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Water and tar sands hearings expected to start Thursday

The National Post reports this morning that, “The House of Commons environment committee is wading into a raging public relations war over the Alberta oilsands with a study of the industry’s impact on water resources. The MP who proposed the study is Montreal-area Liberal Francis Scarpaleggia…He said hearings expected to begin Thursday are aimed at reconciling conflicting reports linking oilsands operations to damage and risk to the vast, connected water basins of the Athabasca and Mackenzie rivers — the source of one fifth of Canada’s fresh water.”

“The first witnesses expected at the committee are federal officials from the departments of Fisheries, Environment and Natural Resources. Prominent non-government experts will be called, as will authorities on constitutional jurisdiction.”

COMMITTEE WILL CLARIFY FEDERAL JURISDICTIONAL RESPONSIBILITY GIVEN WATER BASIN SPANS THREE PROVINCES AND TWO TERRITORIES “Scarpaleggia says MPs also need to clarify the federal government’s role as an arbiter in potential disputes among provincial and territorial governments over future water shortages or damages. The water basins span about 20 per cent of Canada’s land mass, spilling across three provinces and two territories: Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Yukon. The committee aims to ‘put a spotlight’ on federal government responsibility in a jurisdictional jungle that involves some overlap with those governments as well as treaty obligations to First Nations.”

COMMITTEE WILL LOOK AT FEDERAL ROLE IN SETTLING INTERPROVINCIAL ISSUES “As climate changes begin to impact on Canada’s water resources and there’s competition for water, there are going to be some interprovincial issues, some cross-border issues within Canada, and I would think the federal government has a responsibility to monitor these issues as a potential arbiter in the future. We want to bring in experts on governance. They’ll tell us what the federal government’s responsibilities would be if there are disagreements among the provinces.”

COMMITTEE WILL DISCUSS IF TAILINGS PONDS LEAK Scarpaleggia says, “There’s a big dispute as to whether the tailing ponds are leaking or not. The industry will say no, they’re not, and the environmentalists say, ‘Well we have evidence that they are.’ So let’s find out what the truth is. They drill around the ponds to see if there’s water seeping through and the industry says the water is not contaminated. But the environmentalists say (they) have evidence that it is. As a legislator, my interest is to find out what the truth is.”

NO CONTRADICTION WITH IGNATIEFF, SAYS SCARPALEGGIA “Scarpaleggia sees no contradiction between the study and a recent campaign by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff to assure the public, notably in the West where the Grits have little support, that his party regards the oilsands as an engine of the national economy. Ignatieff mentioned the water issue in his first such speech, the MP said. By singling out water, Scarpaleggia hopes to show that Liberals are not jumping on an anti-oilsands bandwagon that recently has focused on the industry’s high level of greenhouse gas emissions. ‘When you’re talking about greenhouse gas emissions and the oilsands, you get a sense that Albertans just tune out now. They’ve been hit over the head too much with it,’ he said. By contrast, he said, there is evidence that Albertans are widely concerned about the fate of their water supplies. ‘Here’s an issue that doesn’t alienate Albertans because Albertans are as concerned about the impact of oilsands on water as I am or (as) any other Canadian.'”

As I’ve noted in previous posts, it is our intention to present Council of Canadians analysis to this committee. More to come on this.

The full article can be read at