IN THE HOUSE ~ Speech ~ on Bill C-383, An Act to Amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements

41st Parliament, 1st Session

Context : Debate

Mr. Peter Julian (Burnaby—New Westminster, NDP): Mr. Speaker, the NDP is pleased to rise in this House to support Bill C-383.

I would like to start by thanking all of the Canadian activists who have been pushing for years to ensure that we do not have water exports or inter-basin water
transfers. Canadians across the country have been concerned about this.

This is an issue that has risen in the House repeatedly, certainly since I have been here in 2004. There were throne speeches raised in 2008 and 2009 when the
Conservatives were first elected. They were committed to this action and
brought forward a bill. As members know, even though they brought forward a
bill, they did not actually do anything to bring it to the House for
consideration. They tabled it, did some spin and paid some lip service on an
extremely serious issue, but they did not do anything.

The fact that this private member's bill is coming forward now I think is indicative of the pressure that so many Canadians have put on the government over the last
few years. There has been a very strong public response. Canadians are saying
that government should not be playing around with the water resources that we
have. As a result, I think it is fair to say that we now have Bill C-383 before
us for consideration.

NDP members do a lot of the heavy lifting here and we are very proud of that, but I
would like to pay tribute to two former members of Parliament who have done a
phenomenal job of raising this issue both in the House and in the public
domain.

The hon. Bill Blaikie raised this issue and he was a member of Parliament for many years. The member for Winnipeg Centre is quite right to applaud to Bill
Blaikie's work.

In 1999, Bill Blaikie brought forward an opposition motion that led to a moratorium on bulk water exports. At the time, he had a key role in both the federal moratorium and, as important, the actions of Canadian citizens right across this country.

Provincial governments from time to time, such as British Columbia and
Newfoundland and Labrador, sought to move forward on bulk water exports.
However, it is the work of activists on the ground who made a difference. They
pushed back on what was a very clear intent on behalf of those non-NDP
governments that were promoting water exports.

Another NDP member who raised the issue of bulk water exports and inter-basin transfers was Catherine Bell, the former member of Parliament for Vancouver Island North. She very eloquently raised concerns around bulk water exports.

These are two former NDP MPs who have played a key role. Also, the member for
Parkdale—High Park, myself and a number of NDP MPs have played a key role in
raising this issue.

Finally, after many years of promises, although it is in the format of a private
member's bill, we finally have some action from the government. Of course, we
support the bill because it is a phenomenally important issue.

I think David Schindler, the noted water expert from the University of Alberta, put it best when he said that even though Canada has about 20% of the world's fresh
water resources, it is like a bank account that has a very small interest rate.
The interest rate, the renewable percentage of that freshwater, is only about
5%.

Therefore, we have 20% of the world's fresh water resources locked in northern Canada in our lakes. However, once that is depleted, it cannot be renewed. The 5%
renewable rate, which is actually the extent of renewable freshwater resources
in this country, is equivalent to the freshwater renewable rate in the United
States.

Context : Debate

We know about the chronic water shortages that are now occurring in the United States. We are aware of the fact that changes have to be made by our American friends and neighbours, because ultimately with the depletion of the aquifers, with the depletion of the freshwater that is available in the United States, to misuse
the water they way they have can simply not continue. Canada has relatively the
same percentage of renewable freshwater. If we ever went the route of bulk
water exports or interbasin transfers, we would find ourselves in a similar
situation extremely quickly.

It is simply not appropriate, it is simply not responsible with our water resources
to envisage bulk water exports, to envisage interbasin transfers. To think that
we will solve the problems that are occurring now worldwide by the simple act
of transferring more water out of our country is simply not true. When we talk
about this issue, we are talking about a fundamentally important one for the
stewardship that we have over that incredible resource.

There is no doubt this legislation falls short of what we would like to see. We are
looking to see amendments when the bill moves to committee.

There is the issue around interbasin transfers that I mentioned earlier that is included in the bill.

One issue that is not included in the bill though, and one that is extremely important and raised both by Bill Blaikie and Catherine Bell and many NDP MPs in the House, is the issue of bulk bottled water. The difference between bulk water
exports and smaller container bulk water exports is a thin one.

This is a relevant and pertinent issue given the world water shortages that we are
seeing. It is something that we would expect to see amended as the bill moves
forward into committee. There is no doubt that would make a difference in
completing the bill. The bill is good for us to support at second reading, but
there is no doubt that improvements could be made.

There is also the issue of the technical amendment that has been raised by the CWIC, and this is something that we would seek to see amended at committee.

The bill is a good first start but it certainly in no way is the end of the
consideration that it has to be given.

More important is the issue of how the government will react to the passing of the
bill, assuming that it has support from both sides of the House. We support
moving it to committee where we will propose the kind of strong and reasoned
amendments that we always move but it may not surprise the House to know that
sometimes our strong and reasoned and thoughtful amendments are not received by the other side. We hope that will not be the case this time because of the work
that we have done on this issue. We have been doing all the heavy lifting. We
are pleased to be joined by at least one Conservative colleague now. We intend
to carry that heavy lifting right through the process.

The other issue is a greater issue as the House is well aware and that is the issue of
water in general. This is something that I addressed in a bill that calls for a
comprehensive water strategy. I would just like to touch on that before I
conclude.

We are looking to have the government develop and present a comprehensive water policy based on the public trust which would recognize that access to water is a fundamental right, which would recognize the UN Economic and Social Council finding in general comment 15 on the International Covenant on Economic Culture and Social Rights that access to clean water is a human right. My bill would prohibit those bulk water exports and implement strict restrictions on new diversions.

The bill also talks about introducing legislation on national standards for safe, clean drinking water and implementing a national investment strategy to enable all of those municipalities, and first nations communities particularly, to upgrade
the infrastructure that they need to have around water. Those are
considerations that we will bring forward at a later date in the House.

Needless to say, the NDP will continue to work to ensure that water resources in this country are, as a human right, made accessible to all Canadians.