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House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Claude Gravelle NDP Nickel Belt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured as the New Democratic Party critic for natural resources to speak to this legislation with respect to Canada's water resources. We have seen this legislation twice before in the House. We welcome the bill at second reading.

I know that many Canadians are interested in fostering the sustainable use of Canada's water resources and preventing the removal of water in bulk from major drainage basins in Canada. We know how essential water is as a resource for life, people and our planet. In many ways, water defines and distinguishes our country.

As a member from northern Ontario, my flights home to Nickel Belt and travelling around the north of this province remind me of the abundance of this resource and, equally, the importance of its safekeeping. We have in northern Ontario part of Lake Huron and all of Lake Superior. Moreover, there are numerous border crossings with the United States and joint water tributaries that remind me of the importance of good legislation to monitor and protect this resource.

New Democrats will be supporting this legislation at second reading because we want it to go committee to receive the scrutiny it deserves and to deal with several concerns that we believe need to be addressed. Among those concerns is the absence of any guidance to direct the Governor in Council in setting the definition of what constitutes a major drainage basin in the regulations. This is a crucial definition that, by and large, will determine the effectiveness or real power of this bill. Without the definition, we would talking about all or no drainage basin. If the definition chosen by the government includes none of the major drainage basin, the act could be rendered inapplicable.

We are also concerned that the act gives the government very wide regulatory powers, including the ability to redefine the scope of the expectations through regulations, as well as the ability to make regulations providing for any other expectations. These regulatory powers seem overly broad and could permit the government to rewrite the act using these regulatory powers.

Further, the prohibitions in the act appear to be limited to the removal of water in bulk through diversion, and would not apply to the removal of water in bulk via pumping of water into a ship or truck, for example. If we are to oppose bulk water exports, we need to ensure that the act covers all means of exporting our water.

Finally, this act contains an exception for manufactured water products, including bottled water and beverages, a large loophole that we believe is also worth examining at committee.

I commend the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for again introducing this legislation.

Canadians have had an interest in protecting Canada's water resources for decades, especially when it comes to the issue of bulk water exports. The NDP has always called for prohibiting bulk water exports. We believe that this should be a key component of a national water policy—something Canada does not have—that would establish clean drinking water standards, provide for rigorous environmental protection measures for water resources, and recognize water as a common right.

A number of major water diversion plans in water corridors have been proposed in the past 40 years. These corridors would have transferred considerable quantities of water from Canada to the United States. None of these projects got off the ground, for various reasons. However, this remains a possibility. We must pass rigorous legislation to counter such projects.

I have seen other precious resources in our ground mined and exported with too little regard for Canadian priorities and needs. That must not happen with our water.

This legislation before us today also calls to mind the NAFTA agreement and how it has long been considered a threat to Canada's water sovereignty.

On several occasions, the NDP has brought forward motions here in the House of Commons to protect our fresh water. In February 1999 after debate, the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to place an immediate moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and inter-basin transfers. The motion also instructed the government to introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and inter-basin transfers and recommended that it not become party to any international agreement that compelled us to export fresh water against our will.

In that same year, 1999, the Liberal government of the day announced that it would consult the provinces and territories to develop a strategy that would prohibit the bulk removal of water from Canadian watersheds, whether for domestic purposes or export. Regrettably, the strategy did not address the trade issues and concerns posed by NAFTA, focusing instead on water protection through water management. There is a relative consensus that the Liberals' Canada-wide water accord, with its environmental focus, does not contain enough protection from bulk water export.

In June 2007, the House adopted another New Democrat motion calling for the government to initiate talks with its American and Mexican counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA.

We know that in 2010 the government tabled Bill C-26, which aimed to ban bulk water. The bill did not progress beyond first reading and, indeed, was quite a feeble attempt to ban bulk water exports. It actually left 80% of Canada's surface water unprotected, as it only contained a prohibition on the removal of transboundary waters and not a prohibition on the inter-basin diversion or transfer of waters into transboundary waters, which left the door open for water pipelines to be built, like those proposed in the 1990s. We also opposed that bill for not addressing statutory exceptions that permitted the export of bottled water or other beverages. In fact, the bill did nothing to address bulk water trade concerns.

We want the government to acknowledge that Canada's water resources need further protection with respect to NAFTA via negotiations leading to an agreement that excludes water from NAFTA as a commercial good. Water should instead be listed as a human right and we need an acknowledgement of our respective sovereign rights to manage water as part of the public trust.

New Democrats have a history of defending Canada's water. In both 1999 and 2007 the House adopted NDP motions instructing the government to take steps to better protect Canada's water resources, and we are urging the government to respect the intent of those motions.

We must get it right this time to genuinely protect our water. We know that an overwhelming majority of Canadians support a ban on bulk water exports. We need to ensure that Canada maintains control through both a bulk water ban and the protections offered by a national water policy.

Bulk water removal poses concerns not just for the Canadians' drinking water but also for the cumulative effects it could have on the ecosystems of our water basins and watersheds. Policy-makers should also consider issues of water consumption as well as population and economic growth.

Further, we need more study of the effects of climate change on Canada's environment, and water resources must be examined in that regard, in particular, drought and changing weather patterns. Our water resource policy should take that into account. Here I would note that residents in northern Ontario with homes or cottages along Lake Huron and Lake Superior have seen dramatic changes in the water levels of the Great Lakes. In some recent years they have been able to walk hundreds of feet on new beaches that were once under water.

Policy-makers should also consider issues of consumption, population and economic growth.

When I look around our new Parliament since the May 2, 2011 election, I see that the members elected cover an amazing seven decades in their ages. This new dynamic of intergenerational partnership reaffirms the need to pass forward-thinking legislation that recognizes that a healthy and ecologically balanced planet is the most important gift we can give to future generations of Canadians.

To do this, parliamentarians have the duty and obligation to ensure that they understand the environmental consequences of current actions on future generations. This includes acting as responsible stewards of our water resources.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the issue today is critical. Fresh water is the source of all forms of life on earth. The protection and conservation of fresh water are political issues of the 21st century. Seen from space, Canada has one of the supplies of water in the world, but on the ground the situation is very different. Our water consumption is concentrated in a specific geographic area: 60% of our watercourses flow to the north of the country, but over 90% of the population is concentrated along the southern border.

As custodians of 9% of the planet’s renewable water resources, we have a moral obligation to preserve them for our generation and future generations. Thank God this is an issue on which there is consensus. For example, in the throne speech of November 19, 2008, the government said: “To ensure protection of our vital resources, our Government will bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins.”

We had that commitment before. I spoke of the Speech from the Throne in 2008.

When I worked many years ago, as part of the previous government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that was the last time Canada took a comprehensive look at our water resources. The federal water policy, which remains the only federal water policy passed to this date, was passed in 1987. The Government of Canada committed to a federal water policy, which included that we would ban bulk water exports. Yet we stand here, more than 20 years later, without that prohibition.

I am very grateful to my friend for the introduction of Bill C-267, which ascribes in every respect to the best possible approach to how to ban the transfer of bulk water from one basin to another. I am aware, and I thank my friend, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, for a similar bill, Bill C-383. I would wish we had the ability to blend the two. However, there is no question that Bill C-267 responds to the issue in a way in which it must be responded.

The bill respecting the preservation of Canada's water resources before us this evening deals with the issue in terms of the inter-basin transfer of water. There are five major drainage basins for all of the water of Canada. If we think about it, it is very logical and intuitive. All our water drains toward larger areas. The five major drainage basins are the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and even the Gulf of Mexico from which our Great Lakes drain toward the south. These are the five major drainage basins and it is to these drainage basins that Bill C-267 speaks by prohibiting the inter-basin transfer of water, prohibiting the massive transfer of water in bulk.

This is critical because Bill C-383 is quite similar to a previous government legislation, Bill C-26. It dealt only with boundary and transboundary water. It is important for us to remember that when we are looking at boundary and transboundary water, we are looking at 10% of Canada's water resources. In other words, 90% of Canada's water resources are found in basins that could not be defined as boundary or transboundary water. As such, the acts we will be looking at later in this session, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvement Act, are certainly laudable, but fall far short of what we need, which is why if it were possible to include the provisions of both bills together, we would have stronger legislation.

I do not have quite the same concern as the hon. member for Nickel Belt about the fact that it is left to regulations to describe a drainage basin. There is no question, however, since there really are five drainage basins for Canada and they are well known and are a matter of scientific fact, that it certainly would be wise to include them when the bill goes to committee and comes to amendment. That would leave no wiggle room for some sort of political fix that would deny the hydrogeology of Canada's land mass to try to say that there was something other than five major drainage basins. It is a scientific fact that is what there is.

We have always had the threat when we look at the transfer of basin water from one to the other. The most grandiose of these schemes was put forward repeatedly in the early 1980s. The grand canal scheme was the idea that we would move water from one basin, the Hudson Bay drainage basin, and put it into pipelines to ship down to the U.S. That grand canal scheme would not be at all affected by private member's Bill C-383, which deals with boundary and transboundary water. However, it would be completely caught by Bill C-267, which speaks to the key issue, and that is the removal of water in bulk.

Under the interpretation and definition section of the bill, it states, “removal of water in bulk” means the removal of water, whether it has been treated or not, from the major drainage basin in which the water is located by any means of diversion that includes a pipeline, canal, tunnel, aqueduct or channel”, which is a perfect way of ensuring the grand canal scheme never happens, “or by any other means of diversion by which more than 50,000 litres of water per day is removed from major drainage basin”.

This speaks to ecological realities. It is not a political statement of a boundary. It speaks to the key issue, which is how do we ensure that we do not commit a serious and egregious error in which Canada's water is moved from one basin to another. We think we are a water-rich nation, but the reality is we only have 9% of the world's renewable water, the U.S. has 6%. We are roughly in the same territory. For all the water we have, what we have is precious and we have to protect it.

The other reason for this legislation does not come from an ecological threat. It comes from the reality of NAFTA. We have a situation where under the North American Free Trade Agreement, should we allow a single transaction of the shipment of water in bulk from one drainage basin to the other, particularly from one drainage basin in Canada for sale in the United States, we would then have turned a tap on and would be simply impossible under the terms of NAFTA to turn off.

The reason one could say that water is not covered under NAFTA is that water in its natural state in natural water bodies and water courses is not a good in trade. The minute we make that a good in trade, then the taps are open everywhere.

It is critical that Canada protects our water sources by prohibiting the transfer of water in bulk, prohibiting its sale, prohibiting water in its natural state from ever being seen as a good in commerce.

One last reason why the legislation is essential is we may feel awash in water, but the impact of the climate crisis, as the previous member has mentioned, will have its primary initial impact on reducing our access to water, its quality and its quantity. That is why I am so very proud to stand as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands and as the leader of the Green Party of Canada to speak, to plead that the House lives up to the commitments that were made in 1987 in the federal water policy and to the commitment of the current Prime Minister in the Speech from the Throne of 2008 to ban bulk water exports.

We need to take precautionary measures now. I plead with all members of the House to ensure that Bill C-267 lives up to the promises of generations to protect our fresh water in our country.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, I support the bill introduced by the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, which is a step in the right direction.

We New Democrats have long been calling for a law that bans bulk water exports. On February 9, 1999, the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to impose an immediate moratorium on bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers. We thank the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his work on this issue, which is important all across Canada.

At present, any proposal for the bulk export of water from Canadian basins or the Great Lakes would create a precedent, a situation that the Canadian authorities could not subsequently call into question. At what point does water from a river or an aquifer cease to be a common good like air or sunshine and become merchandise? If bottled water manifestly constitutes merchandise, can water in all of its forms then be considered nothing but a commercial good?

NAFTA has long been considered a threat to Canada’s sovereignty over water resources, but fortunately, there is still time to act. We can correct the problem before it is too late.

Under NAFTA, articles 315 and 309, it states:

—no country can reduce or restrict the export of a resource once the trade has been established. Nor can the government place an export tax or charge more to the consumers of another NAFTA country than they charge domestically.

Exports of water would have to be guaranteed to the level they had acquired over the preceding 36 months. The more water exported, the more water required to be exported. Even if new evidence were found that massive movements of water were harmful to the environment, these requirements would stay in place. That is something we cannot enter into. We truly have to protect this precious resource.

In other words, in the event bulk freshwater exports were to begin, the United States would be the owner in perpetuity of a share of Canada’s water resources. Exported volumes could not be reduced unless the water were rationed in the same proportion for Canadian consumers and companies. The issue of bulk water exports in North America remains an explosive topic of debate, but the great majority of Canadians recognize the value of Canada’s water resources and are ready to ban the large-scale removal of water.

In late 2004, according to the EKOS firm, close to 66% of Canadians would have refused the idea of selling water to their American neighbours. Even though the Americans are our friends, we have to impose certain limits on that friendship. Water is a good place to start. Public reaction seems to be motivated by the fear of seeing Canadian sovereignty done in by the United States and multinational companies. Consequently, the concerns of critics, academics, environmentalists and economists have not been allayed in recent years. It is time to put an end to the uncertainty and to protect our water resources properly.

My hon. colleague's constituents in Lac-Saint-Louis are neighbours to my constituents in Vaudreuil—Soulanges. Our ridings are separated by some of the most important and historic waterways in the country. The St. Lawrence River, the Ottawa River, Lac des Deux Montagnes, which is a sacred lake to the Mohawk people, and Lac Saint-Louis separate the communities in our two constituencies, but they also bring us together in the sense that these water systems are integral to the collective identity and memories of all the communities along their shores. In short, these were the historical communication routes of our early country.

Our constituents are demanding that we protect these public goods from unrestrained exploitation and exportation. That is understandable. We do not understand how important something is until we lose it. I know the residents in Kirkland realized how important water was when their water resources were jeopardized. I realized it in my riding of Vaudreuil. When people do not have access to clean water, they realize how important it is.

This is a perfectly reasonable, not radical, request. The private member's bill in its current form does not give guidance to what constitutes a major drainage basin, which in my view is one of its shortcomings. A major drainage basin could be defined as every water basin in our communities or none of them. The strength of the bill depends on getting that definition corrected. I would encourage all the members to debate this point in committee so the bill will not one day be rendered inapplicable.

The prohibitions in the bill appear to be limited to the removal of water in bulk through diversion and would not apply to the removal of water in bulk by pumping water into another vehicle, which then would cross international borders. This should be clarified in the committee as well.

I will reiterate my support for this bill so it can be discussed further in committee to fix the aforementioned concerns regarding the strength of the bill. What is the official definition of a major drainage basin and what kind of loopholes does the bill provide for future exportation of water?

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:40 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in the House of Commons today to talk about the bill introduced by my colleague and neighbour, the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, Bill C-267, An Act respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources.

Canadians have been interested in protecting our country's water resources for decades, particularly with regard to bulk water exports. The NDP is in favour of sending this bill to a committee that could address the wording problems in the bill.

The purpose of this bill “is to foster the sustainable use of Canada’s water resources and, in particular, to prevent the removal of water in bulk from major drainage basins in Canada”. This bill has three components: first, the prohibition of the removal of water in bulk; second, the exceptions to this prohibition, for example, water that is removed for bottling and for producing beverages for commercial purposes, and water that is removed and used on a short-term basis, for example, for emergency situations or humanitarian purposes; and third, the enforcement provisions.

Canada has a large quantity of the planet's fresh water. It is true that this is a great resource and we must protect it and ensure that it is distributed fairly and equitably. It is a natural treasure that must never be taken for granted.

Water is vital to human health and life. In Canada, we do not have a national strategy to respond to urgent problems and, unfortunately, the Conservatives are not providing any federal leadership in terms of conserving and protecting our water. I hope that the Conservatives will do something about this situation soon and that, like us, they will vote in favour of this bill, which the hon. member has courageously introduced a number of times in order to protect Canada's water. It is a resource that we must not neglect.

The federal water policy is over 20 years old. It is very outdated, and this situation must quickly be remedied. We are facing more and more challenges with regard to our water supply, including contamination, shortage and pressure to export our water to the United States by pipeline or water diversion, for example. Other hon. members spoke about this at length earlier. I am wondering what the Conservatives are waiting for to take action. This is really urgent. Imagine if there were a pipeline allowing our water to be exported directly to the United States. It would be absolutely terrible.

The NDP is in favour of introducing a national water policy. It is an important and noteworthy undertaking.

Let us look at a bit of history. NAFTA has long been regarded as a threat to Canada's sovereignty over water. In 1999, following a debate, the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to place an immediate moratorium on bulk water exports and interbasin transfers. The motion also asked the government to “introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and interbasin transfers and not be a party to any international agreement that compels us to export freshwater against our will...”. Unfortunately, nothing has been done since that motion was adopted in the House of Commons.

In June 2007, the House passed another motion from the NDP—which is very proactive when it comes to protecting water—asking the government to begin talks with its American counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA. And what did the Conservatives do? Nothing.

En 2010, the Conservative government tried something, but it was not enough and it was inadequate. It introduced Bill C-26, which sought to ban bulk water removals. However, this bill had a number of flaws, including a major one. Indeed, under that legislation, 80%—that is right—of surface waters in Canada were not protected, because the protection only applied to transboundary waters. It makes no sense at all to think that this tiny bill, this tiny measure could have a real impact on the export of Canada's fresh water in bulk.

This legislation paved the way for the construction of water pipelines, such as the one proposed in the 1990s, which did not make any sense. That is utterly shameful. That is Conservative inaction. That is a lack of action in this area.

Currently, there are growing water shortages all over the world. As I said, the NDP has always asked that bulk water exports be banned. This is a critical component of a national water policy, which does not exist in Canada, but which could set standards for clean drinking water, which could also provide strict environmental protection measures for water resources, and which could recognize water as a common right. It is really important to recognize water as a common right. So, this is a good plan and it is a plan proposed by the NDP.

As we said, water is essential to life, but it is not an infinite resource, far from it. Even in Canada, which is rich in water—and hon. members may not know that, but I am going to tell them—one quarter of Canadian municipalities have faced water shortages. That is a real concern. One third of them depend on groundwater, on which we currently have very little information, to meet daily needs. A national water policy must create a comprehensive conservation strategy and invest in research and in the monitoring of that resource.

I am going to talk a little about my riding of Drummond, where people are really concerned and have expressed grave misgivings about water. Three municipalities in my riding face water problems, whether in terms of quality or quantity. The municipalities of Saint-Germain-de-Grantham, Saint-Majorique-de-Grantham, and Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover are well aware of the importance of access to quality water in sufficient quantities. Every time that I visit these municipalities, the residents regularly ask me when the water problems are going to be addressed. I am currently lobbying for a national water policy to be a key priority in Canada, so that such problems do not recur in my riding’s municipalities, or elsewhere in Canada. Two of these municipalities are currently entering into an agreement with the city of Drummondville. I am really happy about that. It is good news, but it is not enough. There are still problems in the municipality of Saint-Cyrille-de-Wendover, and the federal government must have a policy to help these municipalities.

There are other concerns regarding water in my municipality and the millions of litres of water necessary for the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas. This is currently the subject of a major debate in my riding, and I initiated a Canada wide petition to protect our water from the shale gas industry.

Six hundred shale gas wells in Quebec would consume the annual equivalent in water of 360,000 Olympic swimming pools. An Olympic swimming pool contains 20,000 litres of beautiful clean water. This water would be mixed with the equivalent of 900 Olympic swimming pools of chemicals. You can imagine the slop, the chemical laden mud, the dreadful, soupy mix that we would end up with, when we really need beautiful clean water.

The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks of Quebec stated in a report that there would be a shortage of underground water in a section where wells would be required to mine shale gas, and that there would not be enough water to meet all the needs. At some point, the choice has to be made between the public and the shale gas industry.

I am going to conclude by saying that water must be a human right. Moreover, on July 28, 2010, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of the human right to water and to sanitary facilities, and for this to be an essential right to the survival of human beings.

In closing, it is truly important for my riding of Drummond that we vote in favour of my colleague's bill, and that we go still further and develop a national water policy that protects our municipalities, so that we can be sure that they have quality water in sufficient quantities.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-267, a bill to promote the sustainable and mindful use of water in Canada, and more particularly to prevent the removal of water in bulk from Canada’s major drainage basins. To begin, I would note that we support the bill in principle and we believe it will be possible to remedy certain flaws in the bill in committee.

Canada has the most abundant freshwater resources in the world. It is estimated that 8% of the world’s freshwater reserves are concentrated in Canada. That abundance prompts some people to advocate exporting it to the southwestern United States. In 2008, for example, members of the Montreal Economic Institute proposed that Quebec export 10% of its renewable freshwater in return for $6.5 billion per year. That is simply irresponsible.

In order to measure how lucky we are, we have to consider that the planet’s water stocks are 97% saltwater. The remaining 3% are virtually inaccessible, because they are locked in the polar icecaps, in glaciers or in deep water. In total, it is estimated that less than 1% of water stocks exist in the form of accessible freshwater. We must therefore manage this resource wisely. It is our duty to humanity, somewhat as Brazilians must manage the Amazon rainforest, which is described as the lungs of our planet.

This bill has been made necessary by the fact that NAFTA apparently does not adequately protect Canada’s sovereignty over its water resources. Even though the governments of Canada, the United States and Mexico jointly declared in 1994 that NAFTA did not apply to water in its natural state, some people believe that surface water and underground water in their natural state are subject to NAFTA obligations and water could therefore be commercialized.

So the critics’ concerns have not been assuaged by the statements made by the three trading partners. It must be said that, were it not for the vigilance of civil society, certain bulk water export projects might well have materialized. I am thinking in particular of the Nova Group project, which in 1998 obtained authorization from the Ontario government to export 600 million litres of water per year from Lake Superior. People on both sides of the border had to mobilize to get the Ontario government to back down.

I remind you that, in an attempt to correct the problem, in February 1999 the House of Commons adopted an NDP motion to impose a moratorium on the export of bulk freshwater shipments and inter-basin transfers.

The motion also called for the government, and I quote, to “introduce legislation to prohibit bulk freshwater exports and inter-basin transfers and”... “not be a party to any international agreement that would compel us to export water against our will...”.

The Liberal government subsequently announced that it would consult the provinces and territories in order to develop a strategy that would prohibit the bulk removal of water from Canadian drainage basins for domestic purposes or for export. However the strategy did not address the trade issues raised by NAFTA and focused mainly on water management.

In June 2007, again on the initiative of the NDP, the House adopted a motion calling for the government to initiate talks with our southern neighbours to have water excluded from the scope of NAFTA. The Conservatives, like the previous Liberal government, did nothing. This was a great surprise.

In 2010, the Conservative government did in fact table Bill C-26 to ban the bulk removal of water, but the bill died on the order paper because of its many deficiencies. The Conservatives’ bill addressed only a small portion of fresh water, for it left 80% of Canadian surface water unprotected, as the prohibition applied to transboundary waters only.

Nothing in that bill would have banned the construction of pipelines and other forms of exploitation of bulk water by truck or ship, for example. We have long been calling for the prohibition of bulk water exports, and view this as a key element of a national water policy which would establish standards for safe, potable water and solid environmental protection measures for Canada’s water resources.

We support the principle of the bill before us, but are critical of some of these flaws which, with a little goodwill, could be corrected in committee.

For example, we note that there is no guidance to the governor in council as to the definition of what constitutes a major drainage basin, in the regulations. In our opinion, the effectiveness or strength of this bill depends on that definition. If the definition adopted by the government includes none of the major drainage basins, the bill might then be considered inapplicable.

We note as well that Bill C-267 grants the government very wide regulatory powers, including the capacity to redefine the scope of the exceptions and to establish new exceptions by regulation. These powers seem disproportionate, and could lead the government to exercise them as a way to rewrite the act. As we know, faced with a government that is environmentally delinquent, it is best to be prudent and to set clear limits on its regulatory power.

We understand that the prohibitions are limited to the bulk removal of water from major basins through diversion. We shall attempt in committee to ensure that bulk exports by truck or ship are also prohibited.

My last observation is on the issue of bottled water. The bill creates an exception for manufactured products such as bottled water and beverages. This is a major loophole. We believe this issue needs very close review in committee.

I would like to take advantage of the time I have been given to speak to the bigger issue. Instead of thinking about exporting water, I believe we need to be thinking about our habits in order to reduce the pressure to commercialize water. For example, we know that 70% of the fresh water consumed is used in agriculture. That number may not decrease, considering that the governments of Canada and the United States are encouraging corn crops for the production of fuel. It is the same thing for extracting oil from the oil sands. It is estimated that two to five barrels of fresh water are needed to extract just one barrel of oil. That does not even include the water contaminated by the so-called holding ponds.

More than ever, we need to become aware of our dependence on non-renewable energies and their effects on our environment and the depletion of fresh water. Although this government is determined to drive out those it calls environmental radicals, one day it will have to take into account the effects of climate change on the environment and Canada's water resources. Instead of cutting science budgets, the government should be investing in research in order to study types of drought and meteorological changes and to ensure that our water resources policy takes these things into account.

In closing, I would like to commend the associations, unions, NGOs, citizens and local authorities around the world who are gathering next week in Marseilles for the Alternative World Water Forum in order to discuss the various challenges of water management. Like them, I hope governments the world over, starting with the Canadian government, will work on better protecting our water resources. We have to ensure that water is recognized as a fundamental human right and as a public good, to be protected from corporations that far too often pollute it or exploit it for profit.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

There being no members rising on debate, I would invite the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his five minute right of reply.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

March 8th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government's opposition to Bill C-267 is puzzling because it amounts to a reversal of its previous public commitments on the issue.

In the 2008 election campaign the Conservatives said that they agreed with the principle of a federal ban on bulk water exports through a prohibition on interbasin transfers of water within Canada. This was in response to the then recently published recommendations of the Canadian Water Issues Council working in collaboration with the program on water issues at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. These recommendations were incorporated in the earlier version of Bill C-267, which I introduced in the House of Commons prior to that election.

In the November 2008 throne speech which immediately followed the election, the government clearly committed to introducing legislation like Bill C-267. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment said in her speech that water is a resource and as such it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

Water is not a resource like any other. Water is not oil or copper or nickel, resources that are locked in the ground and not part and parcel of living ecosystems. Oil may be the lifeblood of the economy, but it is far from the lifeblood of the environment.

What is more, natural resources like oil are static. In their natural state they do not move across provincial and international boundaries, either above ground in rivers or underground in aquifers like water does. If they did, they might likely have been designated a shared federal-provincial responsibility, or even an exclusive federal jurisdiction in the manner of another well-known resource that moves freely through Canada's natural environment without regard for political borders, namely fish.

My colleague also said that there is no constitutional justification or rationale for federal “incursion” into the matter of prohibiting bulk water exports, that for example, the federal role does not accrue in this case under the federal residual power of peace, order and good government. However, it is not necessary to invoke this residual power to justify a federal role in limiting water transfers and exports.

If the federal government has the power to prohibit activities harmful to the environment, such as pollution, it is not because it was granted this power under a Canadian Constitution that predates the word “environmentalism”, nor is it because of the federal residual power of peace, order and good government. Rather, it is because the court has ruled that society has evolved and that environmental protection in the political and economic context of the late 20th century is a matter worthy of Criminal Code protection.

I refer the parliamentary secretary to the 1997 Supreme Court decision in the case of Regina v. Hydro-Québec, where the utility challenged Ottawa's authority to use an interim order under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to stop the provincial utility from depositing toxic substances into a watercourse in Quebec. Hydro-Québec argued that Ottawa's interim order could not be justified either by virtue of the federal criminal power or as a matter of national concern under the peace, order and good government residual power in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

The Supreme Court, however, held that the interim order and its enabling legislation, CEPA, were valid because the protection of the environment is a major challenge of our time that constitutes “a wholly legitimate public objective in the exercise of the criminal law power”, and that “the stewardship of the environment is a fundamental value of our society and that Parliament may use its criminal law power to underline that value”. I believe the court would view Bill C-267 in very much the same light.

The Supreme Court decision was close, five to four. The dissenters held that Ottawa was not authorized to act in the matter because CEPA's purpose is to regulate, not prohibit, and that regulation is not a matter of criminal law which is normally aimed at prohibiting a deleterious action.

I would submit that Bill C-267 is not intended to regulate water removal but rather to prohibit it outright. This legislation would pass muster at the Supreme Court. In any event, the intent behind the bill is to have Ottawa engage and work with the provinces to make the current national consensus against bulk water exports watertight into the future.

In conclusion, Canadians want a government of courage and character prepared to assume federal leadership when it counts. They do not want a federal government that shrinks from involvement with the provinces on matters of profound national concern, like Canada's water sovereignty and security.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 14, 2012, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, I believe you would find consent to see the clock as 6:30 p.m.

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock as 6:30 p.m.?

Canada Water Preservation ActPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the coastal communities of the five provinces bordering the Gulf of St. Lawrence are concerned about this government's lack of commitment regarding the responsible management of natural resources. Their concern seems justified.

The Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board recently rejected an application from the young oil company Corridor Resources to suspend its drilling permit.

While I applaud the board's decision, I am concerned about the arguments presented by Corridor Resources for the suspension of its permit. The oil company is experiencing financial difficulties. The Gulf of St. Lawrence's ecosystem supports all bordering coastal communities. How is it that a young oil company is authorized to conduct operations in such a fragile area, without adequate financial resources to do so?

I note that the department has approved a Corridor Resources application for a two-year extension of its drilling activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and allowed it to dispense with the deposit of a $1 million guarantee. This means that the drilling permit of that oil company was renewed with a two-year rent break, which amounts to $750,000. Normally, that $750,000 would have been paid to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Instead, it will stay in the pockets of an oil company, even if it ends up making a fortune in the gulf.

Is that the government's idea of responsible development, to give money back to oil companies? And what about the very real concerns of Canadians in the five provinces bordering the gulf? It seems to me the department is prepared to deliver permits to any drilling company, regardless of its financial stability.

The government's eagerness to give presents to oil companies does not inspire confidence among Canadians living in the gulf's coastal communities, and nor does its refusal to create an environmental assessment panel, as requested by the board and by Canadians living in the gulf's coastal communities. Even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers supports the establishment of a federal panel.

Since last summer, the board has had to change its way of assessing the environmental impact of the drilling project several times. The board, which only has the authority to monitor oil and gas development in Newfoundland and Labrador, does not have the power or the resources to deal with our concerns. That does not make sense: the Conservatives seem to show a lack of respect by giving the board such an important mandate without all the necessary powers.

Once again, I am asking the government to establish an environmental assessment panel with the necessary powers to evaluate the impact of all oil and gas development in the gulf. The establishment of this federal panel would reassure Canadians living around the gulf. This is long overdue. We have been asking for it for months now, and we are asking for it again today. I hope the department will agree to this request.

6:15 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, as the member across has said, things have changed since he asked his question, so we certainly want to deal with the questions that are relevant to the present.

I thank the hon. member for asking about the next steps involved in the review of the Old Harry project in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Our government is strongly committed to ensuring the safe, responsible and sustainable development of Canada's natural resources. We recognize the importance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to all Canadians. We also understand that some stakeholders have concerns regarding environmental sensitivities in this region. That is why we rely on arm's-length independent regulatory bodies to make science-based decisions regarding development in Canada's offshore.

Corridor Resources' submission of its environmental assessment report to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is an important step to ensure that the safety of Canadian workers and the environment will continue to be protected.

The board has undertaken a completeness review of the environmental assessment report. It will also review the drilling application for completeness and for compliance with federal regulations.

I want to assure hon. members that Canadian regulators will not allow any offshore activity unless they are convinced that the environment and the health and safety of workers are being protected.

On January 20 of this year, Corridor Resources requested a prohibition order from the board until the strategic environmental assessment of the Gulf of St. Lawrence could be updated. On February 28, the board announced that it would not be issuing that prohibition order. However, it did indicate that the strategic environmental assessment of the gulf will go forward as planned and the project specific public consultations will recommence only once the SEA has been completed in early 2013.

The hon. member should be happy with the thoroughness of this review. It means that we have an independent regulatory body that is doing its job in the best interests of this country and in the best interests of his constituents. I want to assure him that the environmental review of Old Harry is in fact on track. That is the bottom line.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, while I am quite happy that workers' protection will be considered by the environmental review that is being proposed, the real problem is that the CNLOPB only has two reasons to do what it is doing: one, it is there to ensure that the workers will be protected against any possible harm; or two, that there are serious environmental concerns.

There are no workers at the Old Harry site. I do not see how doing what the government is proposing could possibly help workers who simply do not exist. They have not been hired yet. There is nothing there. There is not even exploration that is occurring at this point.

The only thing left for the CNLOPB at this point is to have invoked its own articles and struck this environmental review based on serious environmental concern. I am pleased that the government is actually admitting to the fact that there are serious environmental concerns that must be addressed but they will not be addressed by what is being proposed.

The only real way to address this is to ask the experts. That is why the Environmental Assessment Act actually proposes a serious, credible system to deal with the problems in Old Harry. The problem is to have the commission struck by the environment minister.

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, in some ways the member opposite answers his own question. Our government does take the sustainable development of Canada's natural resources very seriously. He understands that and that is why the proposed Old Harry project in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is undergoing a thorough and transparent environmental assessment. Most projects of this magnitude do that.

The health and safety of Canadians, as he has pointed out, and the protection of the environment are important to our government. The environmental assessment report submitted to the board by Corridor Resources Inc. is part of the environmental screening process that ensures the protection of both workers and the environment.

I would like to repeat that the board and all Canadian regulators will not allow any offshore activity to occur unless they are certain the environment and the health and safety of workers are being protected.

Once the board has updated its strategic environmental assessment, public consultations on the project specific environmental assessment of Old Harry will resume.

The environmental review is on track and that is good news for everyone and good news for all of Canada.

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the availability of the parliamentary secretary at this late hour to respond to my further questions on this matter.

I put a question to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development on February 27 that related to the interim report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada several weeks ago. Regrettably, the response by the minister dealt with the original mandate for the commission and actions taken, to the credit of the government, to this point in time. I will put the question again to this House and I would appreciate an elaboration on any thought that the government has given to the interim report issued by the commission.

Most profoundly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada drew a very strong and powerful conclusion that residential schools constituted an assault on aboriginal children, families, culture, self-governing and self-sustaining aboriginal nations and that the impact has been ongoing for some time.

I know the minister has commended the commission for its work and I know all members of this House and all Canadians would want to step forward and commend the commission for its work. Having had the opportunity to participate, even indirectly, in some of these sessions at the Assembly of First Nations Conference on Justice and having witnessed the testimony of some of the first nations that are trying to recover from their experience at residential schools, we owe a profound thanks to the commission for conducting this work and doing it in a very sincere and caring way. I know all Canadians look forward to the eventual report that it will issue.

The commission was mandated to look into the harm suffered by residents in the residential schools, to come forward with a plan for compensation, to deliver that compensation and to provide a report to the government. However, the commission, in its thoughtfulness, has come forward with an interim report that puts forward some very interesting and helpful recommendations on a number of matters that have been talked about in this House many times, such as the availability of resources for healing, and health and education for first nations peoples. I will touch on a couple of those.

The commission, in its interim report, recommended the need for the federal government to invest in high quality mental health and cultural support services into the long term. It also interestingly recommended that there be a review of curriculum materials for non-aboriginal students so that we can ensure that all Canadians have a full understanding of the trauma that our first nations friends and neighbours suffered through.

It also recommended that the government turn to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to move forward on its reconciliation activities. As well, it called for the restoration of funds in the coming budget to the National Healing Foundation.

I look forward to the response by the Government of Canada to these recommendations put forward by the commission.

6:20 p.m.

Kenora Ontario

Conservative

Greg Rickford ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to say that while I may not always agree with the member on a number of points, I appreciate the enthusiasm and the passion with which she brings these forward, not just in this place but also in the important work we do in our committee and of course in forums like this where we have a chance to talk a little more extensively on certain issues.

I am also pleased to have this opportunity to speak with respect to truth and reconciliation on the bigger issue of Indian residential schools. As a former signatory and legal counsel to that process prior to my political life and from serving constituents in the great Kenora riding, I can assure the member and members of this place that I am well versed on this and happy to make representations on it.

Aboriginal and treaty rights are protected in Canada through a unique framework. These rights are enshrined in our Constitution, including our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and are complemented by practical policies to adapt our evolving reality. This framework will continue to be the cornerstone of our efforts to promote and protect the rights of aboriginal Canadians.

More than a year ago Canada endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, illustrating our government's commitment to reconciliation and renewed relationships that are based on good faith, partnership and mutual respect. This endorsement offered an opportunity to strengthen relations with first nations, Inuit and Métis people in Canada, and to support Canada's ongoing work on indigenous issues internationally.

As always, we will continue to make strides in the reconciliation and fulfillment of aboriginal rights through negotiation of modern treaties and the settlement of specific claims.

I would also like to reiterate that through the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement, a court approved settlement, the Government of Canada provided $60 million for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to carry out its important mandate. The commission released its interim report on February 24, as is known to this place, and our government will now take the time to review the report and consider its recommendations.

We are committed to supporting former residential school students and their families throughout the implementation of the settlement agreement, including providing access to important mental health and emotional support services. To date, 97% of the 80,000 originally estimated living former students have received their common experience payment compensation, totalling over $1.6 billion. Over 14,000 independent assessment process claims have been heard or settled through negotiations, totalling $1.3 billion.

On January 16, the Government of Canada announced that the advocacy and public information program will allocate $3 million in 2012 and 2013, bringing its total funding over the last six years to more than $25 million. This program began in 2007 and encourages the sharing of information to ensure that aboriginal communities, particularly former students and their families, are aware of all aspects of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement and its potential impacts.

The goals of the 2012 to 2013 funding are to support healing and reconciliation, with a particular emphasis on youth and intergenerational issues; to promote a better understanding of the impacts of the legacy of Indian residential schools; and to build new partnerships between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people.

Clearly, our government will continue to work with our partners and other countries for the advancement of the cause of indigenous rights around the world, and we will continue to live up to the terms of that court approved settlement and our commitment to truth and reconciliation.

6:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. parliamentary secretary for his response, but I would appreciate a response to my very specific question.

As the parliamentary secretary is aware, when that agreement and the sums of dollars to be paid out in compensation were assessed, there was an underestimation of the number of claimants who would come forward. Since then, the number has almost doubled.

In addition to that, as I mentioned, the commission has recommended a number of additional areas where funding should be provided, including to educate non-aboriginal people in the trauma that aboriginal Canadians suffered in the schools. More specifically, it has recommended very particularly that the funding be restored for the healing centres. I wonder if the member could address those questions.