that actually kept the government's promises. Instead we have the pathetic emptiness that we see before us, broken promises and an election that should not be happening.
We should be having the government fulfil its promises on water as well as on many other things.