Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-6.
This bill to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act is only seven pages long and contains only 26 clauses. Yet it is a very important bill because the length of a bill is no indication of its significance.
Why is the bill so crucial for Quebec? For various reasons. First, it has to be recalled that in Quebec in the fall of 1997 a large symposium on water was held, bringing together several stakeholders, from the private sector as well as the community, institutional and municipal sectors, to develop a policy on water management not only at the international level but also within our borders.
At that symposium, the participants agreed to give the BAPE, the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, a clear mandate. They came up with a fairly eloquent report which reflected their desire to have their own water policy within a reasonable timeframe. The report was published in May 2000 and included many recommendations.
Recommendation No. 4 essentially stated that:
The Quebec government should make the Water Resources Preservation Act, which bans bulk exports of groundwater and surface water, permanent legislation.
The Commission is of the opinion that bulk exports need to be forbidden by law and no chances taken, with the uncertainties of international trade agreements, such as NAFTA, WTO and the like.
I recall the BAPE recommendations because they establish the framework in which Quebecers wish this resource essential for Quebec be exploited.
On one side, well before May 2000, there was a symposium on water. On the other side, the BAPE report in May 2000, established the framework within which we wanted the Quebec government and the federal government to act.
Following the consensus reached by the BAPE, the government is now introducing a bill—the act is already in force in Quebec, it was passed on November 24, 1999—aimed at preserving water resources.
I mention this because that bill said very clearly that the transfer of Quebec ground and surface waters outside Quebec was prohibited. That bill was passed unanimously by the national asssembly in November 1999 and became law.
That new act said we did not want to see a natural resource such as water being transferred outside Quebec. It also said clearly that not only the Quebec government but also the national assembly—its institution—wanted to prohibit the export of water since the bill was passed unanimously.
If we look at the federal strategy, which has three elements, we see the government clearly wants a Canada-wide accord to prohibit bulkwater removal out of Canada's five major water basins.
We must remember that the provinces gave this agreement a rather chilly reception at the time. Why? Not because the provinces reacted on a whim but, quite the contrary, because there already was in some provinces, namely Alberta, British Columbia and even more in Quebec, a moratorium. Why? Because we had passed unanimously, on November 24, 1999, an act for the preservation of water, which is a natural resource. This is the reason why this bill got a chilly reception.
What was Quebec asking for? It was asking for two things, even before signing the agreement. First, we wished to wait for the report of the International Joint Commission on Canada's referral concerning water exports. Second, there is the water management policy issue, which is a current issue, since it is still being debated. I am deeply convinced that the government of Quebec will announce, in the months to come, a real water management policy.
We were asking that the joint commission be given the time to render a decision on the referral and that Quebec be given the time to develop a water management policy, table that policy and adopt it.
It has to be recognized that the bill does not take into account even one of Quebec's demands. Water management policy is not a trivial issue but a fundamental one since it inevitably interferes with Quebec's laws. With the bill, the federal government will not allow Quebec partners—not only the government, but also its partners—to establish this policy.
Another clear demand made by Quebec, and not only Quebec but also by BAPE partners, regarding the export of water was that the federal government take its responsibilities and have this issue excluded from trade agreements.
I recall the evidence and documents the group Au Secours gave to the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement. I also recall the evidence, documents and briefs the Centre du droit de l'environnement du Québec gave to that same agency. These people had only one wish, which is that the Quebec government would show leadership and call to task the federal government and the minister in charge of the negotiations to ensure that water export will not be included in international agreements.
In the aftermath of the summit of the Americas in Quebec city, we would have liked our government and the Minister for International Trade to show this kind of leadership.
The 35 states that took part in the negotiations met in Montreal two weeks before the summit of the Americas. The 35 environment ministers who met to discuss this issue did not indicate clearly the principles that should be included in the free trade area of the Americas agreement concerning this issue. The government should have taken its responsibilities.
Another important point is the whole concept of watershed. The bill does not give a definition. Regulations will take care of that. In Quebec, our great fear is that the federal government will once again use this new power to interfere in provincial jurisdictions.
The environment ministers held a conference on Monday in Winnipeg. The federal minister and the ministers of all provinces and territories were present. The Quebec minister of the environment took that opportunity to express his concerns regarding the bill before us. It was not one of the main topics, but the environment ministers discussed it.
Again, the Quebec minister of the environment clearly stated that in his opinion Bill C-6 interfered with Quebec's jurisdiction over the St. Lawrence River and its tributaries and duplicated the Water Resources Preservation Act, which was passed unanimously by the Quebec national assembly on November 24, 1999.
The minister also indicated that the government of Quebec clearly responded to the wishes expressed by Quebecers. It has already banned bulk exports of groundwater and surface water from Quebec.
On Monday, the Quebec minister of the environment, who was at that meeting in Winnipeg, took that opportunity to reiterate the fact that through this bill the federal government clearly showed its will to interfere directly in areas under provincial jurisdiction.
Another aspect relates to section 13 in Bill C-6, which deals with water removal. It is rather clear that the provision prohibiting water removal could be interpreted as applying to waters other than boundary waters and to water basins within Quebec's territory.
We believe that such a disposition would go beyond the requirements of the 1909 treaty, to the point of encroaching upon Quebec's jurisdiction over water resource management within its territory.
I remind members that Minister Bégin wrote to the federal Minister of the Environment on November 29, 1999.
He indicated to his federal counterpart that he would never tolerate federal interference in these areas of jurisdiction through this bill.
The other aspect concerns the powers that the minister tries to give to himself through this bill, powers that we on our side of the House, at least we in the Bloc Quebecois, consider substantial.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and the federal government both use Bill C-6 to blow their powers up like a big balloon. We will not accept that.
Need I recall that the minister is assuming all the powers. In the area of licensing, he assumes all the powers for the selection of the eligible projects.
I will remind the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the Environment that, whether we pass Bill C-6 soon or not, the International Joint Commission already has these powers.
Even if we were not to adopt the bill, there is still a process or mechanism under the 1909 treaty and agreement providing that a country or a province cannot make a unilateral decision as far as the analysis is concerned.
The International Joint Commission is playing an important role. This bill will not change the mechanisms used by the International Joint Commission.
Section 14 deals with general provisions whereas sections 11 to 13 “are binding on Her Majesty in right of Canada or a province”, and the Canadian Constitution is clear on this. Section 109 of the Canadian constitution grants the provinces clear title.
Whether the government passes the bill in the House or expands its powers through the bill, it will not be able to override the constitution since section 109 grants the right of ownership to the provinces.
Sections 92.5, 92.13 and 92A of the constitution clearly grant the provinces broad powers in the areas of land use, land management and the development of natural resources. Moreover, jurisprudence has established that the term “lands”, as used in the bill and in section 92.5 of the constitution, extends to waters and mines. Section 92.5 of the constitution is clear: the term “lands” also covers waters and mines.
How can the minister, the government, have put before us today a bill which obviously encroaches on stated, recognized provincial jurisdictions?
In a letter dated November 29, 1999, the then Quebec environment minister, Paul Bégin, warned his federal counterpart, the Minister of the Environment, that Quebec would not accept this encroachment on its constitutional jurisdiction. In his January 18, 2000 reply, the minister was pretty clear when he said:
With regard to the prohibition clause, the use of the terms “water basin” in the proposed amendments in no way broadens the area of federal jurisdiction. The prohibition will apply to boundary waters.
That is what the Minister of the Environment of Canada said. That is what he wrote in a letter, and I quote:
...since they are defined in the International Boundary Waters Treaty, which prohibits bulk removal of boundary waters from the water basins in which they are located... it will not apply to the removal of other non-boundary waters inside the water basin over which the provinces have full responsibility.
Must I recall that, in spite of the minister's letters, all the documents from the federal Department of Foreign Affairs say exactly the opposite. It is hard to make any sense out of this. Between what the minister says, what his department believes and what for us is undeniable, which is that where there are projects the International Joint Commission is always involved. What we are asking is that the federal government recognize the consultation process put in place in Quebec following the symposium on water, through the Bureau d'audiences publiques en environnement, which made public its report in May 2000, and to respect the Quebec water preservation act.
This would ensure that the consensus reached in Quebec on the exportation of water is respected and that in future accords such as the FTAA, the government include the fundamental issue of water not being treated as a commodity.
Finally, we wish that the federal government would start respecting more generally Quebec's areas of jurisdiction. That is what we are asking today, that is what we will be asking tomorrow and that is the reason we oppose Bill C-6.