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NEWS: Harper set to reintroduce transboundary water diversions bill

Conservative MP Larry Miller

Conservative MP Larry Miller

It appears that the Harper government is about to re-introduce C-26, An Act to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act. The Owen Sound Sun Times reports, “Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound MP Larry Miller (is) to introduce a private member’s bill in the House of Commons (Tuesday) morning to amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act and the International River Improvements Act. …(The bill would) block bulk water sales and diversions (and stop talk about the) opening up the Great Lakes to allow international water exports.”

“Miller said Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government support the bill he is to table.”

In terms of timeline, “Miller expects debate on the bill won’t happen until February.”

In November 2008, the Harper government’s Speech from the Throne included, “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.”

In May 2010, almost two years later, the Canwest News Service reported that the Harper government had introduced Bill C-26, “The (Transboundary Waters Protection Act) bill (which) 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. (In 2002, the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act was amended to prohibit bulk water removals from the basins of boundary waters.) The bill provides new powers of inspection and enforcement and fines of up to $6 million for corporate violations.”

While the federal government is responsible for boundary waters, such as the Great Lakes, provinces control resources (including water bodies) solely within their borders. In 1999, the federal and provincial governments entered into a voluntary agreement banning bulk water exports. Council of Canadians national chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, “A voluntary accord is just that — voluntary — and does not bind any province in any meaningful way to protect its water resources now or in the future. Only the federal government has the jurisdiction to impose a meaningful national ban on water exports and only the federal government can deal with the trade threat it has unleashed on the provinces.” Any province that approves bulk water exports, would automatically put pressure on every other province because the NAFTA Chapter 11 provision could be used by a company denied permission to export water from any other province. Back in May 2010, water campaigner Meera Karunananthan said, “We don’t see Bill C-26 as a ban on bulk water exports. It does not appear to cover waters that are not boundary or transboundary waters.”

Barlow also noted at the time, “This legislation seems to narrow the definition of bulk removals to exclude water in manufactured products such as beverages. It appears the legislation continues a provision that allows for up to 50,000 litres of water a day to be exported in packaged form, such as bottled water.”

The Council of Canadians believes that Canada needs a comprehensive national water policy that bans all bulk water exports, excludes water from NAFTA and recognizes water as a public trust.