Mr. Speaker, I make honourable amends, even though I am not honourable. I was a minister but at other level of government. What the Minister of the Environment said was:
The International Joint Commission concluded that the Great Lakes require protection, given all of the present and future stresses and uncertainties.
He forgot to say that the main stress and uncertainty are related to the trade agreements. Who is negotiating the trade agreements, if it is not the same government?
Recommendations for action were made to all levels of government in Canada and the U.S.
All the international joint commission's recommendations dealing with the measures to be taken regarding removal, consumptive use and conservation concern the provinces and northern states of the U.S., which, since 1985, are signatories to a non-binding charter that promotes co-ordination, under which provinces and states are obliged to carry out general consultations on issues stipulated in the charter, especially the issues addressed here.
The International Joint Commission set up under the treaty whose implementation act the government wants to amend makes recommendations to the provinces and the states. Let me quote some of these recommendations. First, on the issue of removals.
Without prejudice to the authority of the federal governments of the United States and Canada, the governments of the Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec should not permit any proposal for removal of water from the Great Lakes Basin to proceed unless the proponent can demonstrate that the removal would not endanger the integrity of the ecosystem of the Great Lakes Basin and—
This is followed by a series of conditions. It goes on:
States and provinces shall ensure that the quality of all water returned meets the objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
Recommendation II reads as follows:
Recommendation II. Major New or Increased Consumptive Uses
To avoid endangering the integrity of the ecosystem of the Great Lakes Basin, and without prejudice to the authority of the federal governments of the United States and Canada, the governments of the Great Lakes states and Ontario and Quebec should not permit any proposal for major new or increased consumptive use of water from the Great Lakes Basin to proceed unless—
This is also followed by a series of conditions. Recommendation III, under the heading “Conservation” reads “In order to avoid endangering the integrity” and so on.
Recommendation IV states:
Provinces and states should set standards—
Then follows a series of recommendations involving the federal governments:
—federal, state, and provincial governments should move quickly to remedy water use data deficiencies.
The Canadian and American federal governments are involved in research. The same thing applies to underground water. The federal government is involved.
Let me go back to existing institutions and mechanisms. What does the International Joint Commission, established by the boundary waters treaty between the United States and Canada, have to say? This is what it says:
To help ensure the effective, cooperative, and timely implementation programs for the sustainable use of the water resources of the Great Lakes Basin, governments should use and build on existing institutions to implement the recommendations of this report. In this regard, the governments of the states and the provinces should take action, with respect to the implementation of the Great Lakes Charter—
Let me go back to the statement by the Minister of the Environment. I will not make the mistake of naming him. His statement shed a different light on the recommendations. Nowhere does the International Joint Commission recommend that the federal governments change the dynamics of existing relations and enact legislation.
We cannot help but ask ourselves why the federal government is so keen on trying to pass legislation that is, and I repeat it because it is important, an amendment, not to the treaty—because this would be done between the two countries—that was signed by Great Britain and the United States in 1909 and implemented by an act but to the act.
Is it normal that an amendment to a treaty implementation act should change the conditions under which the treaty is implemented, but above all that it should increase the federal government's powers by trickery? One can understand that the government would go this way if what it wanted was to increase its powers.
Constitutionally, the powers—as read, for example, by the NAFTA commission for environmental co-operation with regard to the Canadian legal framework on the environment—are as follows:
In Canada, the implementation of an international treaty is usually effected by the initial ratification of that treaty by the federal government and the adoption, where necessary, of appropriate statutes as part of the internal law of the country—
In Canada, the Canadian Constitution is silent as to the power of any level of government to make treaties.
Section 132 of the Canadian Constitution refers only to the treaty-implementing power of Canada as a part of the British Empire.
Canada has since become an independent member of the international community and, as such, has the authority to enter into international agreements.
However, the federal government does not appear to have the authority to bind any of the provinces. Unless the courts were to hold otherwise in the future, nothing can force a province to perform, through legislation, the obligations set by a treaty signed by the federal government.
Therefore, the obligations given to the provinces by the treaty were implemented through the Great Lakes charter. I stress the fact that the federal government is using an excuse to extend its powers.
This approach is all the more intriguing, troublesome, because the Minister of Environment, in recalling that the international joint commission said, following its study, that the Great Lakes basin must be protected because there is only 1% of this enormous expanse of freshwater that is renewable—the rest is not renewable, being what was left behind after the glaciers melted—says that it is the greatest freshwater basin in the world.
He also said:
If the international joint commission considers caution is the watchword for the management of water in the Great Lakes basin, is it not equally so for the smaller bodies of water or ecosystems across Canada, wherever they are located?
He will deal with Newfoundland. He adds:
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.
He says the main problem is this:
—Canadian governments have full sovereignty over the management of water in its natural state, and in exercising this sovereignty are not constrained by trade agreements.
He says Canadian governments when he should have said the provinces. He goes on:
Canada's views on this matter has been supported by a wide range of expert opinion. The international joint commission came to similar conclusions in its final report.
He also forgot to mention that the international joint commission believes it is likely that freshwater before removal will not be part of trade deals but that, given the rulings made by the WTO—and to put it more simply, given the fact that its regulations ensure that the Tower of Pisa keeps leaning the same way—there is no absolute guarantee that freshwater before removal will be excluded from future trade agreements.
We have before the House a bill that is supposed to protect our water resources from the threat of trade deals. Who negotiates trade agreements for Canada if it is not the same government that is refusing to let the provinces take part in the negotiating process? Is that government not a bit schizophrenic? It is using the potential consequences of any future trade deal to warn us that we need an act prohibiting bulk water exports, removals and diversions.
With the bill, the government is grabbing some new powers. Pursuant to the bill, the government will now have the authority to make regulations defining what a water basin is. It will be able to determine through regulation what river or affluent is part of the basin when it is clear, as my colleague pointed out earlier, that the treaty does not deal with this issue. With the bill, the government is going further than the treaty and is ensuring that it can act through regulations.
In reality, this seemingly technical bill boils down to the fact that the Canadian government, instead of relying on the process that has been in place since 1985 and that can respond quickly to the International Joint Commission's recommendations, wants to have its own infrastructure.
From now on, a federal licence will be required to build a dam on a river which is not necessarily part of the water basin but which would be defined as being part of it under the regulations. For example, if Quebec decides to build a dam, the federal government will have the authority to prevent it from doing so.
Members know that Quebec is the largest consumer of hydroelectricity. In environmental terms, this means that Canada's output of pollutants is lesser than if Canada did not include Quebec. Quebec has definitely chosen hydroelectricity over nuclear energy. Of course, it had mighty rivers to harness and it did it even though it had to correct a few things here and there.
In closing, I would like to read the BAPE conclusion, which is not about Bill C-6. This conclusion explains why we will strongly oppose Bill C-6 and why we will speak out against the illegitimacy of the bill.
As was mentioned over and over at the hearing—
This is the BAPE speaking.
—water is an element essential to life, an element for which there is no substitute. The policy's first priority should be the health of aquatic systems, a prerequisite for human health. Because it is associated with the rights to life, access to water in Quebec must be considered a right. Access to waterways and bodies of water in a manner yet to be undefined. Access to quality drinking water, and free and universal access for the needs inherent in human life. How rates are set must not interfere with this essential right to water of anyone living in Quebec.
The constant and driving search for quality is the common vision, the overriding focus and the ethical foundation for the management of water and aquatic environments.
This is what the joint commission is saying. The BAPE goes on:
This is why the principle of precaution must guide decisions which ultimately affect biodiversity and life on earth. The field of action is broad, and is founded on respect for common values. The management of river basins is a force of peace, security, development and harmony in its natural sphere of influence.
With 3% of the planet's freshwater reserves, Quebec holds in its hands a part of humanity's common heritage. It must manage this heritage responsibly. We hope that our report will make a useful contribution towards this goal.
As ecologist Pierre Dansereau said at the age of 89, “If we do not have optimistic plans, there is no hope. Dreamers and utopia are needed to pave the way for the future”.
For that, Quebec must be able to have a comprehensive water policy. We will not sit quietly by while the federal government attempts to erode our jurisdiction and impose a logic completely at odds with Quebec's objectives.