IN THE NEWS ~ Opposition turns to shut off 'water transfer' motion

Opposition turns to shut off 'water transfer' motion

A motion to open NAFTA talks to make sure bulk-water exports are excluded from the deal sparked an acrimonious three-hour debate in the House yesterday, with all three Opposition parties lined up against the Tories.

By The Ottawa Citizen June 1, 2007

A motion to open NAFTA talks to make sure bulk-water exports are excluded from the deal sparked an acrimonious three-hour debate in the House yesterday, with all three Opposition parties lined up against the Tories.

"We are the guardians of the greatest fresh water resources in the world. ... We have a duty to protect them" for future generations, said Liberal MP Robert Thibault.

"The Liberals must have had lobotomies to support this (motion)," retorted Tory MP Jim Abbott. "If we ask to open up NAFTA, it would put $600 billion in trade at risk."

Reports on climate change have fuelled fears that the parched U.S. will pressure Canada for access to its water.

Last month, "water transfers" to the U.S. were on the agenda of a closed-door conference in Calgary of top-flight advisors for the Security and Prosperity Partnership, a trilateral plan for the economic integration of Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Submitted by the Standing Committee on International Trade, the motion calls for a formal letter of agreement with the U.S. and Mexico to make sure bulk water will never be defined as a good or service under NAFTA.

If it were, the panel says, NAFTA rules against government interference could allow firms to sue the provincial or federal governments if they try to bar them from shipping water across the border.

The Conservatives, who have a minority on the panel, issued a dissenting opinion on the motion, which goes to a vote next week.

"This is a problem that simply does not exist," said Mr. Abbott, stressing that the government "has no intention of entering into an agreement" to allow bulk-water exports. (The export of bottled water is allowed.)

The Tories say a 1993 letter signed by the three governments specifically says "water in its natural state" is exempt from the provisions of NAFTA.
But water will not be considered to be "in its natural state" once it has been loaded into a pipeline, or onto a tanker, critics fear.

NDP MP Peter Julian says that in 1998, California-based Sun Belt Water Inc. launched a $10.5-billion lawsuit under NAFTA against British Columbia when a provincial ban scuttled its plans to ship water by tanker to the U.S. (The case is still pending.)

"As a foreign investor, all you need to do is apply for a permit. You'll either get to export water, or you can sue for compensation, which taxpayers will have to pay. Either way, the investor wins, and Canada loses."

"That's just fear-mongering," says Tory MP Ted Menzies, who also sits on the panel. "The NDP is just trying to scare people." Water is protected not only by the 1993 NAFTA letter, but also by a federal-provincial pact and an amendment to the Canada-U.S. Boundary Waters Treaty, which protects the Great Lakes and other shared waters, he argues.

But the Council of Canadians, an Ottawa-based advocacy group, says the U.S. never signed that amendment and notes that it doesn't cover water sources that are not shared with the U.S.

As for the federal-provincial deal, Mr. Julian says provinces will break the accord if the price is right, noting that Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland have all considered allowing water exports in recent years, but backed down in the face of public opposition.

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