Speech on Bulk Water Exports (C-267)

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-267, the Canada water preservation act.

This private member's bill seeks to foster the sustainable use of Canada's fresh water, and in particular, to prevent the removal of bulk water from major river basins in Canada.

Canada's New Democrats have long called for a ban on bulk water exports, which we see as a key component of a national water policy that would establish clean drinking water standards and strong environmental protection for Canada's freshwater systems.

While there are parts of the bill which I believe should be addressed and possibly amended at committee stage, I support the bill passing second reading. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the House to do the same.

It is time for Canada to adopt a ban on bulk water exports. Water is a precious, renewable resource, but this resource has its limits.

While many Canadians may believe that Canada has an overabundance of water, this is a common misconception. If one actually looked at Canada's renewable water supply, one would see that Canada holds 6.5% of the world's renewable fresh water, not the 20% figure that is often touted. Furthermore, Canada ranks well below Brazil and Russia and has approximately the same amount of supply as Indonesia, United States and China.

Over one-quarter of Canadian municipalities have faced water shortages in recent years. While 72% of our country's population is concentrated within 150 kilometres of the United States border, most of our major river systems flow northward, creating a further disparity between supply and demand.

Furthermore, we know that the very real threats posed by climate change will only compound the challenges of managing Canada's renewable fresh water.

Indeed, the time is now for Canada to formally ban bulk water exports and to firmly oppose the notion that water in its natural state is a tradeable commodity.

For too long our federal government has left the door open to bulk water exports.

Looking back, 1993 was a significant year in the debate over water management. The North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, fundamentally changed Canada's ability to control domestic water policy. For example, under chapter 11, foreign businesses have the ability to sue for damages when they believe they have been harmed by local rules. This is exactly what happened in British Columbia after the provincial government, a New Democrat government, I might add, implemented legislation in 1995 prohibiting the bulk export of water. As a result, under chapter 11, a California-based company filed a claim for $10.5 billion in damages.

This case highlights the threats posed to Canadian communities, and even democracy, when Canadian water is regarded as a tradeable commodity.

Water has often been up for negotiation under the security and prosperity partnership. There is a strong push toward North American energy integration, which includes water.

In 2007, Canadians were infuriated to learn their government was planning to undertake secret negotiations with the United States on the issue of bulk water exports. Because of the public outcry the government backed down on the negotiations, and the then minister of the environment, the hon. member for Ottawa West—Nepean, stated:

The Government of Canada has no intention of entering into negotiations, behind closed doors or otherwise, regarding the issue of bulk water exports.

I hope this remains the case today, because Canadians are still overwhelmingly opposed to Canada allowing bulk water exports. In fact, 66% of Canadians expressed support for a ban on bulk water exports. This is why in 1999 the House of Commons adopted a New Democrat motion to place an immediate moratorium on bulk water exports and to introduce legislation to formalize a ban.

In 2007 the House adopted an NDP motion calling on the federal government to initiate talks with its American and Mexican counterparts to exclude water from the scope of NAFTA.

In 2010 members of the House will recall that the government introduced its own legislation to ban bulk water exports under Bill C-26. While the bill was inadequate for a number of reasons, it did not progress beyond first reading.

Again, Parliament has an opportunity to formally adopt a ban on bulk water exports. As I have already stated, the time is now. By continuing to leave the door open, we leave our environment, our economy, and most important, our people vulnerable to unnecessary risk.

As Andrew Nikiforuk stated in a 2007 publication, “Exporting water simply means less water at home to create jobs and less water to sustain ecological services provided by rivers and lakes necessary for life”. He talks about the concept of virtual water, which is the water used to support the export of other Canadian products, such as cattle, grain, automobiles, electricity, wood, and of course, oil.

In addition to industrial uses of water, Canadians' personal use must also be taken into account. Unfortunately, Canadians rank as one of the highest per capita users of water in the world. While Canadians have an individual responsibility to limit wasteful consumption of water, this alone is not enough.

As I previously mentioned, over one-quarter of Canadian municipalities have faced water shortages in recent years. Many aboriginal communities in particular have faced immense challenges in securing stable, sufficient access to safe drinking water.

This week the member for Timmins—James Bay drew national attention to the state of emergency declared three weeks ago by the Attawapiskat First Nation. Access to clean drinking water is one of the many grave issues this community faces.

Canada cannot afford to be negotiating the export of our water. It is time to start taking care of Canadians first. This means adopting a national water policy that protects our water from bulk export, that sets clean drinking water standards, and that establishes strong environmental protection of Canada's fresh water.

I call on the government to respect the will of Parliament as expressed in 1999 and 2007, and to respect the opinion of the majority of Canadians by lending its support to the legislation banning the bulk export of water.

Canadians recognize the value of fresh water and are not prepared to allow water to be traded away, as we do with other resources.

I will be voting in support of Bill C-267. I urge all members of the House to do the same, so that it can be given a thorough examination by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.