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NEWS: Harper introduces bulk water legislation

The Canwest News Service reports this afternoon that, “Stronger protection against bulk water exports from rivers and streams that cross the U.S.-Canada border was announced Thursday by the federal government.”

According to the news report, “The (Transboundary Waters Protection Act) bill would ‘plug the last remaining gap’ in a ban against bulk water removal that is in place for the Great Lakes and other water that straddles the Canada-U.S. border and is covered by provincial law. The bill provides new powers of inspection and enforcement and fines of up to $6 million for corporate violations.”

Foreign Affairs minister Lawrence Cannon said today, “This important legislation makes it clear that we are not in the business of exporting our water. Canadian water is not a commodity. It is not for sale.”

Sun Media adds that, “Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said the proposed law would complement provincial and territorial laws and respect constitutional jurisdiction.”

The Canadian Press adds that, “Cannon told reporters he doesn’t know of any companies trying to export water to the United States. …Cannon added the new measures would protect waters such as Manitoba’s Red River, which flows north from Minnesota and North Dakota and empties into Lake Winnipeg. …As parts of the U.S. dry up, there are fears thirsty Americans will look to Canada for water transfers — something the Tories say isn’t on the table.”

And Reuters reports that, “Water supply has increasingly become both an economic and security issue as rising populations have increased demand, while industrialization and drought have hurt water sources. Cannon said water in natural waterways is not covered by the trade rules of the North American Free Trade Agreement.”

A December 2008 article from Embassy magazine with concerns about this legislation – that was first proposed in a November 19, 2008 Throne Speech – is at http://www.vancouverislandwaterwatchcoalition.ca/go264a/Water_Export_Ban_Law_-not_Tackle_NAFTA.

We are working on our analysis of this legislation right now. More to come.

When this was first announced in the Throne Speech almost two years ago, this is what we said:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper – through the Throne Speech read by Governor-General Michaëlle Jean – said today, “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.”

The Globe and Mail reports that, “There are clear attempts in the speech to woo support from all three opposition parties, acknowledging the fact that Canadians elected another minority Parliament…On issues regularly raised by the NDP, the government is promising to increase incentives for energy-saving home retrofits, legislation banning all bulk water exports to the United States and expansion of federal programs dealing with homelessness and affordable housing.”

This Throne Speech pledge on water appears different than the prime minister’s statement on September 26, during the last federal election, when he stated he “re-affirms Canada’s position that the North American Free Trade Agreement cannot require Canada to export bulk water to other NAFTA countries.”

As we know, this earlier statement is simply not true. If a province were to allow the shipment of water outside the country, the United States and Mexico would automatically become entitled to similar access to water in any province in Canada under the ‘national treatment’ provision of NAFTA. Furthermore, once water exports are undertaken to these NAFTA countries, Article 315, the proportionality clause, kicks in meaning that a member country cannot reduce or restrict the export of a resource to another member country once the export flow has been established. In other words, the export of water could not be stopped or even reduced from previous export levels. Instead, exports of water would be guaranteed at the level established over the preceding 36 months. Water is also included in Chapter 3 of NAFTA as a tradable good, subject to all the protections of an international treaty. Article 309 of NAFTA states, ‘no party may adopt or maintain any prohibition or restriction on the exportation or sale for export of any good destined for the territory of another party.’ In other words, a law banning the commercial export of this water ‘good’ to the United States would violate NAFTA. On June 4, 2007, the Harper Conservatives voted against a motion in the House of Commons that called for taking water out of NAFTA, which would help prevent bulk water exports.

So we will need to wait and see the actual legislation that the Harper government brings forward, but we have reason for cautious optimism this evening.

Today’s Throne Speech excerpt on water can be read at http://www.sft-ddt.gc.ca/eng/media.asp?id=1378.

The Globe and Mail article can be read at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20081119.wPOLthrone1119/BNStory/politics/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20081119.wPOLthrone1119.





This evening the Toronto Star reports that, “Maude Barlow, chair of the Council of Canadians and global water activist, said the bill is a ‘very good beginning’.”

“But she urged the federal government to clear up a loophole in NAFTA that under certain circumstances could turn bulk water into a commodity.”

“’NAFTA still has the possibility, if one provinces disobey the federal law, of extending the notion of water as a commodity,’ said Barlow in a telephone interview from Cannes, where she is promoting the Canadian film Paani. It’s the first major motion picture dealing directly with issues of water justice and scarcity.”

“Barlow said there is a ‘big push’ by the Economic Institute of Montreal for Quebec to export its water.”

“Among other things, Barlow has served as senior advisor on water to the president of the United Nations General Assembly and is also the bestselling author or co-author of 16 books, including the international best seller Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and The Coming Battle for the Right to Water.”

“’We also need a full new Water Act to protect water in many, many other ways,’ she said. ‘This the first step of a very badly needed set of legislation on water. Our Water Act is 40 years old.'”

That’s at http://www.thestar.com/mobile/news/canada/article/808848–ottawa-tightens-ban-on-bulk-water-exports?bn=1.