Mr. Speaker, as I have made clear in the past, the bill would not meet the commitment made by the government and the entire House in February 1999 when it declared to Canadians that it would introduce legislation to prohibit, and I emphasize prohibit, bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers. Bill C-6 would not do that. It is a failure with regard to that commitment.
At the same time that commitment was made the NDP put forth a motion in the House that was unanimously adopted and supported by all parties. The motion stated that Canada:
--should not be a party to any international agreement that compels us to export freshwater against our will in order to assert Canada's sovereign right to protect, preserve and conserve our freshwater resources for future generations.
Bill C-6, which is before the House today for debate, fails to address the vital concern that we would be compelled by international agreements to export our water.
It is appropriate to set in context the pressure Canada is under with regard to conserving and preserving its fresh water. I draw to the attention of the House two issues that are very current.
First, the whole issue of climate change and specifically climate warming could have a potential impact on our fresh water and our freshwater reserves and supplies.
Second, flowing in part from that and in part from a number of droughts around the continent has been pressure to export water to other parts of North America and the world to deal with drought conditions elsewhere. Statistics show the pressure the international community is under with regard to supplying fresh water to its citizens. We must play a leading role in dealing with the problem.
However the export of bulk water from Canada is not the answer. As I pointed out during second reading, I found it somewhat odd that the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the Environment led the debate on the bill instead of the Minister for International Trade. I was surprised because the bill is to a great extent about trade and, more specific, the failure of the government to protect our fresh water from trade challenges.
As I noted previously in debate, the bill is about trade. The Minister of Foreign Affairs said Bill C-6 is “consistent with Canada's international trade obligations”. That is the problem. Bill C-6 represents the government's continued failure to keep our freshwater resources off the international bargaining table and safe from the unfair trade deals it has negotiated. During debate on Bill C-6 earlier this week the hon. member for Vancouver Quadra stated in the House:
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, including the NAFTA.
The reality, contrary to what the member and those in his government claim, is that the strategy of the Liberal government is not necessarily NAFTA proof. Bill C-6 is part of a water strategy designed more to protect NAFTA than to protect Canada's water.
The 1993 joint statement on which the government's argument is primarily based is not legally binding. That statement was made by the three NAFTA partners and their governments, namely Canada, the United States and Mexico. However, the way NAFTA works, under the investor state procedure investors have the power to challenge Canadian water protection laws.
In fact we have seen that. We have the outstanding challenge by Sun Belt Water Inc. against the province of British Columbia that is still pending. We have seen the ability of a private company to come forward and make that challenge, specifically on fresh water.
That joint statement was not agreed to by the investor sectors. There would be no way of doing that. Therefore it offers no protection whatsoever against claims made directly by investors.
We could say to the governments of the United States and Mexico that they agreed to this, but we cannot say it to Sun Belt Water Inc. because it was not at the table and is not bound by the letter exchanged among those three levels of government.
It is important to look at the history under NAFTA because international trade tribunals, and I should not just say under NAFTA but under a number of other international agreements that we have entered into, have been very willing to strike down environmental protection laws if they are simply disguised as trade barriers. That is open to very wide interpretation, as we have seen.
For example, a GATT tribunal rejected Canada's ban on the export of unprocessed fish even after it was redrafted. We went through it and we lost. We redrafted it and focused it exclusively on environmental conservation, and we still lost.
Simply stating that a bill is motivated by environmental rather than trade concerns will not likely be enough to withstand a trade challenge. The fish case is a clear precedent in that regard.
The bill is fairly limited in the geographical area that it covers. The strategy of the government has been to say this is what it would do and this is how it would do it. As I have indicated, that is nowhere near sufficient. It does not do anything to prohibit a province from exporting bulk fresh water.
I would assume any province that wishes to seek a financial opportunity in that regard is in no way prevented from doing so.
The bill, if it becomes law, would not be binding on the provinces. We could change that. Enough jurisdiction has been recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in this area indicating that we could do that as a legislature at the national level. That is what we need to do. We need to provide a legislated ban that would be binding on all provinces that would prohibit the export of bulk water. This is not a fancy. It is not something out there in the ozone. Newfoundland is currently looking at the export of bulk water.
My next point concerns NAFTA. It was raised when the bill was before the foreign affairs committee. One of the witnesses suggested much more forcefully than I did how questionable the interpretation was and how out of touch the government was with the reality of how we saw NAFTA functioning.
There are very strong legal opinions that the bill would not protect us from a NAFTA challenge. The government, therefore, should not be so confident that its approach would withstand those challenges. What it should be doing is looking at how to fix NAFTA, how to incorporate into NAFTA the real protections we need, because that is where we need them and not in this type of legislation.
We have heard explanations from the government on how the bill would work if it became law. The government is saying that the bill contains a ban, but there is also a licensing provision to allow for the diversion and export of water. We are hearing that there are regulations, which we have not seen, that would define more extensively when that licensing would be allowed.
I say to the government and to the House that we should take the government and the minister at face value in that they would not allow for this type of licensing for the diversion or export of water.
What about the next minister? What about the next government, whether it be this party or some other? Rather than putting into place an absolute ban, what it has done is left the door open to what could very easily be major diversions of our water and abuse of our environment in that regard.
I will make one point with regard to the amendment, and I want to give the foreign affairs committee an acknowledgement in this regard. As originally drafted, the bill did not contain a provision that recognized there would be no derogation to treaty rights of the first nations. As a result of a motion made on behalf of my party at committee stage the committee recognized the necessity of including that, and it has been incorporated into the bill. I acknowledge the work done by the committee and its willingness to respond to that type of amendment.
The NDP is not willing to support Bill C-6. We would not be protected from the NAFTA provisions with this bill. It would not apply to the whole of the country and would not be an absolute bill. For those reasons we will be voting against the bill.