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Council of Canadians warns of loopholes in new federal water legislation

Ottawa – The Council of Canadians welcomes new federal legislation with the stated aim of banning bulk water exports as a first step, but is concerned that the legislation fails to adequately protect water.

The Council has three key concerns with Bill C-383, private member’s legislation that will be supported by the federal government:

  1. The bill 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.

  2. The legislation does not address US water unilateralism. For example, the legislation does nothing to address the potential for bulk water withdrawals from the Great Lakes from the US.

  3. The bill’s stated intent of preventing the commodification of water could be undermined by international trade rules. While the federal government is responsible for boundary waters, such as the Great Lakes, provinces control water bodies solely within their borders. Any province that approves bulk water exports would automatically put pressure on every other province to do the same because of NAFTA Chapter 11 provisions.

“The Council of Canadians commends this first step towards banning bulk water exports,” says Council of Canadians Water Campaigner Emma Lui. “However, the bill fails to address the real threats to water in Canada.”

“This legislation actually narrows the definition of bulk removals to exclude water in manufactured products such as beverages,” notes Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow. “Canada needs a comprehensive national water policy that bans on all bulk water exports, excludes water from NAFTA and recognizes water as a public trust in order to truly address competing commercial and public interests.”

“NAFTA still allows for the possibility of extending the notion of water as a commodity,” says Lui. “We need to make water a public trust if we truly want to address the fact that the public interest has been subservient to commercial interests, a situation which will worsen with climate change and increasing water shortages.”

“We are glad to see that the bill now covers interbasin transfers into international rivers,” says Lui. “However, Bill C-383 still does not cover non-boundary waters. It is still highly problematic that the Act narrows the definition of water removals and diversions to bulk removals of 50,000 litres or more and exempts water in manufactured goods including beverages.”  

“Bill C-383 does not apply to water resources in the North, which have been the subject of ridiculous proposals by right-wing think tanks,” notes Barlow. “Therefore Bill C-383 is effectively not a comprehensive ban on bulk water exports.”

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.

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