I will list the reasons why we support this motion.
First, we stand by those who do not have access to drinking water, or at least to clean, uncontaminated water, in Canada and abroad. We stand by those, including first nations people, who have to deal with substandard drinking water, which can be hazardous to their health. We stand by those who fear that their health is at risk because they have drunk contaminated water.
If I may, I would like to talk about an incident that took place last fall in my riding, Lac-Saint-Louis, and on the West Island of Montreal in general.
We are used to having an ample supply of clean drinking water. We have two or three water treatment plants on the West Island. Like other places in Canada, we are very fortunate to have uninterrupted access to drinking water. Last fall, in October or November, the water treatment plant in Pointe-Claire had a problem. Leaves had accumulated at the water entrance, forcing the filtration system to work harder. This sounded the alarm, warning that the water entering the system was perhaps contaminated and that the filtration system was unable to treat the water. The Kirkland and Pointe-Claire municipalities had to deal with the problem immediately.
As I recall, it was a Friday night and the two municipalities had recruited volunteers to go door to door at 10 p.m. Someone came and knocked on our door in Kirkland at 10 p.m., telling us not to drink the water. It was not even a question of boiling water before drinking or using it; we were not supposed to drink it at all or even brush our teeth with it. The in-person warning was followed by two automated calls from the City of Montreal, from the Island of Montreal public health department, telling us to not drink the water.
It was shocking for us, because we had never been in such a situation. We wondered if we had brushed our teeth with contaminated water and if we were going to have digestive problems as a result.
This just goes to show just how little it takes to throw the public off balance and to raise fears about the possibility of contaminated drinking water.
I would like to point out, incidentally, that in the end, the water was fine and the City of Pointe-Claire took prudent action in an exemplary fashion in dealing with this public safety concern.
The people of the West Island know all about the threat of contaminated water. We stand in solidarity with the people of Shannon and the Valcartier base on this issue.
In passing, I would like to mention the issue of the international human right to water because it was raised in one of the questions my colleague was asked. I would like to point out that, this very morning, the very well known Kielburger brothers, Craig and Marc, published an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun urging the Government of Canada to support the international human right to water. I also learned that Marc Kielburger was a page in this House in the 1990s.
The second reason we support this motion is that we believe, in principle, that the federal government must focus more on the issue of water in Canada. We feel that the government is trying to distance itself from the issue by stating that water is a provincial jurisdiction and that it will leave it to the provinces. We believe that the opposite holds true. We believe that water is becoming more of a national priority and that the Conservative government must pay even more attention to it.
On the issue of jurisdiction over water in Canada, it is quite true that, for all intents and purposes, water is a provincial responsibility under the Canadian Constitution since it is a natural resource. However, a 2009 survey asked Canadians across the country who is responsible for water in Canada. Even though the Constitution states that, strictly speaking, water is a provincial responsibility, a large number of Canadians—I believe it was 42% of respondents from outside Quebec—responded that water was a federal jurisdiction. This shows the extent to which Canadians want the federal government to act firmly and quickly on water-related issues.
We could say that the province of Quebec jealously guards its jurisdiction over water. In fact, the Bloc Québécois often votes against initiatives in the House that would give the federal government a larger say in water issues. Every time, they tell us that it is because water is an exclusively provincial jurisdiction. However, this survey demonstrates that, even in Quebec, a province that is very aware of jurisdictional issues, 77% of respondents believe that water is a shared responsibility.
The federal government must take action and become involved in water-related issues.
I hope this motion is part of this ongoing initiative to pressure the federal government to put more emphasis on water-related issues in Canada.
The third reason we believe that the government must pay attention to the spirit of this motion is that we believe in accountability. We believe that individuals and governments must take responsibility for the choices they make and the actions they take and must take their share of responsibility when those actions have adverse effects or consequences, in this case for the environment and for the health of Quebeckers.