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.