House of Commons Hansard #137 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was refugees.


Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Mississauga—Erindale Ontario


Bob Dechert ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to lend our government's support to my hon. colleague, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, and to take a few minutes to discuss what I believe is an important subject for all Canadians. The member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound has a long history of working to protect Canadian waters and has been an advocate on behalf of the Great Lakes, for instance, going back many years.

Bill C-383, transboundary waters protection act, aims to prohibit the bulk removal of water from Canadian transboundary waters, which are waters that flow across the border, and to further strengthen protections against bulk removal from boundary waters, which are waters like the Great Lakes that straddle the border. The bill would be an important improvement for protecting Canada's water resources. A similar version of this legislation was tabled in the previous Parliament by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and in the 2008 Speech from the Throne. Our government committed to introduce legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins. Bill C-383 would achieve just that.

My hon. colleague mentioned earlier today that previous legislation unfortunately died on the order paper as a result of that unnecessary election in May 2011. I have to say, the result was a good one: a strong, stable, national majority Conservative government. It has brought a number of good members to this House, such as the member for Mississauga South, who spoke earlier today, the member for Simcoe—Grey, the member for Yukon and many others. For that, I guess I am grateful for that unnecessary election.

As my hon. colleague pointed out, there are already protections in place at the federal level under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to protect boundary waters such as the Great Lakes, but there are also possibilities for improvement. This bill strengthens these protections in several ways.

First, as I have already said, transboundary waters would now be protected in the same manner as boundary waters. Bill C-383, by expanding the protections to transboundary waters, also expands the area covered by a bulk water removal prohibition. Now the protections would extend to transboundary waters throughout the country. The legislation would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to have these basins named in the act itself and not just in the regulations.

The second area of improvement in Bill C-383 is that the penalty provisions and enforcement mechanisms would be tougher. The bill would provide the Minister of Foreign Affairs the power to designate inspectors to verify complaints with the act. As my colleague previously stated, there are provisions in this bill, including minimum and maximum penalties, for violations of the law.

The bill would improve on current protections by moving certain definitions and exceptions from the regulations into the act itself. This would codify them into the act, ensuring that parliamentary approval would be required to make any future changes to the exceptions.

I carefully watched the House debate on Bill C-267. I know that several members in the NDP expressed their concern about a government being able to rewrite exceptions or definitions almost at will. Well, by moving exceptions and definitions into the statute, Bill C-383 would make it much more difficult to make any such changes. As a matter of fact, it would require parliamentary scrutiny.

Long-time water advocates, such as former Senator Pat Carney and other senators, pressed for this while they were in the other place. These senators, like many others who follow water issues closely, recognize that the exceptions in this act are reasonable. For example, an exception for short-term, non-commercial bulk removal in order to supply water to put out a massive forest fire is not unreasonable, but rather a humanitarian need.

We need these exceptions in the act. We would not want to stand in the way of a humanitarian action by telling our neighbours that we would not allow the removal of water to put out a fire because it is against the law in our country. Instead, we want to ensure that there is a place for reasonable exceptions and that those exceptions are stated clearly in the act and cannot be changed in the same manner that a regulation can be changed.

As I stated earlier, Bill C-383 is similar to Bill C-26, introduced by our government in the last Parliament. However, in this bill, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound added an important new provision that was not previously found in Bill C-26, which is an amendment to the International River Improvements Act.

The purpose of the International River Improvements Act is to ensure that international rivers, water flowing from any place in Canada to any place outside Canada, are developed and used in the national interest and assures that Canada meets its obligations under the Boundary Waters Treaty.

The specific amendments to the International River Improvements Act proposed in Bill C-383 define international river improvements to include pipelines and prohibit the issuance of a licence for an international river improvement that links non-transboundary waters to an international river, the purpose or effect of which is to increase the annual flow of the river. This is a significant improvement and protection.

We can look at risk areas for potential bulk water removals or transfers and determine areas where we find the greatest risk. One could be the Great Lakes, which some would consider the El Dorado of freshwater in North America, but, as I mentioned earlier, the Great Lakes are already protected from bulk removal by the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.

Incidentally, I should add that the Great Lakes are also protected on the U.S. side of the basin due to the Great Lakes compact. Ontario and Quebec are partners with the Great Lakes states as part of a side agreement to that compact. Both of these provinces have legislation to prevent bulk water removals from their territories. Thus, all eight Great Lakes states are in agreement with us in Canada. No one wants to see Great Lakes water transferred out of the region. The Great Lakes are protected by the provinces on the U.S. side and federally in Canada under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act.

Besides bulk water removals from the Great Lakes, another worry could be the potential use of a river flowing across the international boundary as a means of conveyance to transfer water in bulk outside Canada. Although this type of transfer is not occurring, we have been told that this is a potentially efficient way to move water across the border. The fear is a possible scheme that would seek to link, for instance, a body of water to an international river and this increased flow of water would then be the bulk transfer. To prevent this, Bill C-383 would amend the International River Improvements Act to prohibit the issuance of a licence for this type of activity.

I once again would like to thank the hon. member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for introducing this legislation. This is in keeping with the direction that the government pursued during the last Parliament and remains the best way to proceed to protect Canada's water from bulk removal.

Bill C-383 would respect the role of the provinces in protecting water within their jurisdiction. By supporting it, members of the House can ensure that water under a federal jurisdiction, boundary and transboundary waters would also be protected from bulk removals and that this protection would be consistent throughout the country.

I am thankful for this opportunity to discuss Bill C-383. We understand the need to protect this vital resource and this legislation would do just that. I urge all members of the House to support this bill.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.


Hélène LeBlanc NDP LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada, Canadians use an average of 300 litres of water a day. Three hundred litres a day when, according to one report, the world average is 20 litres per day.

Of the 16 OECD countries, only Americans consume more water than Canadians. The Conference Board of Canada gave Canada a D for its feeble efforts to conserve its water resources.

If it seems we have an insatiable thirst for water, our thirst for energy and profit is just as bad. It takes 3 to 4.5 barrels of water to produce one barrel of bitumen. This figure does not include the water that is used to refine the crude oil. Shale gas uses 4,000 cubic metres of water for each step of the hydraulic fracturing process, not to mention the other types of energy we use.

Southern Canada's streams, lakes and rivers are polluted. Municipal waste water infrastructure cannot meet the demand. Waste water that is untreated or that has received only primary or secondary treatment is dumped into our watersheds. This has disastrous consequences for aquatic life and the entire ecosystem. Urbanization and surface impermeability also have an impact by increasing the amount of polluted water that runs off into waterways or is directed to overburdened infrastructure. The intensification of agriculture has also increased the erosion of farmland and agricultural runoff, which carries sediment that is high in phosphorous. As a result, cyanobacterial blooms are suffocating our lakes and waterways.

This is what Canada is doing with one of our greatest resources, which is now called blue gold. Canada has a large percentage of the earth's drinking water, 9% of which is considered renewable. Some of that water is trapped in glaciers, which, by the way, are melting into the oceans. An abundance of precipitation means that this resource is renewable in part. However, water is not like other resources. It is essential for life, like the air we breathe.

The reason why this bill is so close to my heart is that, when I worked as an agronomist, I was a project manager responsible for improving the quality of water for agriculture. I was able to see first-hand the state of our waterways and the challenges Canada faces in preserving this valuable resource.

Furthermore, the southern border of my riding of LaSalle—Émard runs along the St. Lawrence River and the Lachine Rapids, the largest rapids within an urban environment. The Parc des Rapides, which surrounds the Lachine Rapids in the LaSalle borough, is one of the six main urban parks in Montreal and is part of the greater Montreal parks network. The park, which has an area of 30 hectares, is the perfect place to view the famous Lachine Rapids and has been a refuge for migratory birds since 1937. The site has remarkable diversity and has more than 225 species of birds, including the great blue heron, which is a protected species, and 1,000 nests of three species of herons. The biodiversity does not stop there, since the park also houses 80 species of fish, including some that are at risk.

The Lachine Rapids are located in the St. Lawrence watershed. The St. Lawrence is the cradle of our history, and also a hugely diverse aquatic and shoreline environment. I believe that the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound thinks that the Georgian Bay watershed in his region must also be preserved.

Bill C-383 would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to prohibit the bulk removal of water and to improve current protections.

This bill would amend the International River Improvements Act by prohibiting the issuance of licences for projects that link non-boundary waters to an international river where the purpose or effect of the project is to increase annual flow to the United States. This amendment will prohibit the issue of a licence to construct, operate or maintain a canal or pipeline channeling Canadian water into an international river.

We know that large-scale removal of water from lakes and waterways would negatively affect their ecosystems by increasing pollution concentrations. Water removal will dry up waterways, upset ecosystems and endanger plants and animals that depend on water and shorelines. This bill is a step in the right direction, a step toward preserving and protecting Canada's transboundary waters.

Still, the Canadian Water Issues Council is critical of the fact that this bill covers just 10% of Canada's fresh water while Bill C-267 went farther. This bill also fails to prohibit bulk water exports. This private member's bill proves once again that the Conservative government does not consider water to be a national priority and is not at all interested in developing a national water strategy in co-operation with its provincial counterparts.

New Democrats have been consistent in calling for a ban on bulk water export. We see a ban as an essential part of a comprehensive national water policy, something Canada lacks. Such a policy would establish clean drinking water standards and strong environmental protection for Canada's water resources, including recognition of water as common right. Passing forward-thinking legislation that recognizes a healthy and ecologically balanced planet is the most important gift we can give to future generations of Canadians.

A number of massive bulk water diversion plans, in the form of water corridors, have been proposed over the past four decades. These water corridors would have transferred massive amounts of water to the U.S. from Canada. For various reasons, none of these projects has gone forward, but the potential for such projects remains, hence the need for strong legislation to prevent them.

My message is clear. First, water, the source of life, is not like other resources. Second, we must urgently reduce our consumption of water and preserve the quality of our watersheds. Third, we must prohibit bulk water exports. This should begin with the establishment of a national water strategy with our partners to ensure that we have standards for safe, potable water, solid environmental protection measures, and conservation measures for Canada's water resources.

Bill C-383's intentions are valid and that is why I support sending this bill to protect boundary waters to committee for examination. This bill calls on the political class and thus all Canadians, reminding us of our responsibility to use water rationally and conscientiously in an overall vision, an ecosystem vision, of our watersheds. We are the guardians of water, which is a public good and a fundamental human right. We must demonstrate leadership in preserving and conserving water, the source of life.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before I recognize the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour on resuming debate, I will let her know that we will need to interrupt her at about 2:18 p.m., about four minutes from now, this being the end of time allocated for private members' business today.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey Ontario


Kellie Leitch ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to lend my support to the private member's bill of my colleague, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, which seeks to ensure that all waters under federal jurisdiction are protected from bulk water removals. Protecting Canada's water resources is an issue that I believe in strongly and that our government is committed to. I believe all of us in this House agree that Canada's sovereignty extends to our natural resources, including fresh water. This is the position of the majority of Canadians. It is something I hear from my own constituents in Simcoe—Grey, especially those bordering Georgian Bay.

Water is an emotional issue for Canadians. It is something that defines us. There is a reason we and visitors to our country see images of crystal blue lakes and pristine mountain streams when we think of Canada, and it strikes us as the essence of Canada.

However, beyond the symbolic issue, there are numerous reasons to prohibit bulk removal of waters. First, the ecosystem and the people who live in a watershed are best served by keeping water within the basin from which it originates. Removal of water in bulk deprives that basin of that water, potentially causing harm to the environment and to ecosystems as well as to the people living in these areas, now and in future generations. The prevention of bulk transfers of water between basins along international boundaries is also an important environmental concept to help in the fight against invasive species.

Although there are several different ways to approach preventing the bulk removal of water, Bill C-383 works to amend two acts: the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act. In crafting this legislation, there is the recognition that the federal government cannot do this alone, as water in much of Canada is under provincial jurisdiction, so in order to ensure the protection of water, it is necessary for the federal government to work together with the provinces to prevent bulk removals of water. The good news is that the provinces understand very well that we need to protect waters under their jurisdictions, and they oppose the concept of transferring water in bulk outside of their territories.

It is important to note that Bill C-383 is aimed at waters within federal jurisdiction, namely boundary and transboundary. This bill would strengthen protections in place against bulk removals from boundary waters, those bodies of water through which borders run, and create a prohibition against the removal of water in bulk from transboundary waters, waters which flow across the border.

These prohibitions would be backed by strong penalties and enforcement provisions in this bill that are in line with those in the Environmental Enforcement Act.

Provisions found in Bill C-383 amending the IBWTA closely follow the regimen from the Environmental Enforcement Act in terms of the fine schemes, sentencing provisions and enforcement tools available. These provisions would include minimum and maximum penalties for violations of law and would create categories depending on whether the offences are committed by individuals, small-revenue corporations or corporations.

Each of the categories would face stiff penalties for violations. For examples, an individual could face up to $1 million in fines and a corporation up to $6 million. Fines for contravening the law would be cumulative, meaning a violation that continues for more than one day would be seen as a separate offence for each day that it continues.

I make it abundantly clear that the Government of Canada will not allow a project aimed at increasing the flow of an international river at a boundary as a means of transfer of water in bulk outside of the Canadian basin, and, for the sake of this clarity and to ensure that this prohibition is solid and covers all bodies of water where the federal government has jurisdiction, this amendment to the International River Improvements Act has been added to Bill C-383.

Once again I offer my thanks to the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for introducing this legislation. As I have said, this is a great bill. It reflects our government's long-term policy and delivers on the promises we have made to Canadians. I hope all members of this House will support Bill C-383.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Simcoe—Grey will have six minutes remaining for her remarks when the House next resumes debate on the motion.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:18 p.m., the House stands adjourned until next Monday at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:18 p.m.)