Canada Water Preservation Act (Bill C-267)

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, the issue today is critical. Fresh water is the source of all forms of life on earth. The protection and conservation of fresh water are political issues of the 21st century. Seen from space, Canada has one of the largest supplies of water in the world, but on the ground the situation is very different. Our water consumption is concentrated in a specific geographic area: 60% of our watercourses flow to the north of the country, but over 90% of the population is concentrated along the southern border.


As custodians of 9% of the planet’s renewable water resources, we have a moral obligation to preserve them for our generation and future generations. Thank God this is an issue on which there is consensus. For example, in the throne speech of November 19, 2008, the government said: “To ensure protection of our vital resources, our Government will bring in legislation to ban all bulk water transfers or exports from Canadian freshwater basins.”

We had that commitment before. I spoke of the Speech from the Throne in 2008.

When I worked many years ago, as part of the previous government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, that was the last time Canada took a comprehensive look at our water resources. The federal water policy, which remains the only federal water policy passed to this date, was passed in 1987. The Government of Canada committed to a federal water policy, which included that we would ban bulk water exports. Yet we stand here, more than 20 years later, without that prohibition.

I am very grateful to my friend for the introduction of Bill C-267, which ascribes in every respect to the best possible approach to how to ban the transfer of bulk water from one basin to another. I am aware, and I thank my friend, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, for a similar bill, Bill C-383. I would wish we had the ability to blend the two. However, there is no question that Bill C-267 responds to the issue in a way in which it must be responded.

The bill respecting the preservation of Canada’s water resources before us this evening deals with the issue in terms of the inter-basin transfer of water. There are five major drainage basins for all of the water of Canada. If we think about it, it is very logical and intuitive. All our water drains toward larger areas. The five major drainage basins are the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean and even the Gulf of Mexico from which our Great Lakes drain toward the south. These are the five major drainage basins and it is to these drainage basins that Bill C-267 speaks by prohibiting the inter-basin transfer of water, prohibiting the massive transfer of water in bulk.

This is critical because Bill C-383 is quite similar to a previous government legislation, Bill C-26. It dealt only with boundary and transboundary water. It is important for us to remember that when we are looking at boundary and transboundary water, we are looking at 10% of Canada’s water resources. In other words, 90% of Canada’s water resources are found in basins that could not be defined as boundary or transboundary water. As such, the acts we will be looking at later in this session, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvement Act, are certainly laudable, but fall far short of what we need, which is why if it were possible to include the provisions of both bills together, we would have stronger legislation.

I do not have quite the same concern as the hon. member for Nickel Belt about the fact that it is left to regulations to describe a drainage basin. There is no question, however, since there really are five drainage basins for Canada and they are well known and are a matter of scientific fact, that it certainly would be wise to include them when the bill goes to committee and comes to amendment. That would leave no wiggle room for some sort of political fix that would deny the hydrogeology of Canada’s land mass to try to say that there was something other than five major drainage basins. It is a scientific fact that is what there is.

We have always had the threat when we look at the transfer of basin water from one to the other. The most grandiose of these schemes was put forward repeatedly in the early 1980s. The grand canal scheme was the idea that we would move water from one basin, the Hudson Bay drainage basin, and put it into pipelines to ship down to the U.S. That grand canal scheme would not be at all affected by private member’s Bill C-383, which deals with boundary and transboundary water. However, it would be completely caught by Bill C-267, which speaks to the key issue, and that is the removal of water in bulk.

Under the interpretation and definition section of the bill, it states, “removal of water in bulk” means the removal of water, whether it has been treated or not, from the major drainage basin in which the water is located by any means of diversion that includes a pipeline, canal, tunnel, aqueduct or channel”, which is a perfect way of ensuring the grand canal scheme never happens, “or by any other means of diversion by which more than 50,000 litres of water per day is removed from major drainage basin”.

This speaks to ecological realities. It is not a political statement of a boundary. It speaks to the key issue, which is how do we ensure that we do not commit a serious and egregious error in which Canada’s water is moved from one basin to another. We think we are a water-rich nation, but the reality is we only have 9% of the world’s renewable water, the U.S. has 6%. We are roughly in the same territory. For all the water we have, what we have is precious and we have to protect it.

The other reason for this legislation does not come from an ecological threat. It comes from the reality of NAFTA. We have a situation where under the North American Free Trade Agreement, should we allow a single transaction of the shipment of water in bulk from one drainage basin to the other, particularly from one drainage basin in Canada for sale in the United States, we would then have turned a tap on and would be simply impossible under the terms of NAFTA to turn off.

The reason one could say that water is not covered under NAFTA is that water in its natural state in natural water bodies and water courses is not a good in trade. The minute we make that a good in trade, then the taps are open everywhere.

It is critical that Canada protects our water sources by prohibiting the transfer of water in bulk, prohibiting its sale, prohibiting water in its natural state from ever being seen as a good in commerce.

One last reason why the legislation is essential is we may feel awash in water, but the impact of the climate crisis, as the previous member has mentioned, will have its primary initial impact on reducing our access to water, its quality and its quantity. That is why I am so very proud to stand as the member of Parliament for Saanich—Gulf Islands and as the leader of the Green Party of Canada to speak, to plead that the House lives up to the commitments that were made in 1987 in the federal water policy and to the commitment of the current Prime Minister in the Speech from the Throne of 2008 to ban bulk water exports.

We need to take precautionary measures now. I plead with all members of the House to ensure that Bill C-267 lives up to the promises of generations to protect our fresh water in our country.