That this House do now adjourn.
Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by thanking the Speaker for agreeing to hold this emergency debate. Yesterday we made a case to you about the urgency of the situation at hand with respect to Devils Lake outlet. You saw the wisdom and importance of having an emergency debate in this place, even though the hour is late and members in the House are anxious to fulfill their duties in their constituencies.
I know many members are here who would rather be on their way home or in other places to attend very important functions. I found myself in the same predicament. Having initiated this motion and being granted the debate, for which I am forever grateful, I face the disappointment of my 18-year-old son, Joe, whose last concert of his high school years is being held as we speak.
I apologize to my son. I spoke to him and he understands fully the importance of this issue, just as all members in the House do. After all, we are talking about the future of this earth. We are talking about our fragile ecosystems in the country. We are facing a very serious threat on an environmental basis that has to be a priority of this place.
The emergency around Devils Lake arose earlier this week when we learned that as of 2 p.m. central time, on Monday, June 11, the North Dakota government turned on the tap at the Devils Lake outlet and water, at that point, began flowing through Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River, north to the Red River system and on its way to Lake Winnipeg. We are talking about a vast Canadian ecosystem that is under threat.
The issues before us today are not new to the chamber. Is it not interesting that just about two years ago to the day, June 21, 2005, this place held an emergency debate on this very same topic, I believe my initiated by colleague, the member for Kildonan—St. Paul. We are all here again tonight and I am pleased to see so many Manitoba members present for this debate.
That motion on an emergency situation at Devils Lake outlet was debated here. At that point, the North Dakota government was again threatening to begin diverting water from the Devils Lake area into the Red River system. We all recognized at that time that this was a serious situation that had to be addressed.
In fact, the debate was so serious that we ended the evening with a motion presented by the member for Elmwood—Transcona, a motion that was approved unanimously, to send a message from the Canadian government to both the United States government and the North Dakota government.
That motion was very clear. It requested the United States to immediately agree to undertake an independent, time limited binational scientific assessment of North Dakota's proposed Devils Lake diversion in a manner that was consistent with the Boundary Waters Treaty and with the role of the International Joint Commission and that pending completion of this assessment and implementation of measures to mitigate risks of invasive species and water quality, the outlet would not operate.
Members recognized then there was a critical situation and action was taken by this chamber. A responsible position was taken by members of the House, with unanimous agreement.
It is regrettable we have to be here again today on the same matter, but it is imperative that we do this all over again, that we share the concerns of people in Manitoba and everywhere, and that we speak boldly, with courage and conviction, to make an impassioned plea that the government of the United States of America will hear. It is imperative that members come to agreement on a course of action.
I do not come tonight with a prepared motion. However, I hope that over the course of the evening members will be able to sense a consensus around some wording. I have a few suggestions I would like members to consider as we go through the next three hours of debate.
Members need to say something about the House calling on the Canadian government to do everything possible to have the flow of water from the Devils Lake outlet into the Canadian water system stopped. We have to send that message again. We have to say that it has to stop immediately. We need some sort of wording that says the Canadian government will work to ensure the governments of North Dakota and the United States of America will comply with an agreement that was arrived at back in the summer of 2005, after this place had its emergency debate.
That diplomatic accord called upon the governments of North Dakota and the United States of America to stop the flow of water from Devils Lake outlet, to turn off the tap until such time as an advanced filter had been put in place. It was a compromise on the part of the Manitoba government. Certainly, an advanced filter does not mean that we will be able to stop all foreign or dangerous contaminants and particles coming into the Canadian water system. It was a compromise because North Dakota needed some way to address the situation of flooding because of Devils Lake.
We must not forget that we are dealing with a landlocked lake. There is no natural flow of water into the Red River. There is a constructed outlet to divert water. This landlocked lake is like a bathtub. It is filled with all kinds of chemicals, contaminants and pollutants from the drainage of farm fields and surrounding lands.
If people understand this in the way Canadians do and if MPs know the full impact of what is happening, they will come to an agreement of some fashion tonight. I look forward to hearing some comments from my colleagues over the course of this evening to see what kind of agreement we can reach.
Members cannot leave this place without a clear, unequivocal statement and understanding that we back the Canadian government to go forward and ensure the governments of the United States and North Dakota live up to a previously arrived at agreement.
Canada and the United States are neighbours. We ought to act like neighbours. Manitoba has worked hard to find a compromise, and it did so when it agreed to a filter of an advanced nature to be placed at the outlet to prevent dangerous species, unknown, alien elements from making their way into the Canadian ecosystem.
I am not here to say we know that what is coming this way will automatically create havoc in our water system. I do not want to exaggerate and suggest that hundreds of fishers will lose their jobs because the fish will die. However, I am here to say, as so many others have noted in the past, that there are parasites identified in North Dakota waters and in Devils Lake that are not found in Lake Winnipeg. There is a much higher level of sulphate found in North Dakota waters and at Devils Lake than is permitted in this country.
On that note, it is worth pointing out that just last summer the North Dakota government decided to introduce regulations and legislation to reduce the standards for environmental protection and to raise the level of sulphates allowed in their water system. Clearly, it is seen by many as an attempt on the part of the North Dakota government to find a way to let the waters flow north without us being led to believe there is a breach in the commonly accepted environmental standards and protection legislation.
The standards are in place for a good reason. A high level of sulphate could cause enormous problems in our system. We are already dealing with some unknown developments in our lakes around the growth of algae and other problems that are having an impact on our tourism and on the livelihoods of many people. We know we have to be absolutely vigilant when it comes to allowing any kind of foreign particles, parasites, or higher levels of salt in our water coming into our ecosystem in Canada.
Some may argue it is just Manitoba. In response to that I want to say we are talking about a vast ecosystem, the Red River Basin and the sixth Great Lake and the 10th largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Winnipeg, is already suffering under some difficulties. Now it is faced with the possibility of more pollutants and contaminants moving its way.
On that basis, it seems self-evident, and I believe this would be the case in this chamber tonight, that it is an undesirable situation and not acceptable. It is a risk that we cannot afford to take. It is a risk that can be stopped, or at least minimized through an advanced filter.
The agreement of August 2005 should be as good as the bond made between Canada and the United States, between North Dakota and Manitoba. Today we are faced with a situation where that sense of neighbourliness is gone. North Dakota has arbitrarily decided to turn on the tap, open the gates and allow the water to start to flow without due regard for the commitment to have an advanced filter system in place.
It seems to be a bit of a political football in the United States with some saying it is the responsibility of the federal government to pay for it, which may be true, and others saying that Governor Hoeven of North Dakota will have nothing to do with this project whatsoever.
Somebody has got to stand up to that. It is our elected government, the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister of our country who are obligated to address this issue and not dismiss it as a Manitoba problem. It is a vast ecosystem and that means contaminants could spread beyond that ecosystem. It means that Manitoba matters.
If someone were to dump water from Detroit into Lake Erie there would be hell to pay. There would be a hue and cry.