moved that Bill C-15, an act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to say at the outset what a pleasure it is to speak to this particular bill. I thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs for allowing me the opportunity of doing so.
I would also like to mention that the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has been of great support to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and myself on this legislation and has indeed followed the issue of water quality in Canada with great care. Two other members I would like to quickly single out among the many are of course the member for Mississauga South and the member for Leeds—Grenville, who have been extremely supportive and helpful in the work of bringing forward policy in this particular area.
I am pleased to address the House on second reading of Bill C-15, an act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.
In May 1998, a company proposed a project to export water by tanker from Lake Superior. This sparked a debate among Canadians on the future security and preservation of Canada's freshwater resources. However, this is not a new issue.
Anyone who has followed the deliberations of the House over the past 40 years will remember the grandiose continental schemes dreamed up to transfer water out of Canada. The views of Canadians and the Government of Canada on this have not changed. Canada's water is not for sale. Our freshwater resources are too precious to allow bulk removal or diversion. They must be protected for future generations of Canadians who will follow us.
Successive Canadian governments have opposed the diversion or bulk removal of Canadian water. However, to date this has been little more than declarations. The time has now come to deal through legislation with the issue, and that is why we are taking action.
Bill C-15 will protect boundary waters, including the critical resource of the Great Lakes, from bulk water removal under federal law.
The act implements the 1909 Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty. This is one of our oldest treaties and a landmark in Canada-U.S. relations.
With over 300 lakes and rivers along the Canada-U.S. border, the drafters recognized the critical role played by water and the importance of providing a structure and mechanism to prevent and resolve disputes between the two countries. Ninety-one years later we are using the same mechanism to ensure that these waters will be protected for future generations of Canadians.
The amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act in Bill C-15 are based principally on Canada's treaty obligations to the United States not to take action in Canada which affects levels and flows of boundary waters on the United States side of the border. I would note that the United States has the same obligation to Canada, that is, not to take action in the U.S. which affects levels and flows of boundary waters on the Canadian side of the border.
These amendments also have a second objective; to protect the integrity of boundary water ecosystems. The amendments have three key elements: a prohibition provision; a licensing regime; and sanctions and penalties.
The prohibition provision will give the Minister of Foreign Affairs the authority to impose a prohibition on removals of boundary waters out of their water basins. Exceptions will be considered, such as ballast water, short-term humanitarian purposes and water used in the production of food or beverages, for example, bottled water.
While there are many boundary waters along the Canada-U.S. border affected by the prohibition, its most significant effect will be on the Great Lakes. This will provide to Canada the ability to stop any future plans for water removal out of the Great Lakes.
Separate from the amendments dealing with the prohibition, there will be a licensing regime. These licences will cover projects such as dams and obstructions in boundary and transboundary waters. Under the provisions of the treaty, these types of projects must have the approval of the International Joint Commission and the Government of Canada.
I would like to stress that the process of approving such projects has taken place over the past 91 years without any problems under the general authority of the treaty. In essence, the process is not changing, except that it will be formalized now in a licensing system. Also, the licensing regime will not cover bulk water removal projects. These, if they are proposed, are covered by the Act's prohibition.
Bill C-15 will also allow for clear and strong sanctions and penalties. This will give teeth to the prohibitions and ensure that Canada is in the position to enforce it.
I would also like to set Bill C-15 in the general context of Canada's strategy announced on February 10, 1999 to prohibit bulk removal of water out of all major Canadian water basins. Why did the Government of Canada take this initiative? The removal and transfer of water in bulk may result in irreversible ecological, social and economic impacts. We want to ensure, for future generations of Canadians, the security of our freshwater resources and the integrity of our ecosystems.
However, to be effective, any approach must take account of two factors. First, no single government has the ability to resolve this question. Flowing water does not respect political boundaries. In the case of the Great Lakes system, two federal governments, eight state governments, two provincial governments, and a number of regional and binational organizations are involved in managing and protecting freshwater resources.
Furthermore, it would be a gross oversimplification to view the issue only from one angle. It is a multidimensional issue involving removals, diversions, consumption, population and economic growth, the effects of climate change, and last but not least, the cumulative effect of all those factors.
All levels of government must act effectively and in concert within their respective jurisdictions. Hence, Canada announced in February 1999 that the Government of Canada would be acting within its jurisdiction. Bill C-15 fulfils this commitment.
Canada also announced a reference from the governments of Canada and the United States to the International Joint Commission to investigate and make recommendations on consumptive uses, diversions and removals in the greatest of our shared waters, the Great Lakes. It said that it recognized the primary responsibility of provinces and territories for water management. My colleague, the Minister for External Affairs, and I proposed a Canada-wide accord to prohibit bulk water removal out of major Canadian water basins.
As of today, all provinces have put into place or are developing legislation and policies to prohibit bulk water removal.
The International Joint Commission delivered a landmark report on March 15 of this year, that is, the protection of the waters of the Great Lakes. I would like to reflect briefly on the IJC's conclusions and its recommendations. They are consistent with and supportive of the broad environmental approach adopted by Canada on the issue of bulk water removal.
The International Joint Commission concluded that “water is a non-renewable resource” and the vast volumes of the Great Lakes are deceiving. Less than 1% of the water in the Great Lakes system is renewed annually. The other 99% is a gift of the glacial age. Taking water out of the water basin is in fact like mining. Once taken it will not return.
The report also stated that if all the interests in the Great Lakes Basin are considered, there is never a surplus of water. Every drop of water has several potential uses. Forty million Canadians and Americans depend on the waters of the Great Lakes for every aspect of life: day-to-day living, industry, recreation, transportation and trade.
On top of this, the ecosystem of the Great Lakes has its own, equally important, demands on the water. As we are dependent on the future health of the Great Lakes, the future health of the ecosystem is dependent on our action.
The IJC concluded that the Great Lakes require protection, given all of the present and future stresses and uncertainties. Recommendations for action were made to all levels of government in Canada and the U.S. These recommendations provide the basis for developing a consistent approach to protecting the Great Lakes on both sides of the border.
The Government of Canada agrees with the IJC's conclusions. The prohibition provisions of Bill C-15 will provide the protection to the Great Lakes called for by the IJC.
The Great Lakes are the largest reservoir of fresh water in the world. If the IJC, the International Joint Commission, considers caution is the watchword for the management of waters in the Great Lakes basin, is it not equally so for other smaller bodies of water and ecosystems across Canada wherever they are located?
I would also like to take this opportunity to address the trade implications of Canada's policy approach. A number of persons and groups have called on the federal government to use an export ban.
There is a consensus among Canadians that our water resources need protection. The issue before us, then, is not whether to protect the water, but how best to accomplish the goal.
Canada's approach, embodied in Bill C-15 and our overall strategy, is to protect water in its natural state in water basins. It is better than an export ban.
Water is protected and regulated in its natural state, before the issue of exporting arises and before it has become a commercial good or a saleable commodity. It is the most comprehensive, environmentally sound and effective means of preserving the integrity of ecosystems and is consistent with international trade obligations.
The critical point is that the Canadian government and Canadian governments of the past have full sovereignty over the management of water in its natural state and, in exercising this sovereignty, they would not be constrained by trade agreements. Canada's view of this matter has been supported by a wide range of expert opinion. The International Joint Commission, which is an independent binational Canadian-U.S. commission, came to similar conclusions in its final report after exhaustive public hearings and submissions that included government and independent experts representing every point of view.
The deputy United States trade representative, in a written submission reproduced in the IJC report, indicated that under customary international law, non-navigable rivers to a watercourse, including the right to control or limit extraction, belong solely to the country or countries where that watercourse lies. He further indicated that the World Trade Organization “simply has nothing to say regarding the basic decision by governments whether to permit the extraction of water from lakes and rivers in their territories”.
In this light, I am puzzled by the insistence of those who continue to recommend that we institute an export ban. It comes from people who apparently share our desire to protect Canada's water resources; however, it is clear their approach would make our water more vulnerable to trade challenge, not less, and make it harder to protect, not easier.
Unlike the Government of Canada's approach, which is focused on comprehensive environmental objectives in a manner that is trade consistent, an export ban does not address the environmental dimension, has possible constitutional limitations, and may be vulnerable to trade challenge.
An export ban would focus on water once it has become a good and therefore subject to international trade agreements, and would likely be contrary to Canada's international trade obligations.
Canadians are looking to all levels of the government to act. Bill C-15 will provide protection against the bulk removal of water from the Great Lakes and other boundary waters. Joined with the efforts being made in other parts of the federal government's strategy, including the Canada-wide accord on water and the Canada-U.S. reference to the International Joint Commission, it will provide the best protection possible for Canada's freshwater resources.
This is the best way to protect Canada's freshwater. It brings together a comprehensive, environmentally sound approach that respects constitutional responsibilities and is consistent with Canada's international trade obligations.
For all of these reasons, I urge members to support Bill C-15.