Mr. Speaker, I take this opportunity to thank you for giving me a lot of advice when I came into the House as a rookie. You pointed out a lot of things to me, and I highly appreciated your help. I learned a lot from you. I guess when I do come back I will have graduated from being a rookie to second term MP. I take this opportunity to wish you all the best in your future endeavours.
I rise today on behalf of the constituents of Calgary East to speak to Bill C-15, an act to amend the 80 year old International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. I will begin by explaining why we are compelled to debate this issue. Water is an issue that touches the lives of all Canadians. It is part of Canadian heritage. Canadians are very concerned at the thought of losing control of the country's freshwater resources.
It is a legitimate concern. Canada will face an increasing demand for this precious resource in the new millennium. I remind members and all Canadians of the failure of the Liberal government to protect Canada's freshwater resources.
Canadians also deserve to be informed of the past mistakes made by the government on this issue. The export of water was never supposed to be an issue in Canada. Various federal politicians in the early 1990s claimed that Canada had a right to manage its own water and that water would never be challenged under any international agreement. Unfortunately this is not the case. The water issue is back on the table.
On May 28, 1993, a few days before the election, the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who happens to be the minister who introduced Bill C-15, expressed his concerns about NAFTA and its implication for Canada's freshwater resource.
The government is on record as saying that NAFTA should be amended to prohibit bulk water exports. Had Liberals kept their promise, Canadians would not have to worry about the issue of bulk water exports and we certainly would not be discussing this matter today.
The 1993 Liberal red book said that NAFTA would be an opportunity to correct any flaws that existed with the free trade agreement with the U.S.A. and Mexico. Liberals promised Canadians we would retain control of our water. They promised to review the side agreements of NAFTA to ensure that they were in Canada's best interest. Regardless of these promises, the government signed the NAFTA deal without a side agreement on water.
Raw logs and unprocessed fish were exempted from NAFTA, but the best arrangement Canada could get on water was the following side deal signed by Canada, the U.S. and Mexico on December 2, 1993: “The NAFTA creates no rights to the natural water resources of any party of the agreement”.
Ultimately this side deal is of little legal value. Unless water in any form has entered into commerce and has become a good or product, it is not covered by the provisions of any trade agreement including NAFTA. Nothing in NAFTA obliges any NAFTA party to either exploit its water for commercial use or begin to export water in any form.
Water in its natural state in lakes, reservoirs, water basins and the like is not a good or a product. It therefore is not traded and never has been subject to the terms of any trade agreement. The side agreement worked as long as Canada never allowed water to enter into commerce and become a good or a product.
With the exception of international boundary waters, the vast majority of water in its natural state is owned and managed by the provinces. It is a provincial responsibility to manage the resources carefully, just as the provinces manage their forests and oil and gas. If one province enters the business of tendering contracts to export bulk water, then according to chapter 11 of NAFTA it must treat Canadian, American and Mexican companies in a similar fashion.
National treatment provisions give all corporations of our NAFTA partners the right to help themselves to our water the moment any Canadian company is given an export permit. In fact, water would not be exempt from NAFTA once we started shipping water. The government would be powerless to stop it. If it did, the government would have to compensate for lost income under the investor state provisions.
The government did not have the foresight to think that some provinces may one day look into the possibility of licensing the export of water, but recent examples show us the opposite. First, the province of Newfoundland granted an export permit to McCurdy Enterprises Limited to export water from Gisborne Lake. Second, in Ontario the Nova Group received a licence to extract water from Lake Superior.
Finally, in British Columbia, the California company Sun Belt wanted to export water from B.C. It is now demanding up to $10.5 billion in damages from the federal and B.C. governments alleging that its rights under NAFTA have been violated. Sun Belt is demanding restoration of the water export licence the B.C. government cancelled in 1991 and compensation for lost business opportunities.
Although the provinces eventually pulled out of these proposals, the agreements renewed fears about water export and the impact of our trade agreements.
Let us now look at the government's strategy that it believes will ensure Canada's control over its freshwater. This government, having failed to protect Canadian sovereignty over water during NAFTA negotiations, is now proposing a backup solution.
Liberals had six years to propose legislation since the ratification of the NAFTA but preferred to wait and be pushed to the wall before they reacted. This does not surprise me, since Liberal strategy can be defined as a wait and see approach.
Bill C-15 proposes to prohibit bulk water removal from boundary waters between Canada and the U.S.A. That covers only 15% of Canada's water resources. The provinces manage the remaining 85%. The government's water strategy includes a Canada-wide accord to prohibit bulk water removal. However, five provinces have refused to endorse the accord, leaving the country's water vulnerable to exportation.
The federal strategy was designed in the belief that all provinces would agree on a national ban. It is quite obvious after the two day debate in Kananaskis in late November 1999 that the government has failed to achieve this goal.
Bill C-15 legislates authority to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to impose a prohibition on the removal of boundary waters out of the natural water basin. It provides clear sanctions and penalties for violations. This means a licence will be required from the Minister of Foreign Affairs for any activity that would have the effect of altering the natural level or flow of water on the U.S. side of the border. Clearly another level of bureaucracy will be added. The government has shown in the past that it is exceptionally good at adding levels of bureaucracy when it is not needed.
Nowhere in the bill is the word export used. The government feels, and with good reason, the term will imply that water is a commercial good. What the absence of the word export really means is that water was part of the negotiations during the NAFTA talks. That is one thing the government should admit. The fact that the government is taking the route to ban bulk water export shows how little faith it has in the December 1993 side deal it signed after promising Canadians it would protect our sovereignty over water.
As it stands now we can say yes or no, but we have lost the right to say yes to Canadians only. Perhaps the government thinks the bill will somehow magically remove Canada from our international agreements on water. Unfortunately the bill is far from closing the door on the water export issue.
Several Liberal MPs, including the member for Davenport, have stated in the House that the proposed accord will lead to a patchwork of provincial initiatives making Canada vulnerable to trade challenges. He said:
It seems quite clear that a meaningful protection of our water resources requires the federal government to face the reality of international trade agreements.
Does this mean the member thinks NAFTA should be renegotiated to exclude water? The former foreign affairs minister thought that way when he was in the opposition. I quote the member for Winnipeg South Centre:
We should be making a direct proposal to the United States administration that in looking at the new environmental accords as part of NAFTA we include the exclusion of water as part of that accord.
He had the power to implement in government what he had said in opposition. Why did he refuse to do so?
The core issue up for debate today is the protection of our sovereignty and rights over water. Bill C-15 does not resolve that issue. The failure of the government to protect our resources leaves the impression that the government is using the issue of water export as a political tool, one that should give it enormous leverage as a future trade cash cow.
What should be done? In 1993 while the government was busy signing away our sovereignty over water, the Canadian Alliance made a specific statement on the protection of our fresh water. The Canadian Alliance stated that exclusive and unrestricted control of water in all its forms should be maintained by and for Canadians.
Canada possesses about 9% of the world's renewable water resources and 20% of the world's total freshwater resources. This includes water captured in glaciers and in the polar ice caps. Protection of our sovereignty over this valuable resource is critical to Canadians and to our national identity.
The Canadian Alliance believes that Canadians should retain control over our water resources and supports exempting water from our international agreements, including NAFTA. An outright ban on water export would run contrary to our NAFTA commitment because water was not exempt from that agreement.
A side agreement would have to be negotiated that would exempt water from NAFTA before a ban on water exports could even be considered. Until an exemption is achieved, we encourage the provinces to place a moratorium on commercial water licensing so that water in bulk form never becomes a good governed by NAFTA rules.
Once an exemption from NAFTA is in place, the decision to export water in bulk should rest with the provinces that own the resource. Natural resources fall under provincial jurisdiction and international trade is under federal jurisdiction. As a result of this constitutional division of powers, any water export scheme can only succeed with the support and co-operation of both levels of government.
In the absence of exempting water from NAFTA, the Canadian Alliance will support the proposed bill as it represents the only viable approach that the federal government can take and the only constitutionally valid NAFTA compatible ban on bulk water export. However, I would like to see the government propose real answers to this issue and show some leadership in exempting water from our trade agreements.
It would have been preferable to exempt water from NAFTA but failing that, Bill C-15 will have to do as second best. The Canadian Alliance is not asking the government to back out of NAFTA as has been proposed by my colleague from the NDP, but we wish the government had kept its promise for a side agreement.
Water is likely to become one of the hottest commodities in the 21st century. Because the government did a poor job of managing this resource, we will have to pay the price one day. Canadians should realize that we are no longer sovereign over our water. Neither will our future generations be if something is not done to change this reality.
Bill C-15 or not, the bottom line is that Canada's water resources are vulnerable to export. While I am a strong supporter of free trade, I believe it should not come at the expense of our sovereignty over water. Decisions about bulk water export should rest in the hands of Canadians only, not with Americans, NAFTA or WTO.
Perhaps one day Canada will decide to export water if it is proven environmentally sound. If that ever happens, and I strongly stress if, the tap should belong to Canadians only.