Mr. Speaker, I move that the ninth report of the Standing Committee on International Trade, presented on Friday, May 18, 2007, be concurred in.
I am very pleased to rise in this House and discuss a motion made by the Bloc Québécois and adopted by the Standing Committee on International Trade on May 15.
I should mention that the Conservatives did everything in their power to block and delay the adoption of this motion, but the opposition parties set aside partisanship to address this issue, which is crucial to the sovereignty of Canada and the Quebec of the future.
Before I go any further, I would like to read the motion, as adopted by the committee.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), and the motion adopted by the Committee on Tuesday, May 15, 2007 your Committee recommends:
Whereas Canada’s water resources must be protected;
Whereas NAFTA covers all services and all goods, except those that are expressly excluded and water is not excluded;
Whereas this situation puts the provincial and federal laws concerning the protection of water including the prohibition of bulk water exports at risk;
Whereas a simple agreement by exchange of letters among the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico specifying that water is not covered by NAFTA must be respected by international tribunals as if it were an integral part of NAFTA;
That the Standing Committee recommend that the government quickly begin talks with its American and Mexican counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA.
Considering that the primary responsibility of democratically elected political parties is to represent the people and defend their interests, it is difficult to imagine that a party would refuse to support a motion intended to protect Quebec's and Canada's resources. Such a position has no basis in logic. Many people are afraid to embark on such talks, because reopening NAFTA would be like opening Pandora's box, especially since the winds of protectionism seem to be blowing south of the border.
These concerns are understandable, but it is possible to exclude water, without completely reopening the agreement. Far from being eloquent, the Conservatives' argument is mainly that there is no risk, so why talk about it?
Most of the people who appeared before the committee did not show the same gullibility or naiveté as the Conservatives. In any event, assuming that the Conservatives are right, nothing would stop them from taking a stand on this issue. This would reassure all Quebeckers and Canadians, and would firmly show our American and Mexican neighbours that Canada has a consensus.
Refusing to take a stand on this issue shows the current government's lack of goodwill. Speaking of goodwill, the members of the Standing Committee on International Trade were shocked by the attitude of the committee chair, particularly when it came to the process for discussing and adopting the water motion, which we are talking about today.
We now all understand better what happened: the chair was only doing as he was told. It was a good try, but democracy won out, which goes to show how essential the Bloc Québécois is to the current Parliament.
To get back to the water motion, the question is whether or not bulk water can be considered a good. I would like to warn you that the Conservatives will mainly refer to water in its natural state. What is water in its natural state? It is water flowing down a river, or sitting in a basin. What is water if it has been removed from a riverbed or a basin? Since it has been altered, it is no longer in its natural state.
This distinction is essential in this case. Water in its natural state is effectively protected, but as soon any type of modification is made, water is no longer in its natural state and can therefore become a commercial good.
That is precisely what is pointed out in a document prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade:
Water does not become a good until it is removed from its natural state and enters into commerce as a saleable commodity,
That is very close to what we are saying, is it not? But let us go further. Again, according to the document from the department:
Water in its natural state can be equated with other natural resources, such as trees in the forest, fish in the sea, or minerals in the ground.
Can the government confirm that the forests, fish or minerals are not covered by NAFTA? Obviously not or the problem goes well beyond the debate we are engaged in today.
Therefore, by comparing water to those other natural resources, the government is confirming that water could very well become a commodity regulated by NAFTA. That shows how important it is to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA. The threat is very real, indeed, too real.
In simple terms, water could be a commercial product, but as the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement du Québec (BAPE) has recognized it is only the lack of profit in water exports that has so far protected Quebec water from being exported in bulk.
In 2000, the BAPE noted that the commercial value of water did not make it profitable to export water in bulk. But what would happen if the commercial value of water increased to the point that it made such a project profitable?
Given the climate change that our world is facing, our neighbours to the south expect increasing drought, which will have major repercussions, especially on the American economy. It is because of that very real possibility that we must act now to specifically exclude water from the scope of NAFTA.
In its report, entitled L’eau, ressource à protéger, à partager et à mettre en valeur, the Commission sur la gestion de l'eau au Québec asked the question, “Should Quebec export its fresh water in large quantities?” and answered with an emphatic “No”.
The report pointed out that maintaining the status quo would be an unwise strategy given the current state of knowledge and the uncertainty related to climate change. That uncertainty is becoming more of a certainty. Climate change is increasingly considered to be a real and significant threat.
Since the publication of the BAPE report in 2000, scientific advances, such as the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, better known as IPCC, have confirmed the fears raised in the BAPE report.
The report clearly indicates:
In the short term, Quebec must make the Water Resources Preservation Act permanent. On the federal side, the possibility of the renegotiation of NAFTA must be closely scrutinized.
That is what the BAPE had to say.
In other words, the motion presented by the Bloc Québécois is perfectly in line with the recommendation made in the BAPE report on water management. Given that natural resources are under provincial jurisdiction, the federal government must not encroach on provincial jurisdictions; rather, it must fill in the gaps in trade agreements, such as NAFTA, which do fall under federal jurisdiction.
Water, in and of itself, is under provincial jurisdiction, but have the provinces done their homework?
Will the federal government alone protect this resource? Quebec legislation prohibits the export of water in bulk, and every Canadian province, except New Brunswick, has similar legislation.
However, there is no guarantee that this legislation will withstand a possible dispute by the Americans under NAFTA, which is the problem that this motion aims to resolve. The government says that NAFTA in no way limits our ability to protect our water resources. However, the situation is not so straightforward. Water is not specifically excluded from the scope of NAFTA. Most experts agree that water, in its natural state, is not subject to NAFTA. This protection, quite frankly, does not mean much. As already mentioned, water is in its natural state when it is not being used. The Americans would not purchase water from the Saguenay, only to leave it in the Saguenay. They would want to purchase water from the Saguenay in order to use it south of the border. Thus, it would not be in its natural state.
If a proposal to take water for export is put forward, we can no longer say that the water is not being used. If a contract is signed to that effect, a commercial transaction exists and trade agreements apply. Unless a commodity is specifically excluded from NAFTA through an exception under chapter 21 or a reservation, NAFTA applies the moment a commercial transaction is concluded.
In the absence of an exception, it is not the nature of the commodity that determines whether it is a marketable commodity. In other words, a U.S. company would simply have to put forward a proposal to export large quantities of water in order for NAFTA to apply, namely in terms of non-discrimination, national treatment or investment protection.
What about the witnesses who were kind enough to appear before the committee, that is, those who were allowed to speak? I must say that at the May 10 meeting, I was never more ashamed to be a parliamentarian. Preventing a witness from addressing the committee was not just embarrassing, but literally unbearable. Witnesses who had truly travelled from across Canada to provide us their testimony were silenced by the committee's chair. Again today, given recent revelations in the media on the Conservatives' code, we understand things better, but this is still inexcusable. Some had the chance to be heard. I should say “listened to”, but for members of the government I use that term quite loosely.
Allow me to cite Peter Fawcett, Deputy Director at the U.S. Transboundary Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, who appeared before the committee on May 10. Mr. Speaker, I presume you will allow my loose translation of what he said, which was, “I just want to emphasize that this is the approach we've taken to deal with water—as a natural resource, in its basin”. What happens when water is no longer in its basin? The witness was unable to give us an answer.
Another witness left quite an impression on the committee: Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, who addressed the committee on May 1. Her remarks were clear, precise and easy to understand. Ms. Barlow has published a number of books specifically on water. Allow me to quote a few excerpts from Ms. Barlow's testimony in the committee:
One is that you won't see the word “water” in NAFTA. What you'll see is the reference to the definition of a “good” that was in the old General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. When you go to that, you will see water in all its forms, including ice and snow. NAFTA adopted the old GATT tariff notion of a good, so water absolutely, definitely, is in NAFTA, which supersedes the provincial laws; not one of the provincial bans on water exports would stand up to a NAFTA challenge. We have to remove water as a good, an investment, and a service in NAFTA. We need to do that.
Ms. Barlow went on to say that:
[The Conservatives are] wrong in saying that NAFTA does not impact on the provinces and does not take precedence. A treaty between two countries, signed by the federal government of those two countries, is the overarching legislation. It implies everything and involves everything about the provinces. Of course the provinces don't have jurisdiction higher than that treaty.
I have here in my hand all of the legislation of the different provinces. It's a mishmash. New Brunswick has nothing--and they mean nothing.
Ralph Pentland, now retired, is considered Canada's leading senior bureaucratic authority on water issues. He is very clear that water is in NAFTA, as are all the legal opinions that you will find from everybody on all sides of the border--and when I say “border” I mean the political border. We even met with lawyers from the Canadian government when the Liberals were in power, and they all said the same thing: water is in NAFTA. You don't see the word. You have to go to the old General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade to get the definition of a good, and there it is. It is in there as an investment.
There is much to talk about. In short, for a brief period of time British Columbia exported water to the United States, specifically to a region experiencing a shortage. However, the province quickly changed its mind at the cost of a secret out-of-court settlement based on the provisions of the infamous chapter 11 of the NAFTA.
Canadian water will not be at risk so long as Americans do not challenge provincial laws, which are all different, and demand the export of water as a commercial good governed by NAFTA.
Although the issue is complex and the implications far-reaching, the solution may be simple and achievable. Excluding water from NAFTA is an obvious example that simple measures often do the trick.
When the government's argument against a motion is summed up by “it is no use”, while representatives of civil society are using every platform to make government aware of the extent of the risk, we should be asking questions.
The Bloc Québécois is proud to have introduced this motion, which is a good example of how the Bloc Québécois supports democracy in this House.
In closing, I will quote a few lines from the Libre-Opinion piece that appeared in Le Devoir on May 30, 2007:
The recent adoption by the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade of a motion introduced by the Bloc Québécois, and supported by the opposition parties, to exclude water from NAFTA, deserves to be applauded.
It is in this context that I ask this House and all members to support this motion calling on the Government of Canada to begin formal talks with Mexico and the United States for the purpose of excluding water from the scope of NAFTA.
The Conservatives have told us repeatedly that water is not covered by the NAFTA, that it is excluded. Then why not spell it out? If the government and the Conservative members insist on being unclear, there must be something wrong. This motion is crystal clear.