Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking my colleague from the Bloc for her suggestion that we give some thought in the days ahead to how this House might express itself unanimously with regard to the Devils Lake outlet. Perhaps there could be some collaboration, I would suggest, among the House leaders tomorrow for a unanimous motion that could be passed by the House and communicated to the U.S. Congress, both to the House of Representatives and to the Senate. It would seem to me that if that message could be conveyed and an appropriate motion drafted in order to convey that message, that would indeed be a good thing. It would convey a spirit of unanimity and solidarity here in the House, which unfortunately was sadly lacking at the beginning of this debate.
I had certainly intended initially to rise in my place on behalf of the NDP and commend the member for Kildonan--St. Paul for making possible this emergency debate. It is certainly something that we considered on a number of occasions. We have been very active on this issue, as anybody who is in the House knows. I have raised this a number of times, my leader has, and other NDP MPs have. Therefore, I was very disappointed with the tone of the initial presentation. If one listened to the member for Kildonan--St. Paul, one would have thought it was only the Conservatives who cared about Devils Lake.
She talked about the Manitoba caucus and she went on to list the members for Provencher and Selkirk--Interlake and whoever else she mentioned, but it became rather transparent after a while. I know the Conservatives sometimes talk about transparency, but I am not sure that is the kind of transparency they are looking for. It was rather transparent that instead of this being the kind of debate that I had hoped it might be, at least in its initial stages it was a form of political catch-up on the part of the official opposition when it comes to this issue. The Conservatives are making up for the fact that perhaps they felt they had not been as active on this as they should have been, although I know the member for Selkirk--Interlake has been interested in this for a long time, and I do not want to take anything away from him on this, but he should be because Lake Winnipeg is smack dab in the middle of his riding.
He went to the conference in Fargo in January. I almost went to that myself but I did not get there. I know he has been concerned about this issue, which is why I do not understand why he would allow himself to be part of a debate, the tone of which I hope is changing now. Certainly his last intervention was much more helpful than the initial interventions. It hope this becomes a debate by which this House could express itself in a unanimous way and in a way that is helpful to the government. It is not helpful to suggest that somehow the project which is now about to be opened, the Devils Lake outlet, is the project on which Canada once had an opportunity to have an IJC reference and did not, because that is not true.
I do not think anybody would accuse me of being easy on the Liberals. I do not really have a reputation of being easy on the Liberals. If I thought that somehow they had made a mistake, I would be the first to say so, although I might not say so tonight because hindsight is easy and it may not be useful. Even if the Conservative analysis were right--and I do not think it is; I think it is wrong in this case--but even if it were right, it would not be useful to be bringing that up tonight and giving the North Dakotans and others who want this outlet to go ahead something to pick at and say, “The Canadians cannot even agree among themselves. They had a debate in the House of Commons the other night and all they did was argue with each other”. That is really helpful, and I hope I do not have to emphasize that I am being sarcastic.
I remind the hon. member, who chose this particular strategy for reasons that are just beyond me, of a letter from the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development that went to Condoleezza Rice on June 9, 2005, just several days ago. It is a letter that was agreed to by all members of the committee, including the Conservative member.
I will read one paragraph from the committee letter:
The Committee is aware that the United States asked Canada to join in referring to the IJC a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers diversion project in 2002. Canada at that time suggested that it was premature for such a referral since the USACE project--
--that is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project--
--was undergoing domestic assessment. The state sponsored project under question now is not--
--I repeat from the letter sent by the chairman of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development:
The state sponsored project under question now is not that of the USACE and does not include any provisions for safeguarding water quality as was contained within the USACE proposal.
The fact of the matter is, as I understand it, the Army Corps of Engineers' proposal was dropped by North Dakota because of the very things that the Army Corps of Engineers said about the project when it did its analysis. I will review some of the things that it actually did say.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers confirms that an outlet “would have adverse effects in downstream receiving waters, including degraded water quality, increased erosion, increased sedimentation, reduced aquatic habitat value, loss of aquatic resources, loss of riparian habitat, effects on water treatment facilities”, et cetera.
It went on to say that there is about a 75% chance that if an outlet were built it would not be economically beneficial. It said that the present operating plan does not meet all downstream water quality standards and objectives, and that any revised operating plan that attempts to reduce water quality effects would likely result in less economic feasibility.
The North Dakotans did not want to have anything to do with this analysis, so they went ahead and did their own project. They designed a project to escape the possibility of environmental assessment. If they had to run this pipe across wetlands, instead of running it over top of the wetlands because that would have triggered an environmental assessment under U.S. law, they would run it under the wetlands which did not require an environmental assessment.
I am trying to point out the difference between the two projects, the one that is about to open and the one that we are worried about, and the one that was on the table earlier as a result of the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Someone, some student who is doing a Ph.D. thesis or something, might want to argue at some point about whether or not the acceptance of an IJC reference on that earlier project that never came to pass might have brought forward information that might have been helpful, that might have been this and might have been that. But tonight, on the eve of the United States having to make a decision about whether or not it should heed the Canadian call for an IJC reference, the last thing in the world we need to have reinforced is any argument that says, “You Canadians had your chance and you blew it”.
That is real solidarity. That is real strategic thinking. That is real tactical thinking. That is just straight political thinking in the worst possible way.
I just had this sinking feeling as I sat here tonight that this is why I sometimes just hate politics. What should have happened here tonight initially was an opportunity, an emergency debate, a good idea gone bad, which hopefully will get better as the evening goes forward, because we have lots of time left. It is a good idea gone bad because someone wanted to make political hay on this. It is not making political hay on anyone because, as far as I am concerned, it is pretty transparent what is going on.
It would have been so much better and the member for Kildonan--St. Paul would have been in a better political category, if you like, if she had just stuck to facts and pressured the government. I do not think the government has been perfect on this. I think it took a while to get the Prime Minister's attention on this issue. We worked hard at getting the Prime Minister's attention on this. There is nothing wrong with pressuring the government on this.
However, there is something wrong with giving comfort to the position of those who would open this outlet on July 1, or on some subsequent date if the negotiations that are now going on fail.
We brought pressure to bear on the government. One can never prove these things, but I think some of the questions that we asked helped the Prime Minister to focus on the fact, particularly when we thought that there might be an election coming. I remember asking a question and saying that the worst thing that could have happened in some ways, leaving aside all the other questions, would have been for us to have been in the middle of an election as we approached that July 1 date and have had no focus at all. People would obviously be focused on other things.
I asked a question of the Prime Minister in the House and I spoke to him personally after. I said, “You have got to call the President”. He said, “I will”. I understand that he did. We are waiting for the phone call back. When is the President going to show the kind of respect that he should show a Canadian Prime Minister and call us back, hopefully with the news that the White House has been able to bring North Dakota around and provide for the joint IJC reference. That is what we are hoping for. I think the government does owe us not just a rendition of everything that it has done, but what is the government's plan in the next few days and in the weeks to come?
I am convinced that the Minister of the Environment is sincere about this and is working very hard on this file. Sometimes I feel that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is too ready to tell us everything that he has done without telling us exactly what the plan is and what is going to be done in the next little while to make sure that we do not end up with the worst of all possible worlds.
The worst of all possible worlds for Manitobans, and not just Manitobans because I think the Minister of the Environment was right when he said it really has to do with the planet. If this can happen to one ecosystem, a huge, giant ecosystem, the Hudson Bay basin, then it can happen to any ecosystem. If one state can decide unilaterally to pollute an entire half continent in order to solve a local problem and that is not referred to the International Joint Commission, and that is something that state is allowed to do on its own, this sets a terrible precedent. It is a precedent that Canadians, and perhaps sometimes even Americans, might come to regret.
It is for that reason there are Americans on the Canadian side on this. That is why it is inappropriate to speak of Americans generically when it comes to this. We are reminded, as we should be, that the state of Minnesota has worked hand in hand with the Government of Manitoba.
There are other governors, other states and other mayors working toward an IJC reference, including, I believe, the governor of Ohio, Mr. Taft, who is the grandson of the Taft that set up the IJC to begin with. These are all political victories, but they are only political victories that count if in the end they result in an IJC reference, if in the end they result in a situation where that polluted water with the foreign biota and heavy phosphorus content and God knows what else does not make its way from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River and into the Red River and ultimately into Lake Winnipeg and into the Nelson River and Churchill River and into Hudson Bay.
This water in Devils Lake has been there by itself for a thousand years. It should stay by itself. Interbasin transfers of water such as this are simply wrong.
I plead with my North Dakota neighbours not to do this. I have been in North Dakota many times in my life. This is not how a neighbour acts. A neighbour does not solve his or her particular problem by dumping it over the fence and letting someone else deal with the consequences. That is basically what this amounts to.
I was also disappointed, I might say, and the member for Kildonan—St. Paul might want to correct the record on this if she did not mean what she seemed to say, because at one point she said, “Unfortunately, the Manitoba government took this matter to court in North Dakota”.
Did she mean that the outcome of the court decision was unfortunate? That is true. Was there an implied criticism of the Manitoba government for taking the matter to the North Dakota supreme court? Perhaps she could make that clear. When someone suggested she had done that, she seemed to be rather active in her seat, claiming that was not what she said. I listened carefully to what she said and she used the word “unfortunate”.
Perhaps she could clear up whether she thinks the Manitoba government has been going about this in the wrong way. There has been a great deal of solidarity in Manitoba about this. I do not remember the Conservative caucus and the provincial legislature or for that matter, up until the other day in the House, there being any of this “You should have done this” and “You should have done that”, arguing about the past.
Some of us have been asking “what are you going to do now”, “when are we going to get an answer” and “time's running out”, and that is all appropriate . However, to take this sort of argumentative view of what has happened, particularly with respect to the so-called IJC reference that the Canadian government turned down, I think is a very unfortunate way to go about it.
I do not have a whole lot more to say but I could quote extensively various things that have been said about the Devils Lake project. I think we all agree that it is bad. I do not need to persuade people here that it is a bad thing. We need to persuade people in Washington. In order to do that, we have to be together. I guess that is the message that I am leaving.
I do not mean we have to be uncritically together. It does not mean that we cannot step up to the Prime Minister, the President of the Treasury Board, the Minister of Foreign Affairs or the Minister of the Environment and ask them why they are not doing this, or say to them that we think it might be better if they do this and ask why are they not. Then they will give their argument. However, we should not do this in public. We should be trying to put our best foot forward in these dying days.
There is a lot of talk these days in the United States about security. What could be more a question of security than the integrity of an entire ecosystem? I understand and appreciate the fishing industry on Lake Winnipeg. I like to go up to Gimli and lay in my annual supply of pickerel just like everyone else. The idea that the pickerel fishery might be destroyed ultimately by foreign fish species entering Lake Winnipeg I cannot even begin to contemplate.
I think of what could possibly happen to Lake Winnipeg, and it is only possible, but that is why we want the IJC reference. We want to do the science. We want to do the reference. We want the precautionary principle to apply and then let it follow from there. I cannot imagine the United States, a Christian country, allowing this to happen.
The President is always talking about America as a Christian country. There are things I learned in Sunday school like “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I do not think this is the way the United States would want other people to treat it. I do not think this is the way the United States would want Canada to treat it in a similar situation.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I say indirectly to the President, as I am sure he is not listening, Christian action is not just a matter of individual morality. It is not just about marriage, abortion and all the other issues that are sometimes referred to as moral issues. How one treats one's neighbour's ecosystem is a moral issue. How one treats the environment is a moral issue. How one treats creation is a moral issue. If one treats creation without respect and if one does not exercise the kind of stewardship that humankind was charged with in Genesis for looking after the earth, then that person is as subject to criticism from a biblical point of view as anyone else.
Therefore, I implore anyone who is listening from the American embassy on TV, because they obviously are not here, to take this message back to the White House. Let us have a reference to the IJC. Let us do it properly. Let us do it the way good neighbours do things and let us take it from there.