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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.

Topics

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his assistance in that town hall meeting we held.

My riding is even more significant, not just because it is in British Columbia, but because those irregular migrants, particularly the 500 in the last arrival, were actually detained in my riding. My son works in the institution where they were detained. He told me they received very good care, and I am sure Canadians would be pleased about that.

I can tell this House for sure that my constituents are pleased with this legislation. Although it is tough, it addresses the issue that we need to address.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé NDP Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would just like to remind the House that the quality of a society or a civilization is measured by its respect for the weakest and most vulnerable. That includes refugees.

Speaking of designated countries, I would like to ask the minister how he will go about designating these countries impartially. How will he do that?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Kamp Conservative Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission, BC

Mr. Speaker, let me say that we have the most generous and humanitarian refugee system in the world. I believe that to be true. In fact, we need to make sure it stays that way by addressing abuses and this legislation does that.

It should concern us that, for example, the total number of refugee claims from the EU in 2011 was close to 6,000, more than Africa or Asia. We need to have the ability to designate certain countries where the numbers are going up every year. The number from the EU, for example, increased 14% from 2010. It is a necessary action.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Conservative Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand and support Bill C-31, the protecting Canada's immigration system act.

Many hon. members have already had the opportunity to participate in this debate. In fact, a number of constructive suggestions have been brought forward and the government has acted in good faith and responded with several amendments that address concerns that were raised about the bill as it originally had been tabled. Nevertheless, it is important to step back and put one aspect of this debate into perspective. Among other needed measures, Bill C-31 would help bring about some very important reforms to the refugee system.

Clearly, Canadians are the most generous people in the world. They want to provide protection to those who need it. Unfortunately, our asylum system is not just being used by those who need our protection. Too many people are abusing our refugee system to gain quick entry to Canada and to jump the immigration queue. Nothing illustrates this abuse better than the fact that one-quarter of all asylum claims in Canada come from democratic, rights respecting European Union member countries. That is more than from Africa or Asia. Canadians are generous people, but we rightly have no tolerance for those who abuse our generosity or take advantage of our country. Canadians have told us, loud and clear, that they want to put a stop to this abuse. Have an asylum system, but let us use it, not abuse it.

Bogus claimants clog our refugee system and make those who legitimately need protection wait far too long, on average almost two years, before they can get a decision on their claim. Bogus claimants are undermining and eroding the faith of Canadians in our system. They are also costing Canadian taxpayers, who are left to foot the bill for the generous and expensive taxpayer funded health care, welfare and other social benefits that draw these bogus claimants.

The measures in Bill C-31 would help curb that abuse. This bill's measures would help protect the integrity of our refugee program. There is no better way to demonstrate our great humanitarian tradition in Canada than by ensuring we can provide protection more quickly to those we genuinely need it.

The reforms in Bill C-31 would help prevent abuse of our system by ensuring human smugglers, violent criminals and bogus asylum seekers would be removed from Canada more quickly.

However, my remarks today will be more to the positive results of Bill C-31, which is something that is getting lost in this debate as we hear the opposition members and their questions. Once Bill C-31 is passed, genuine refugees will receive Canada's much needed protection more quickly. This is a goal and outcome that I think all members in the House of Commons would like to support and see achieved.

In their comments about these particular measures, some hon. members have unfairly accused the government of trying to undermine Canada's tradition of humanitarianism and compassion when it comes to refugees. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our government and all Canadians take great pride in the generosity, fairness and compassion of our immigration and refugee system. Indeed, nothing in Bill C-31 would ever diminish that.

Even with these reforms, Canada will still have the most generous asylum system in the world. We will be number one. In fact, because these reforms will enable those who need our protection to get it even faster, I would argue that they will make it better.

For generations, Canadians have opened our arms to those who need our protection. More than one million refugees have been welcomed to our country since the Second World War. Our Conservative government is proud of and looking forward to continuing that tradition. Just this past December at the United Nations in Geneva, Canada committed to further concrete actions in order to provide protection to those in need.

I urge all hon. members in the House to join me in supporting this important bill and to ensure its speedy passage to make certain that genuine refugees get the help they need in our country.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 1:15 p.m., pursuant to an order made Tuesday, May 29, 2012, it is my duty to interrupt the proceedings and put forthwith every question necessary to dispose of the third reading stage of the bill now before the House.

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

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

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

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Pursuant to Standing Order 45 the recorded division stands deferred until Monday, June 11.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Conservative Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I ask that you see the clock at 1:30 p.m.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Is it agreed?

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Protecting Canada's Immigration System ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Accordingly the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

June 8th, 2012 / 1:15 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

moved that Bill C-383, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to begin second reading debate on Bill C-383, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act. It sounds like a mouthful, but the subject matter of this legislation is straightforward and simple. It is simply to strengthen protections at the federal level to ensure that our waters are protected from bulk water removals.

I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Mississauga South, a relative rookie MP but a great colleague and a member who has a riding that borders on one of the Great Lakes and who realizes the importance of our water. I would like to thank her for her work on that.

Preserving and protecting Canada's freshwater has been a concern of mine for many years. Representing my constituents of Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, a riding that is defined by Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, which surround it on three sides, I understand very well the significance of freshwater to Canadians.

I am often asked what prompted me to put this bill forward. There are many who have said that I could have waited for the government to put this forth rather than introduce it as a private member's bill. However, I saw a need for the protection of our water and decided to act. I personally live on Georgian Bay and our lakes and waters are extremely important to me. I want to ensure that our freshwater will remain where it belongs: in Canada. I am hopeful that my granddaughters will be able to grow up and know the water in Canada will not be leaving.

For Canadians, water is more than a natural resource. It is one of the symbols that defines our country. Whether it is water found on our glaciers, on the Great Lakes, our large and small rivers and the almost countless lakes, ponds or fishing holes across this country, our freshwater is an important part of who we are and the protection of Canada's water is of paramount importance to Canadians in all parts of the country.

Our government has been committed to protecting our water and has introduced many measures to ensure that our water remains safe. We recently announced measures to protect our Great Lakes from Asian carp. Over the next five years, $17.5 million will be allocated to systems of prevention, early warning, rapid response and management and control against the invasion of Asian carp. We have also created tougher laws on the dumping of ballast water and introduced many other measures to protect our lakes.

Canadians want us to ensure that our waters are well protected. They want to know that Canada's freshwater will remain in Canada, supporting healthy ecosystems and communities. They want to know that both the federal and provincial governments have strong protections in place to protect waters under their jurisdictions from schemes or projects to remove them in bulk. After all, bulk removal would be a permanent loss of water from their ecosystems and communities and would risk upsetting delicate ecological balances, as well as depriving communities of an essential resource.

Before getting into the details of the proposed changes to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act that are found in this legislation, let me provide some background on the protections that are currently in place to ensure that our water remains within Canada and protected from the harmful impacts that bulk removal would cause.

I am pleased that the waters in my back yard, Lake Huron, Georgian Bay and all the Great Lakes, are already protected from bulk removals. However, under the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act, bulk water removals are prohibited from boundary waters. Boundary waters are those waters through which the international boundary passes. The statute is explicit in this regard. Section 13 of the act states, “no person shall use or divert boundary waters by removing water from the boundary waters and taking it outside the water basin in which the boundary waters are located”.

Looking at the Great Lakes, I should also add that the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and our neighbours in the United States share the view that bulk diversions of water from the Great Lakes Basin are not desirable and that these waters should be protected. The Great Lakes compact, signed into U.S. federal law in 2008, contains strong protections against bulk diversions of water outside of the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes Basin. The eight Great Lakes states signed a related side instrument with the governments of Quebec and Ontario as part of that compact and they now work closely together on this and other Great Lakes issues.

Our provinces are focused on protecting water resources within their territories and for some time now provinces have had laws, regulations or policies in place to prevent the bulk removal of water. Going forward, therefore, they have a vital role in continuing to protect and maintain this important natural resource. The provinces recognize this. They have different ways of protecting waters under their jurisdictions, but are all committed to ensuring that water resources are protected and maintained for Canadians. I recognize that any way forward involves the federal government working closely with the provinces.

I have provided some background on the protections already in place to prevent the bulk removal of water. However, as I have said, we have good protections but there is an opportunity to go further. Public policy advocates have identified the lack of federal protections for waters, other than boundary waters, and have brought these concerns to our attention. For instance, there are no federal protections to prevent the bulk removal of water from transboundary waters. Transboundary waters are those waterways, such as rivers, that flow across the international boundary with the United States. This area was a focus of our government's previous legislation, Bill C-26, and is now found in Bill C-383. Everyone will know that Bill C-26 died on the order paper when we were forced into an unnecessary election a year ago.

A major focus of the legislation is to bring a coherent federal approach to covering boundary and transboundary waters. The foundation of our existing legislation is the view that water is essential to the functioning of healthy ecosystems and, by extension, to supporting healthy communities. Therefore, any removal of this water in bulk is deemed to be a permanent loss from the basin. Given the dependency of ecosystems and communities within a basin on its supply of water, we consider bulk removable to be unsustainable and having the potential to cause great harm to the environment.

First, Bill C-383 would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to provide transboundary waters with the same bulk water removal prohibitions as those currently in place for boundary waters. By bringing transboundary waters under the same protections as those for boundary waters, all waters that are covered by federal jurisdiction are brought under the same prohibitions against bulk water removals. In so doing, I must stress that the role of the provinces is respected. As a natural resource, the provinces maintain that jurisdiction over water within their territories. Some criticism of the bill was why it did not go into provincial jurisdictions. I deliberately stayed out of there. Provinces, like Alberta and Quebec, have always been sensitive to intervention by the federal government. When it is unnecessary, as in this case, we should stay out of there. We will leave that up to them. Our waters are protected.

For water on the international boundary, or for those crossing the border, the federal government maintains a jurisdiction as well. Taking this step, the federal government is ensuring that its current jurisdiction is exercised and that all waters under federal jurisdiction are treated equally.

Second, the bill makes further changes to strengthen the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. Amendments to this act bring some of the definitions and regulations currently found in the international boundary waters regulations into the act itself. This is an additional strengthening of the act because it would now entrench key definitions, such as what constitutes the removal of water in bulk. Moreover, any exceptions of bulk removal would have to be approved by Parliament. By being in the act, the exceptions are clear. They cannot be changed or weakened unless it is the will of Parliament to change them.

I should be clear that the exceptions considered have to do with water used for such things as ballast or water used in a vehicle that transports animals or people outside the basin. The exceptions also allow for the removal of water temporarily for emergency or humanitarian purposes, such as firefighting, but not for commercial purposes. These exceptions are understandable and do not violate the purpose of the bulk water prohibition. I want to ensure that nothing in the act prevents those important exceptions from taking place.

Moving some of the definitions and exceptions from the current regulations into the act incorporates some of the changes promoted by two former senators, Pat Carney and Lowell Murray, who were long-time strong advocates for protecting Canada's waters.

In bills that those two senators introduced in the other place, they expressed the position that these exceptions were reasonable, but they worried that they could be too easily changed if they existed in regulation only.

In former Bill C-26, the government's bill during the last Parliament, these provisions were included, and I believe they should be included in the bill we are debating today. These provisions make the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act a stronger statute. I thank the two senators for their hard work on this issue over the years.

To further strengthen protection, Bill C-383 includes a provision not found in former Bill C-26. We have included an amendment to the International River Improvements Act that would prevent linking non-transboundary waters with a waterway flowing across the border for the purpose of increasing the annual flow of this waterway. This is significant as it would prevent an international river, that is a river flowing from any place in Canada to any place outside of Canada, from being used as a conveyance to move water out of this country.

Finally, I will take a moment to discuss the enforcement and penalty provisions in this bill. Bill C-383 would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to authorize the minister to designate inspectors for the purpose of verifying compliance with the act. Furthermore, it introduces a sentencing and penalty regime to the act, puts in place minimum penalties for certain offences and substantial maximum penalties, and directs courts to impose additional fines on offenders when the offence involves aggravating factors, such as damage to the environment and when the offender has profited from the offence.

I am pleased to present this bill for debate to the hon. members of this House. While protections currently exist at the federal and provincial levels, there is an opportunity to make these protections stronger.

It is my firm belief that Canada's water should remain in Canada for the use of Canadians. I am committed to ensuring that Canada's water cannot be removed in bulk from our transboundary and boundary waters, and believe that the amendments introduced in the legislation serve to achieve that purpose.

It is fair to note that a lot of members from all parties across the House have indicated their support for this bill, even some individuals who represent small parties, and I appreciate that. I think everyone realizes the importance of this bill and I hope everyone takes due consideration of it. It is a bill in which politics has no part.

Some critics of the bill have expressed concern about there being nothing in the bill that would stop the bottling of water, which would include not just water itself but breweries, soft drink companies, fruit drink companies, et cetera. I deliberately left that out because, in my opinion, that kind of thing is not what one would call bulk water removal. We know the flow of drinks of all kinds, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, make their way across the country and, indeed, around the world and it would be foolish to include that in here.

I thank all my colleagues who have indicated their support for this bill. I again thank the members from the other side of the House who have indicated their upcoming support for this bill. I encourage everyone to get behind this bill.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls NDP Vaudreuil—Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, our party does intend to support the bill at second reading and I applaud the member for introducing it. It is important legislation that would contribute to safeguarding our water.

The member mentioned the $17.5 million put toward protecting Asian carp and yet the parliamentary secretary travels to a foreign capital to urge it to loosen its ballast water regulations. There is a bit of an imbalance in terms of the approach the government is taking, which leads me to my question.

Protecting our water resources requires strong environmental regulation. We have seen from the omnibus legislation that is coming down that those regulations will be loosened. While I applaud the member for this legislation, I wonder how the government will be able to deal with protecting biodiversity, protecting the integrity of our soil, our air and our water. Could the member speak to this? Maybe he has other legislation prepared to fill in the gaps that would be created by Bill C-38?

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question and for his positive comments on the bill. As for his comments about a minister's comments on ballast water, I am not familiar with the comments he is referring to. However, I can tell the member that his wording of “loosening” certainly would not be a true statement because we have tightened the ballast laws on incoming foreign ships into the Great Lakes system and other lakes and rivers in Canada, not loosened them. Therefore, he is certainly mistaken there.

As far as Bill C-38, there are all kinds of good stuff in there and fear-mongering by the opposition and others about some of those changes are simply that, fear-mongering.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

NDP

Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I also thank the member for bringing forth this bill. It is very useful legislation.

In my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, a number of years ago there was a proposal to ship water in bulk out of a place called Gisborne Lake.

One of the concerns raised, and this might fall into his fear-mongering category but it was believed by us, was that once we start exporting water in bulk by shiploads, it then becomes a commodity and perhaps subject to the NAFTA rules and then we cannot stop doing it and we turn water into a commodity, which we feared at the time and it was a grave concern.

Does the member share that concern? Is that one of the reasons that he is bringing forth this particular legislation?

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member is exactly right. I agree with him that water is a resource. However, like oil, timber or gold, it is not a commodity and should not be treated as such. The Prime Minister has been very clear on that in the last five or six years.

That is a question that I could have written myself. I thank the member for allowing me the chance to clear that up. I appreciate his support and thank him for realizing that water is not a commodity to be traded like other resources.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also thank my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for bringing forward this very valuable legislation.

Does the member believe that this is a bill that would benefit just rural Canadians or would it also benefit Canadians living in urban area, the banning the bulk water transfers?

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Mississauga South for her work in support of the bill. She is absolutely right in pointing out that there might be different meanings to our freshwater from rural to urban, but urban ridings and communities like her own probably in some ways have more to gain from that. My drinking water, even though I come from a small community on Georgian Bay, comes directly out of Georgian Bay. Therefore the protection of both its quality and quantity is of the utmost importance, by all means.

We welcome people from her riding to come to my riding and enjoy the water in other ways.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:35 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound for this legislative initiative intended to better protect Canada's fresh water. The member dares tread where his government has refused to go, namely, toward protecting Canada's fresh water from the future threat of export in bulk.

Bill C-383 highlights the government's continued and stubborn inaction on this vital national issue. However, the fact remains that Bill C-383 is a timid response to four years of Liberal pressure on the Conservative government to show robust federal leadership on pre-empting bulk water exports. In the end, I believe Bill C-383 is intended as face-saving legislation meant to inoculate the government against charges it is not protecting Canada's fresh water.

Liberals nonetheless support sending the bill to committee to examine its shortcomings, of which there are at least five.

First, the bill is incomplete. It fails to cover the vast majority of Canada's fresh water. It leaves out of its scope more than 90% of Canada's water resources.

In retrospect, the government should not have combined with the Bloc Québécois to defeat Liberal Bill C-267, which was comprehensive and watertight legislation covering all water basins in Canada. For the record, two courageous Conservative MPs broke ranks and voted for the Liberal bill.

Bill C-267 was developed by Canada's foremost water policy experts and would have protected Canada's water from export in the event a province decided to lift its own internal prohibition on selling water in bulk outside its borders. At the moment, any province could lift its prohibition against bulk water exports at any time in future in response to economic or political pressures. Unlike Bill C-267, Bill C-383 does not provide a backstop against such an eventuality.

Bill C-383 fails to create an over-arching national prohibition against moving water from anywhere in Canada to the United States or elsewhere that would fill the void should a province lift its ban on water exports. Bill C-267's prohibition on taking water out of its home basin anywhere in Canada so as to protect aquatic ecosystems was such over-arching legislation.

Second, Bill C-383 may be dangerously counterproductive. It may unwittingly leave Canada open to a trade challenge under NAFTA should a province together with, say, an American entrepreneur decide at some point in future to challenge the bill's putative prohibition on water exports by pipeline. In other words, rather than resolving the current uncertainty surrounding the status of fresh water under NAFTA, Bill C-383 may amplify this uncertainty. I will explain in a moment.

In the meantime, I should mention that Bill C-267 avoided the possibility of a NAFTA challenge because it was primarily environmental legislation, not an attempt to create a trade barrier.

Third, Bill C-383's prohibition on moving water to the U.S. through transboundary rivers does not break new ground in protecting Canada's water security and sovereignty. It merely formalizes the core principle in the 1909 Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty which stipulates that neither country shall do anything to affect water levels on the other side of the border.

Fourth, while Bill C-383 has intuitive appeal because one can visualize rivers flowing into the U.S. acting as conduits for water exports, the fact is that most water export projects will likely involve tanker trucks, tanker ships, water bags, or pipelines.

The grandiose water diversion schemes where northward flowing Canadian rivers are reversed and diverted south to the U.S. appear to be a dream from the past. For example, the GRAND Canal project developed in the 1950s by Newfoundland engineer Tom Kierans is perhaps the most well-known and iconic of these unrealistic water export schemes. It envisioned among other things using transboundary rivers to channel water normally flowing northward toward Hudson Bay southward to the U.S. Not only does Bill C-383 merely consolidate prohibitions on water diversions implied in the boundary waters treaty of 1909, its approach appears to be outdated.

Finally, it bears mentioning that Bill C-383 does not prohibit water exports by tanker truck, tanker ship, or water bags from non-boundary waters, or even possibly by pipeline. For example, Bill C-383 would not have stopped Sun Belt Water's attempt in the 1990s to export water from B.C. coastal streams to Goleta, California in the absence of the fortunate provincial action that followed to block the company's efforts. Nor would it prevent the export of water from Newfoundland's Gisborne Lake should the current provincial prohibition on bulk water exports in that province ever be lifted.

Some would argue that exporting the water from coastal streams carries no negative consequences because such water is lost to the ocean anyway. Coastal streams do support sensitive coastal ecosystems, including spawning grounds.

As Ph.D. student and water expert Janine MacLeod has said, “The outflow of fresh water into the oceans at deltas and estuaries is not 'wasted'”.

With respect to pipelines, which are perhaps a viable means of someday exporting water to the U.S., Bill C-383's attempt to block water exports by such means could prove problematic. It is difficult to fathom that a Canadian law eliminating the possibility of building a pipeline from, say, a Canadian inland body of water into the U.S. would not be viewed by a NAFTA tribunal as a barrier to trade. It is one thing, as the bill does, to ban the construction of a pipeline into a transboundary river that would change the river's water levels in violation of the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty, but it is quite another to, as the bill also claims to do, legislate a ban on building a pipeline to carry water for export across the Canada-U.S. border and pretend that such a conduit, at the point where it crosses the border, becomes de facto a transboundary river—in other words, like water flowing in its natural state—and hence falling outside of NAFTA's provisions against erecting barriers to trade, according to some experts.

While some would argue that water in a pipeline is not a product in the strict sense, it is not really water in its natural state either. It is water that definitely has been captured. In conjunction with the fact that in the U.S. water in its natural state is viewed legally as a good because it is used to produce goods, it is not outside the realm of plausibility that a NAFTA tribunal would rule that water crossing the border in a pipeline should be seen as having entered commerce and that any attempt to prohibit such commerce constitutes an illegal barrier to trade under the agreement.

We have had mixed signals from Conservatives on the issue of bulk water exports for years. The current Conservative government, as well as previous incarnations of the governing party, have a history of sending contradictory signals with respect to their interest in and desire to prohibit bulk water exports, beginning with the Mulroney government through to the Canadian Alliance to the current government. Let me explain.

In order to allay fears that free trade with the U.S. would result in Canada eventually having to export its water south of the border, the Mulroney government introduced Bill C-156, which would have banned large-scale water exports. The bill died when Parliament was dissolved for the 1988 free trade election and it was not revived after Mr. Mulroney was returned to power in that election. No wonder there are those who believe the bill was merely a symbolic gesture meant to blunt opposition to the impending Canada-U.S. free trade agreement from those who feared a sellout of Canada's water resources if the agreement came to pass.

Later, in opposition, the Canadian Alliance admitted that NAFTA leaves Canada vulnerable to market-driven bulk water exports. Speaking in the House of Commons at the time, the current Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs thus advocated for reopening NAFTA to insert a specific exemption for water, similar to that which the agreement granted to Canada's cultural industries.

More recently, in its 2008 Speech from the Throne, responding to the earlier introduction of Liberal private member's Bill C-535, a predecessor to Bill C-267, the Conservative government promised to introduce legislation to ban bulk water exports by prohibiting interbasin transfers of water within Canada. This commitment reversed the government's position to that point that federal action on the issue of bulk water exports was unnecessary because of existing provincial prohibitions. However, the government never followed through on its commitment, reversing itself yet again, arguing as recently as this past fall that federal legislation to ban bulk water exports remains unnecessary.

In conclusion, Bill C-383 is a very modest step in the right direction by a member who has obviously grown weary of his government's procrastination on an issue of prime national importance involving our most vital natural resource. The bill appears to have serious shortcomings, including the fact that it could even weaken Canada's ability to control its water future.

We look forward to exploring these possible shortcomings in committee.

Transboundary Waters Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

1:45 p.m.

NDP

Jonathan Genest-Jourdain NDP Manicouagan, QC

Mr. Speaker, in my constant quest to convey the viewpoint of members of isolated communities, I would like to take the opportunity presented by our examination of this bill in order to inform the entire Canadian population of the destructive impact of indiscriminate extraction of natural resources in remote areas.

I represent a riding that covers over 220,000 square kilometres. It begins at the 50th parallel and goes all the way up to the 53rd parallel. It is also important to understand that my riding is completely covered by forests. There are 22 watersheds—I checked this number—in my riding. I thought it was important to share certain information that has to do with preserving the integrity of this resource.

Industrial vitality is palpable in my riding on a daily basis, as equipment, heavy machinery and workers are forced to roll through the urban centres before heading off onto the land. The urban centres are the cities of Sept-Îles and Baie Comeau. There is only one highway, highway 138. The drilling equipment used for all mining and forestry initiatives—basically, all equipment—comes through on highway 138. The road has suffered the consequences of this heavy traffic.

It is crucial that we pay more attention to the real environmental footprint of these extraction initiatives on traditional Innu and Naskapi lands. I would like to reiterate that these are traditional lands, and I will expand on these comments a little later on.

When I returned to my riding after my university studies, I did legal aid work for two years. After that, my band council, the council of the Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam nation, approached me and offered me a position as a legal advisor to the community management organization, the band council.

Early in my mandate, I was tasked with handling consultation requests from Quebec's provincial department of natural resources and wildlife. About two or three times a week, my band council received consultation requests regarding various mining and forestry development initiatives.

I used the services of a cartographer, Carole Labarre, who is from my riding and my own community.

Each request was recorded and placed on a map to make it easier for everyone in the community to understand. Each initiative that targeted the traditional lands of designated families was placed on the map.

I was asked to carry out a rather summary analysis. When we looked at the map, we saw that these initiatives were mostly located in areas with water resources or watersheds. We realized that the mining industry was putting its equipment and facilities near waterways because it needs water, especially for drilling and lubricating drilling equipment. That is one of the issues I am attempting to highlight.

Over the years, and based on my observations, I criticized the poor management of natural resources by provincial authorities.

I would like to note in passing that the provinces are primarily responsible for the water within their boundaries.

By extension, the shortcomings with respect to the guidelines for and monitoring of the construction of industrial infrastructure in areas with significant water resources lead me to doubt the true extent of government efforts with respect to freshwater resource management.

To support my comments, I will refer to the specific case of Lake Kachiwiss. When I was working for my band council, it received a request for consultation regarding uranium exploration near Lake Kachiwiss, which is located about 10 km from Sept-Îles.

I was asked to go to the site with other representatives of my community to verify the extent of the real footprint of drilling and prospecting in the area. Photos were taken. We were accompanied by experts. We carried out analyses. We also took water samples, which were sent to Quebec City for analysis.

When we arrived at the site, we could clearly see that the drilling sites were very close to water supplies.

There were drilling sites in the mountains and every site was linked to a stream. We also noticed that many containers of fuel and oil had been left at the site and some had spilled. Oil had spilled into the basins on the mountainside. This is an example of the negative impact of the absence or lack of follow-up in these undertakings.

There were risks at the mining exploration stage, not to mention the risks involved in drilling to the water table, since we were talking about uranium. Radon gas might reach the water table. Things were already problematic at the exploration stage.

I thought it would have been better to address the challenges of maintaining the integrity of the surface water in the north before dealing with the issues related to bulk water exports. Even though the bill concerns bulk water exports, I wanted to highlight the fact that preserving the integrity of the resource is essential because, in the end, water is vital to human existence. To even consider economic development, we have to safeguard the quality of the resource.

I do hope that the Conservatives are duly noting what I am saying since they are in charge of the situation.

Considering how vital this prized resource is, it is essential to safeguard its integrity, and to exclude any notion of profit associated with a hypothetical economic potential. We know that this resource has economic potential. However, as I was saying, it is best to make the efforts needed to safeguard the quality of the resource. I submit this respectfully.