Mr. Speaker, I want to start by thanking the member for Elmwood—Transcona for the very constructive tone that he has brought to this debate. I absolutely agree with the position he has taken and I think it would be very interesting to see what could be constructed in the House by way of a unanimous resolution on this issue.
Part of the problem we face right now is that as this issue has progressed, as it has gotten closer to the completion date, the rhetoric around it has risen. There has been a great deal of misinformation put on the record. I think it has led some people to be a little confused about what is going on.
I should say, Mr. Speaker, that I will be splitting my time with the member for Winnipeg South Centre.
I worked with a group that was working on and raising concerns in 1980 about the Garrison project, a project that was designed to bring water from the Missouri watershed. At that time there was a great deal of concern because that was an absolutely complete interbasin transfer, moving water from the Mississippi water system across the continental divide and into the Red River.
The state of North Dakota was doing that because it had a problem. North Dakota was in a very dry area and thought that if it could bring some more water into what was essentially a dry lake, it could create a pool of water that could be used for irrigation. There was a great deal of concern raised because of the interbasin transfers.
After a great deal of time and advocacy, that project was stopped by negotiations between the two countries.
Since then, the state of North Dakota has undertaken to drain a number of its wetlands and turn previous wetlands into agricultural land, which has led to the gathering of a great deal of water in the basin. It has risen and has flooded surrounding towns and communities. They have had a great deal of damage and have had to respond to that and try to correct the damage created with the draining of those wetlands.
The misinformation that is carried into this House does not originate just from some of the members on the other side. It is contained in a letter from some of political proponents of the project in a letter to the President of the United States on June 10. On the question of whether or not the water is polluted and whether it poses a danger, the proponents themselves make the statement that “if uncontrolled overflows occurred, something that has happened several times in the past centuries, the effects would be catastrophic, causing serious environmental and health problems for downstream communities”.
That is the position of the proponents on the quality of the water that they now wish to send north to us. They talk about this famous Army Corps of Engineers project, but members have read the letter from 2002. I have the letter from 2004, which was written to Governor Hoeven by Paul V. Kelly, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, in which he makes it very clear that the remarks relative to the federal Army Corps of Engineers did not apply.
While Governor Hoeven has said that federal government under Secretary Powell had provided additional assurance that an outlet would not violate the treaty, in fact he was specifically written to in order to: “draw his attention to the fact that the Secretary of State's June 20, 2004, assurance concerned only the federal project under discussion for Devils Lake. The secretary has not reviewed the state project and has expressed no view”.
We heard the information from the member for Elmwood--Transcona, who went further with the concerns that were raised about what an uncontrolled project would do to the watershed in Manitoba.
The solution is clearly to respect a treaty that has served our two countries very well. The solution is clearly to move this to the IJC, as we have done some 53 times in the history of that treaty. The inability to get it there is what poses the problem. The suggestion by the proponents, as they say in their letter to the president, that it takes eight and a half years to do an IJC reference is just nonsense.
For the 1997 reference on the protection of the Red River, the interim report was completed in six months. The 1999 reference to examine water uses and diversions in the Great Lakes was completed in a year. The 2004 reference on Missisquoi Bay was completed by the IJC in less than a year. Also, Premier Doer and Ambassador McKenna approached the IJC to see whether it would take a time limited reference, which it was only too willing to do, for it too is concerned about the impact of this transfer.
It goes on. There are statements that the Army Corps of Engineers concluded that an outlet is the best means to address the flooding problem. Yes, in the Army Corps project it was. It was a much larger project, moved a much larger volume of water and came equipped with a number of mediation steps such as sand filters, ultraviolet treatment and sedimentation devices, none of which have been included in this particular project.
Therefore, to say that this is an acceptable solution to this is just simply wrong. In fact, here is what the hydrology on this particular project suggests. It is proposed as a solution to this lake that has big surges in water, that this will be a means of controlling that, but the hydrology says it will reduce the overall volume of the lake by about two inches a year, hardly the stuff that controlling a lake that is moving in feet is going to cause.
Having said all of that, there is a real problem. North Dakotans are our friends. North Dakotans are not our enemies. As we characterize this as a battle between the two groups, I think we do ourselves a disservice. They come up to visit us. We go down there to visit them. Our hockey teams beat theirs and their baseball teams beat ours. It is all about being a neighbour. It is a tragedy that this has come to the point where the sides are drawn up and even willing to contemplate the pollution of the other side.
The North Dakotans have a problem. This lake is causing the problem, but they have time. The latest meteorological information from the U.S. weather service suggests that the chance of there being growth in the lake, because of low snow pack in recent years, is about 20%, so they have time to wait until we complete the review. They have time to wait until we get the proper remediation in.
I think we have a responsibility to be sensitive to the concerns they have. We cannot stand idly by and watch while our neighbours are flooded and their homes destroyed and all of that without trying to do something to be of assistance, but to solve their problem by simply moving it north to us is not an acceptable solution. To do as was suggested by some of them, to simply let the water flow and then deal with the pollution on an after the fact damage claim, is clearly inappropriate in a modern society that is concerned about the environment.
So what to do? I have been engaged in this and I think Premier Doer deserves enormous credit for the leadership he has shown on this file. He has pursued this on a state to state level. He has pursued this in the courts in North Dakota directly. He has pursued this diplomatically in Ottawa with the various governors. I have been down with him to Washington. We went around together on one of the trips and I was down on others. I have met with and talked to all four proponents of this project.
Frankly, while some members do not like to hear it, the action taking place right now is a result of the conversation directly between the Prime Minister and President Bush. That has given me some hope. I want to commend both the Prime Minister and President Bush. There are some political forces at play in the U.S. that make this very difficult. President Bush could have simply thrown up his hands and said it was a state problem. He did not. He has his office actively involved and we are looking at ways that may find solutions. There are discussions going on. I think all the actors are acting responsibly.
The political rhetoric is up so high that it is very difficult to talk about this without resorting to the image of a battle, but in reality I think that people of goodwill and good minds are trying to find a solution which offers some hope to the people in North Dakota that the tremendous damage they are suffering will be dealt with and that it will be dealt with in a way that does not simply move the problem north to those of us who live in Manitoba. I remain very hopeful of that.
Ambassador McKenna has done a tremendous job at getting this around. The Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have been equally very strongly engaged, and those discussions go on.
As the member for Elmwood—Transcona suggested, a very clear, unanimous message of solidarity from this House would be very helpful to continue to impress upon the political leadership of the importance of this issue.
There is another problem, if a state can violate an international treaty with impunity, then we have no treaty. What is to prevent British Columbia on the Flathead River?