Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to address the House on second reading of Bill C-6, an act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.
All Canadians recognize that water is a natural resource unlike any other. It plays a key role in every aspect of our daily lives: at home, at work and many other places or occasions. A bountiful supply of fresh, clean water is the basis for much of Canada's economic and agricultural development, and the towns and cities of our nation. Last, but certainly not least, it plays an absolutely critical role in ensuring the continued health of Canada's ecosystems, and every living thing that depends on them.
Canadians look to all levels of government to take action now to protect Canada's water. We must ensure that our children and grandchildren inherit a Canada in which our freshwater resources are secure.
For decades Canadians and the Government of Canada have given a consistent response to extravagant schemes to redirect the waters of the North American continent: Canada's water is not for sale. Many such designs have involved the Great Lakes, which contain 20% of the world's fresh water.
The government is taking action now. Bill C-6 would protect boundary waters, including the critical resource of the Great Lakes, from bulk removal under federal law.
The existing act implements the 1909 Canada-U.S. boundary waters treaty. It 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 of the treaty 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-two years later we are using the same mechanism to ensure these waters will be protected for future generations.
The amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act in Bill C-6 are based first on Canada's treaty obligation to the U.S. not to take actions in Canada which affect levels and flows of boundary waters on the U.S. side of the border. I would note that the U.S. has the same obligation to Canada, that is, not to take actions in the U.S. which affect levels and flows of boundary waters on the Canadian side of the border.
The amendments also have a second objective, to protect the integrity of boundary water ecosystems. The amendments have three key elements: a prohibition provision; a licencing regime; and, sanctions and penalties.
The prohibition provision imposes a prohibition on the bulk removal of boundary waters from the water basins. Exceptions will be considered for ballast water, short term humanitarian purposes and water used in the production of food or beverages.
While many boundary waters along the Canada-U.S. border are affected by the prohibition, the main focus would be on the Great Lakes. This would enable Canada to stop future plans for bulk water removal from the Great Lakes.
There would be a licensing regime separate from the amendments dealing with prohibition. Licences would cover dams and other projects in Canada that obstruct boundary and transboundary waters if they affect the natural level and flow of water on the other side of the boundary. Under the treaty such projects must have the approval of the International Joint Commission and the Government of Canada.
The process of approving such projects has taken place under the general authority of the treaty for the past 92 years without any problems. In essence the process would not change except that it would now be formalized in a licensing system. The licensing regime would not cover bulk water removal projects. These, if proposed, would be covered by the act's prohibition provision.
Bill C-6 will also allow for clear and strong sanctions and penalties. This will give teeth to the prohibition and ensure Canada is in the position to enforce it.
I would also like to set Bill C-6 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 out of a water basin 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, any credible policy approach to the issue of bulk water removal must address two important elements. First, the management of Canadian waters involves multiple jurisdictions. Second, any approach should take into consideration the many factors, man-made and natural, which exert significant stresses on our water resources.
To pretend that one government can solve the issue with a wave of the legislative wand, or that the issue may be simply reduced to one aspect, such as “water export”, in the words of some critics, is unrealistic, ineffective and undermines the goal we all share.
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.
The question of bulk water removal involves the significant pressure and uncertainty of removals, diversions, consumption, population and economic growth, and the effects of climate change and variability. Finally, we must factor in the important influence of the cumulative effect of all these factors on our water resources.
All levels of government must act effectively and in concert with their respective jurisdictions, hence Canada's February 1999 initiative included three parts.
First, Canada would act within its jurisdiction. Bill C-6 fulfils this commitment.
Second is the recognition of the primary responsibility of provinces and territories for water management. The Minister of the Environment 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.
Third, Canada and the United States agreed on a reference to the International Joint Commission to investigate and make recommendations on consumptive uses, diversions and removals in the Great Lakes, the greatest of our shared waters.
The IJC in its February 2000 final report concluded that the Great Lakes require protection from bulk water removals and other factors. Bill C-6 is consistent with and supportive of the IJC's conclusions and recommendations.
It is self-evident that we must work closely with U.S. jurisdictions, both federal and state, to ensure that the regimes on both sides of the border are as consistent and restrictive as possible. In the years ahead, the Boundary Waters Treaty will remain a critical instrument in protecting Canada's rights on the Great Lakes and other boundary and transboundary waters.
Also, the eight Great Lakes states, and Ontario and Quebec, have been working for over a year on the development of common standards to manage bulk water removal on the Great Lakes. The draft plan, unveiled for public comment in December 2000 by the Council of Great Lakes Governors, attracted a good deal of criticism in both the U.S. and Canada as being too lax. The Government of Canada shared these concerns and made its views known.
Earlier this month Ontario and New York State announced that they could not support the proposed standard. In future discussions we will urge these governments to consider seriously the recommendations contained in the IJC report.
By adopting Bill C-6 parliament would set down in law an unambiguous prohibition on bulk water removal in waters under federal jurisdiction and especially in the Great Lakes. This is a forward looking action which places the highest priority on ensuring the security of Canada's fresh water resources. It demonstrates leadership at the federal level. It affirms an approach which is comprehensive, environmentally sound, respectful of constitutional responsibilities and consistent with Canada's international trade obligations. I urge all members to give their support to Bill C-6.