House of Commons Hansard #120 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was ndp.


Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:15 p.m.


Bryon Wilfert Liberal Richmond Hill, ON

Madam Speaker, when I referred to this issue in my original comments, it was a federal project not a state project. In fact, it was questioned whether it would even go ahead because it had not been recommended by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This is like dealing with apples and oranges. We are talking about two different things here. Therefore at the time it was premature to suggest that we would do a reference. The environmental assessment, which was recommended by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, had not been completed. When that assessment was proposed by the Corps, North Dakota found it very expensive and decided to go on its own. However it was a federal not a state project, and therefore that is why. I hope that helps clarify it for the member.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:15 p.m.

Pickering—Scarborough East Ontario


Dan McTeague LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, it is a great honour for me to take part in this debate. I must point out a conflict of interest for me in this great debate. I stand by my colleagues from Manitoba, as I am a Manitoban by birth. I was born in Winnipeg in 1962. I know that I look a bit older. The many important issues we are called to address in the House of Commons make us age prematurely and make us seem a little older.

First, as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment said, I am sharing his time. I thank him for that. I will be speaking about a very important topic. I want to commend the hon. member for Kildonan—St. Paul for her initiative.

Cooperation between Canada and the United States on water resources is essential. Major bodies of water straddle the border between the two countries and the water flows in both directions. The Great Lakes and other transboundary bodies of water represent more than 20% of the world's fresh water supply. Bilateral cooperation has contributed to a series of successes resulting from the 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty and the International Joint Commission, also known as the IJC.

The IJC is an effective dispute settlement and water resource management mechanism that has proven itself a long time ago. Some 52 of the 54 referrals to the commission have resulted in consensus reports based on an independent review and sound scientific data.

The quality and quantity of water resources, as well as invasive species, remain major challenges for both countries and will require more intense bilateral cooperation in the future when it comes to flooding, drought and pollution, for example.

Without an effective dispute settlement mechanism that uses shared analyses and sound scientific data, both countries are at risk of seeing the situation deteriorate.

In March 2005, President Bush and the Prime Minister publicly promised to “enhance water quality by working bilaterally and through existing regional bodies such as the International Joint Commission ”. This promise was made in Waco, Texas, on March 23.

Fluctuating water levels have clearly led to hardship for our friends the North Dakotans, but the state outlet has the potential, as we all know and as has been so eloquently expressed here, to do serious harm to Canada. There is obviously a simple matter of dispute of the facts and the data needs to be provided as soon as possible.

What do we know? There was no environmental assessment on the state outlet project. Rather, North Dakota has relied mainly on environmental assessments prepared by the Army Corps of Engineers' proposed outlet, a different project from the state's outlet.

Further, North Dakota then chose to ignore findings of the corps' environmental assessments that highlighted potential risks to even then Secretary Powell's mitigation requirements. The state's outlet project creates risks as far as we can tell in three areas: biota transfer, water quality impact and socio-economic impacts, degradation of water quality and foreign biota transfer, which would have obvious socio-impacts on the Lake Winnipeg watershed.

Lake Winnipeg is the world's 10th largest freshwater lake and it is the sixth largest in North America. It is home to a very viable commercial and sport fishery worth over $100 million per year. About 80% of that commercial fishing is done by our first people. It supports a vibrant tourism industry worth another $110 million per year and of course Lake Winnipeg and Red River are a source of drinking water for nearly 40,000 people in Manitoba. Invasive species that enter Lake Winnipeg could spread to the larger Hudson Bay basin.

North Dakota has suggested that Canada's request for IJC reference is a delay tactic. It questions why our request comes at the last moment. We have heard this expressed by others. Canada first raised concerns about the state outlet as early as 1999 and regularly thereafter.

I know because I dealt with one of those questions in the House not too long ago. Canada formally proposed a joint reference on the state funded outlet 14 months ago in April of 2004. Using the one year timeframe, it is conceivable that it is quite likely that the reference would have now been completed by this date.

Moreover, we have received repeated assurances from U.S. government officials that any outlet project would conform with the Boundary Waters Treaty's obligations. There is some confusion over Canada's alleged refusal to pursue the reference in 2002.

I understand the member for Selkirk—Interlake had an exchange with the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment on the question of the difference between the state outlet and the federal project. It is clear that the proposed reference was premature as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had not finished its environmental assessment.

A further concern, and it may be an allegation by North Dakota but it is one that has to be challenged, is the reference that it has made that it would take eight and a half years. The IJC has told Canadian and U.S. governments that it could complete this case in a matter of a year.

Our embassy, along with Manitoba, is coordinating our efforts. Appeals are being launched on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, the Environment, Justice, and the President of the Treasury Board. Embassy officials are meeting with members of Congress and the heads of bordering states. This is the biggest letter-writing campaign ever.

Ambassador McKenna wrote an editorial published in the New York Times . It resulted in supporting articles in American newspapers and letters to the Secretary of State, Ms. Rice from Senators Lugar, DeWine and Voinovich, the Governor of Minnesota, Mr. Pawlentry, and the Governor of Ohio, Mr. Taft; from numerous American representatives of the Great Lakes Commission; and from mayors and major NGOs.

The White House's council on environmental quality held a series of discussions to see if a negotiated settlement could be reached.

Canadian officials met twice with the council on environmental quality to express our concerns about invasive species and impact on water quality. At present, the experts are analyzing the data on the conditions in Devils Lake.

We are encouraged by the evolution of this situation and by North Dakota's interest in finding a solution acceptable to both sides under the international boundary waters treaty.

Canada feels, however, that the Devils Lake outlet should not open until the necessary measures have been taken to ensure the project complies with this treaty.

We are working hard with the government of Manitoba to ensure that we are able to reach a conclusion that is acceptable to all. I would encourage members on all sides of the House to work together to affirm and to support our efforts to find a resolution on this important issue.

Once again, I thank the hon. members for cooperating and having the desire and the will to put this matter very much before this House of Commons, so that at the end of this, consistent with what the member for Winnipeg North has just said, we send an undeniable message of support that this project should not go through.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:25 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, we are actually going through negotiations here to develop a resolution. The Conservatives had already drafted one to bring before the House. It is a resolution that would probably find unanimous consent. I think we will be able to work out a resolution with my colleagues across the way. We did have one prepared. We will work together to come up with wording that is acceptable to all and include our friends from the Liberal Party.

I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his intervention and I want to follow up on some of the discussions. Perhaps this is where we have some of the confusion happening out in the countryside and in this House. It is how the Boundary Waters Treaty comes into play when there are federal projects in the U.S. and Canada versus state projects on both sides and provincial projects.

It is extremely confusing that we have a state project in North Dakota that is going ahead without any federal blessing. It started construction back in 2002-03, completely violating everything that was recommended by the environmental impact studies that were presented and done at that time.

We cannot seem to get the Americans to honour the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. We cannot seem to get them to consider any of the environmental recommendations that have been brought forward from the U.S. government and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

One of the reasons that we have not been advocating this issue over the last couple of weeks on Devils Lake is because we had hoped that there were good negotiations going on. Then we were presented with this letter and heard challenges from the governor of North Dakota in the last week. This reminded us that we had to start talking about this again in the House of Commons, since it was pushed to the side with all the other issues that the government is facing.

Essentially, how can we have faith that the IJC can intervene here and stop the state government when it seems to have a mind of its own and wanting to do whatever it pleases? The state has already proven that by building the project.

We are only a couple of weeks away from the state being in the position to throw the switch and start the pumps. Can the parliamentary secretary explain to me, and to any people who are watching, particularly back in Manitoba, that the concern is that North Dakota will not honour the treaty.

Further, it may not even be bound by the treaty since there was the reference made earlier saying that the reason that we never made a referral before is because it was a state project rather than a federal project. That does not seem to wash in both hands.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:30 p.m.


Dan McTeague Liberal Pickering—Scarborough East, ON

Madam Speaker, the state projects, while subject to International Joint Commission treaties, are enjoined by the treaty between two nations. Specifically, the point at which the outlet would have an impact may only be at the time in which it is discharged.

This is not because we have competing jurisdictions between the federal authority in the United States and the state authority. In fact, it would appear that any state could undertake to remediate a particular problem within its own geographic boundaries. It is only when it dumps into a river that carries itself north, as the hydrogeology of the area would indicate, that it suddenly becomes a national matter.

It would appear that using this as only a state driven outlet allowed, in my view, this issue not to follow its normal channels. We have heard and have received strong signals from the White House and from the President that they are indeed interested in this issue and, in fact, that there ought to be a reference to the International Joint Commission.

More importantly, a proper assessment must be done in this process which by any measure of conclusion, or any measure of regard, could only but conclude that this will have an impact on the water supply as it flows into Canada thereby affecting the treaty and inviting a response by the International Joint Commission.

I think it is a very important case at a very critical time. It is not the first time certainly since I have been parliamentary secretary that we have dealt with the International Joint Commission.

This was done with regard to Lake Memphrémagog and the Coventry site where the water flowed in various directions.

However it is very important for us to recognize and to understand that a state may very well have the ability to build something within its own jurisdiction and its own boundaries, notwithstanding the wider, longer term natural implications geographically as this water flows north. We cannot wait for that to happen because by the time that happens the damage may have already been done.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:30 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure this evening to take part at this late hour of 11:30 p.m. in this important debate on the potential dangers of this project to divert water from Devils Lake into the Red River and, more specifically, Lake Winnipeg.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. Not only could this project have a serious impact on Lake Winnipeg, but it could set a real and dangerous precedent for other international boundary waters near the Quebec—United States border.

First, it is important to remind Quebeckers who are unfamiliar with this project—if the truth be told—of its potential impact. This ambitious project was first undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Then the state of North Dakota sponsored and headed the project. Its aim, in theory, is to prevent the flooding of various farms and lands around Devils Lake.

In recent years, the water level in Devils Lake has risen dramatically. Some say it has even tripled. This increase, which occurred over a 10-year period, was caused by runoff, but also by significant spring flooding. As a result, as I said, the water level is Devils Lake has risen dramatically.

So the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to build a 22-km channel to divert the water. At $28 million, this was an ambitious and costly project to divert overflow to the Sheyenne River, the Red River and ultimately, Lake Winnipeg. As I mentioned, the aim of this project was to prevent lands and farms around Devils Lake from being flooded.

This is a major project: it cost $28 million to build a 22-km channel. We can say, today, that, for all intents and purposes, this project has been completed, since over 90% of the channel has been built.

Why did we need to hold an emergency debate so late this evening on this plan? Because the diversion canal is scheduled to open in a few weeks. Some say it will open on July 1, others a little later. What we know for sure is that the plan is to open the diversion canal so that these waters and additional levels of water can divert directly into Lake Winnipeg.

Why should we oppose this plan? There are basically two reasons for imposing a moratorium on this plan. The first reason has to do with the environment.

Those who know Lake Winnipeg will say without a doubt that it is one of the most beautiful lakes here in Canada and that for many years, considerable efforts have been made by the governments to restore the quality of the water in this lake to 1970 levels.

The quality of the water in Lake Winnipeg has varied considerably over the past few years. Intense restoration and action plans were developed to make sure the water in Lake Winnipeg could be restored to its 1970 quality. Considerable efforts were made by the community, the government and stakeholders. We were in the process of restoring the quality of the water in Lake Winnipeg that the public was right to demand.

Those who know Devils Lake can say without fear of error that it is among the most polluted. This lake, which is in Dakota, contains phosphorus, nitrate and other contaminants. What would this project do? It would mean that these contaminants from one of the most polluted lakes could end up in Lake Winnipeg, whose water quality stakeholders and the government have expended considerable effort in recent years to improve.

Is it right, then, when one community works to improve the water quality of its lakes, for parliamentarians to approve a project that provides for the transfer of phosphorous and nitrate contaminants from Devils Lake to Lake Winnipeg, through various tributaries, either the Sheyenne River or even the Red River? The answer is no, because in environmental and community terms, it is unacceptable.

Furthermore, in environmental terms, this project runs the risk of having significant negative consequences for Lake Winnipeg, because of the transfer of invasive species. We know what it is, when we talk to people living around the Great Lakes, who have worked hard to keep the numbers of these invasive species from growing. So we must not wish for people living around Lake Winnipeg to find themselves in the same situation as people living on the shores of certain rivers in Ontario, with regard to the proliferation of invasive species in the Great Lakes.

Therefore, in environmental and community terms, the project is unacceptable because it risks, first, transferring contaminants from Devils Lake to Lake Winnipeg and, second, increasing the proliferation of invasive species in Lake Winnipeg.

There is another basic reason for opposing this type of project and that is for economic reasons. In the case of Lake Winnipeg, we know that the activities of commercial fishing are vital. Commercial fishing in Lake Winnipeg represents some $25 million. We can ask ourselves the following question: what impact would this project have, in view of what I have just said, on the economic activity of commercial fishing in Lake Winnipeg?

There are grounds for concern. When one believes in sustainable development and knows that environmental protection is directly tied to economic and social development, it is clear that this project does not in any way respond to the issues relating to development, which we want to be sustainable development.

From the moment there are environmental and economic risks related to this project, energetic action must be taken.

In my opinion, there are two things that must be done promptly. Diplomatic action, of course, The government and the Prime Minister have interceded with U.S. President George Bush to ensure that this project will not come to pass.

My colleague has already addressed the importance for us, as parliamentarians, to make the state of Dakota aware of the considerable risks surrounding this project.

The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development has passed a motion, in fact, calling for this project not to take place without the International Joint Commission being informed of it. This, in my opinion, is the kind of diplomatic action that we, as parliamentarians, can take promptly.

Secondly, we must not be afraid to use legal means against certain states that do not respect the most fundamental historical element in Canada-U.S. relations, the Boundary Waters Treaty, signed in 1909. Under that treaty, when plans for diversion from one country to another have an impact, the International Joint Commission must be informed of the issue. When there is a risk of contaminant transfer, the international joint commission must be informed. This is, in my opinion, a treaty which respects the concept of sustainable development in an atmosphere of reciprocity.

We do know, however, that Canada was informed of this project. As far back as 2002, a plan, then described by the government as being at the embryonic stage, was submitted by the U.S corps of engineers. In principle this submission included mediation measures to ensure the least possible environmental impact.

We were told at the time—as the parliamentary secretary said this evening—that this was not a project of the state of Dakota, but rather one that involved the U.S. army corps of engineers. Yet the offer was made to the Canadian government to refer this matter to the International Joint Commission.

As far back as 2002, the most basic principles of prudence and caution ought to have prompted the government to submit this matter to the IJC immediately. We on this side of the House are well aware that, for a question to be referred to and examined by the IJC, both parties are required, that is both nations. Yet in 2002 Canada refused the U.S. invitation to submit it to the IJC.

There is one thing that is food for thought. It is true that Canada is today using diplomatic pressure and following the motions from the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, which may go as far as legal proceedings, but it had the opportunity in 2002 to submit this matter to the IJC in keeping with the U.S. proposal. It decided to turn its back on its responsibilities at that time.

This project means there is still a chance. The government—reading the Boundary Waters Treaty properly and being familiar with the IJC—knows that Canada can make a unilateral request for the IJC to look into the issue. The commission's response, however, will not be a decision, of course, just an opinion or advice.

At least the matter will have been referred to International Joint Commission. I think that is fundamental. We must therefore make sure that this project is not allowed to proceed until the matter has been referred to the IJC. In a system like ours, we cannot permit such projects to take place without an independent environmental assessment. Today, one can even wonder whether this diversion project is a good thing.

When we review the assessments and see that the project in question will only provide a reduction of 1.5 inch per year of the water level in Devils Lake, this raises questions about the very basis for the project scheduled to get under way in just a few weeks. Could the state of Dakota not have contemplated other options? Could restoring the wetlands around the lake have been an alternative to this type of project? Could sand filtering equipment not have been installed as an alternative to this project, which has cost $28 million and, at the end of the day, might only provide a reduction of 1.5 inch per year of the water level in Devils Lake?

The project itself has to be called into question in terms of its efficiency, as well as its environmental impact and negative externalities.

Beyond Devils Lake, this project will set a dangerous precedent which will affect not only Devils Lake and Lake Winnipeg, but also all boundary waters between Canada and the United States. There is indeed a risk that, should this project proceed without the International Joint Commission having had the matter referred to it, Quebec could be next, and such a project could take place in Quebec without a referral to the IJC. It is important to tell Quebeckers today that what is happening in this case today could very well happen in Quebec tomorrow. The true role of the International Joint Commission, as well as the very basis for the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and its true influence on the capacity to deal with water diversions, have been seriously prejudiced.

Accordingly, as I have a minute left, I will conclude by saying that I support the diplomatic and legal efforts of my colleagues in the House, unreservedly, because there is no partisanship associated with a project of this type, today. I know that my NDP colleague has worked very hard in the parliamentary committee. In my opinion, this is a common cause, and there is a common danger. Regardless of what political party we belong to, the very issue of Canadian sovereignty and environmental protection is being called into question. This risks affecting Canada—U.S. relations markedly.

So, we have the task of seeing that communities around Lake Winnipeg, which have implemented substantial measures to improve water quality, are not bullied about overnight. In addition, all the efforts to have the quality of Lake Winnipeg water restored to 1970 levels must not be wasted because of this project, which would transfer not only pollutants but invasive species from Devils Lake, which is in a terrible state, to Lake Winnipeg, where the community has worked extremely hard.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:50 p.m.


James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Madam Speaker, my hon. colleague from the Bloc is a very learned individual who has done a lot of great work on the environment committee. I appreciated his comments on the IJC, his recognition of the beauty of Lake Winnipeg and the importance of the commercial fishery and how it could be negatively impacted. The fishery in Lake Winnipeg is the largest for pickerel outside the Great Lakes region. It is a resource that we have to protect.

He said that this is going to set a very dangerous precedent on all other environmental treaties we have across this country and that we should ensure we make use of all legal means.

I want to thank all participants tonight who took the time to be here to talk about Devils Lake. I appreciate all the input and the interventions that were made. Hopefully, unanimous consent will come out of this and we can move ahead on the issue.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:50 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, naturally, in my remarks, I made a point of listing the environmental dangers associated with this type of project. There are also economic dangers and impacts associated with such projects.

This is an excellent example of how sustainable development, which brings together the protection of the environment, economic development and social development, must go hand and hand with any project.

We had and have always had an interesting treaty: the Boundary Waters Treaty. This treaty gives the International Joint Commission an authority which one might criticize from time to time. Nevertheless, this treaty has to be respected to the letter. This requires efforts from both sides.

In 2002, the suggestion was made to the Canadian government to refer the issue to the International Joint Commission. But at the same time the Government of Dakota has to understand that acting unilaterally, as it is about to do, is wrong.

Today, we have to hope for a moratorium on this issue. We also have to hope that every effort will be made to ensure this project does not go ahead.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate

11:55 p.m.


Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North, MB

Madam Speaker, just before the clock strikes midnight, I am pleased to have a few minutes to discuss this very important matter.

I want to begin by thanking the member for Selkirk—Interlake and the member for Kildonan—St. Paul for initiating this debate tonight. I want to acknowledge the fact that members from all parties have stood in this place to commit to working toward a solution that requires all of our attention. It is particularly fulfilling to see so many of my Manitoba colleagues here this evening because this issue is so critical for the province of Manitoba, in terms of the future of our water supply and our ecosystem. But it is something that affects all of us. As my colleague from the Bloc just said, what happens in this instance will have huge ramifications for similar issues all over North America. It is very important for the future of all of our watershed and ecosystems.

It has to be said that so many folks in this place have worked hard to make a difference. I think about my colleague on the environment committee, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. He worked with all of his colleagues on the environment committee to come forward with an unparalleled decision by the committee to work together with one voice to find a solution to a problem that affects, for now, one province. That was a historic development and I want to give him credit for his work. My other colleagues, the member for Windsor—Tecumseh and the member for Elmwood—Transcona, have also worked diligently on this matter.

We are here tonight because the danger is so imminent and the threat to our water system is so real. We are talking in plain language about the possibility of waters being diverted from Devils Lake into the Sheyenne River from which it will flow into the Red River, across the border into Canada, and finally into Hudson Bay.

As the environment committee report said, the waters of that lake have not flowed into the Red River for over 1,000 years. We also know from some of the studies, including that by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that we are talking about the possibility of degraded water quality, increased erosion, increased sedimentation, reduced aquatic habitat value, loss of aquatic resources and so on.

Numerous independent individuals have suggested that the water coming from Devils Lake into Manitoba will include parasites and foreign species. It will cause all kinds of problems to the quality of our water and to the ecosystem as a whole.

That is the state of affairs. That is the urgency. That is the national interest issue that we are talking about.

Tonight we have to grapple with how we fix it, how we get a solution. The Premier of Manitoba has worked diligently day in and day out on this matter. It is clear that the premier, the environment committee here in Ottawa, members of the Liberal government, all the NGOs and environmental organizations and citizen advocacy groups have spoken with one voice. They are saying that there must be a referral to the International Joint Commission under the Boundary Waters Treaty to ensure that there is an independent assessment and review of the dangers posed by the Devils Lake diversion project. That is the only way to ensure that we have taken the utmost care to protect our water system. We have to ensure that we do not set any dangerous precedent for the future.

In closing my remarks, tonight's debate has provided some possibility, some goodwill and determination to come back tomorrow in this place and agree on a resolution that would show to our country and the world that we are serious and that we want to take the most relevant action possible. Tomorrow I am hoping that all parties will agree to some wording, and it does not have to be the NDP wording or the Conservative Party wording, but some wording that this House calls on our counterparts in the United States Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate, to call on the International Joint Commission to have an independent assessment of the Devils Lake diversion project.

That gives us great hope that we can in fact find a solution and work together on a cooperative basis.

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate


The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

It being midnight, I declare the motion carried.

(Motion agreed to)

Devils Lake Diversion ProjectEmergency Debate


The Acting Speaker (Hon. Jean Augustine)

Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until later this day, Wednesday, at 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 12 a.m.)