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.