Statement made on 29 April 2009 by Senator Jerahmiel Grafstein (retired)
Hon. Jerahmiel S. Grafstein:
Honourable senators, Bill S-211 is an act to require the Minister of the Environment to establish, with the cooperation of the provinces, an agency with the power to identify and protect Canada's watersheds — water sources that will constitute sources of drinking water in the future. Let me quote from the preamble in the bill:
Whereas Canada's drinking water sources are threatened by land use and development that may have an impact on the quality of the water and its suitability as drinking water;
Whereas the need for clean, safe drinking water is increasing in all regions of Canada;
Whereas the legislative powers that relate to the protection of watershed areas are under both federal and provincial jurisdiction;
And whereas there is urgent need for federal and provincial governments to protect Canada's drinking water sources for the future;
Essentially, honourable senators, I will not try your patience unduly. Many of you have heard some of these arguments before, and therefore I will try to summarize where we stand as briefly as I can.
Bill S-211 has had a history in the Senate. It has been before the Senate for almost four years. It was introduced in session after session. In the last session, honourable senators will recall that we had a spirited discussion about the bill before it was turned over to committee. We agreed to pass the subject matter of the bill to the committee when we went to second reading.
Honourable senators will recall that Senator Nolin was concerned about certain constitutional aspects of the bill. I suggested we sort out those aspects in committee, as well as deal with other questions that he or other senators might have — including an adjacent or previous bill that might have overlapped this particular bill.
Two issues were addressed in committee. Honourable senators will recall that the bill was given a thorough examination, under the able chairmanship of Senator Banks, in the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. We had extensive hearings on November 22, November 27 and December 4, 2007.
I believe, on careful reading of that transcript, that all the concerns were addressed. Some senators were not totally satisfied, but at least there was a rational response to each concern that had been raised in the Senate and by other members.
I remind honourable senators, briefly, about the background and the rationale for this bill. This bill was to require the Minister of the Environment to establish, in cooperation with the provinces, an agency with power to identify, first of all, and then to protect, Canada's watersheds that will constitute sources of drinking water in the future.
Honourable senators will know of my other bill to amend the Food and Drugs Act — now Bill S-208 — to provide clean drinking water at the tap. Bill S-211, which we are discussing now, is an upstream bill; in effect, it is a companion piece to the clean drinking water bill.
The rationale did not come from me. It came from discussions and debates around the bill to amend the Food and Drugs Act from experts who said if we wanted to deal with clean drinking water, we must be holistic. We must not only deal with the downstream source when it comes out of the tap, but also with upstream sources.
Even though this bill is a companion bill, the two bills each stand on their own feet; in other words, delaying the passage of one does not affect the passage of the other. The two bills are completely separate and mutually exclusive. I do not want any senator to believe that the two are connected in the way or that one is tied to the other. They are not connected except with respect to overall process and policy.
Honourable senators, in article after article and in television programs in the last two or three years, water clearly has become, as the media experts say, "the new oil." Water is now as precious in a way as oil, and the cost of keeping water clean is increasing.
It is interesting to note that in October 2007, when the committee of the Senate was seized with the subject matter of this bill, Cirque du Soleil founder and one of Canada's outstanding Canadians, Guy Laliberté, pledged $100 million over the next 25 years to a new foundation that he called the One Drop Foundation.
When I read the newspaper clipping, I also spoke to the executive director of the foundation, Michel Lamoureux, whom I happened to run into a few days before the hearings in 2007. He is well known in this chamber; I believe he previously worked for Senator Poulin as her assistant.
The press release from that foundation is clear. It says that Mr. Laliberté has dedicated $100 million over the next 25 years to the One Drop Foundation, and he gave the following rationale:
No one can remain indifferent when we know that at least every eight seconds, a child dies from a disease caused by drinking contaminated water.
He was not referring to Canada; he was referring to global drinking water. This foundation will rebuild water wells and provide drinking water to poor countries.
When I brought the background of my bill to Mr. Lamoureux's attention, he was interested. In no way, shape or form do I want to appear to be a critic of Mr. Laliberté, his generosity or his efforts, because I think he is doing an astounding thing for the world. However, it strikes me as ironic that while we in Canada can support with our tax dollars a foundation for clean drinking water overseas, we do not have clean drinking water in some of our poorest and not-so-poor regions of Canada.
I hope to achieve common cause and to join forces with this foundation; to persuade them to assist us here in Canada with respect to these measures affecting water that we have before the Senate.
Let us take a quick look back. Canada is a blessed country. It is blessed because we are sovereign in terms of our resources, not only oil, but minerals, semi-precious and precious gems and other resources.
We also are sovereign over 7 per cent of the world's land mass. Canada has, within its borders, 9 per cent of the world's so-called renewable fresh water. I say "so-called" because until a few years ago, we believed that our fresh water was renewable; but it now appears that some of it may not be renewable.
Our water supply is not increasing or staying at the same level. Most experts say it is decreasing. It is decreasing because of pollution and chemicals; and, more important, leakage and, of course, the environment. This leakage, seepage or environmental reasons cause deep seepage in our fresh water system.
Look at the Great Lakes. This finding is anecdotal, but it is confirmed by a number of associations. I have had the honour of addressing the Great Lakes Water Association in Chicago and in Toronto. When people go to these meetings, honourable senators, they discover that the water level of the Great Lakes has dropped about 18 inches in the last few years.
In many resorts along the Great Lakes this summer, one will find that the facilities in the marinas are marooned because the water level is now 18 inches lower. That level varies up and down, but essentially it is lower. We now have a serious seepage and leakage problem from pollution, the environment and other reasons. Also, we all know the efforts by some Canadians to put provisions in our law to ensure that bulk attacks or bulk expropriation of our fresh water is not undertaken by the United States.
The purpose of this bill is at least to find out what is happening, to find out the facts. The purpose of the bill is not complicated. The purpose is to map the watersheds, these water sources of clean drinking water across the country. Believe it or not, honourable senators, we do not have, to this day — despite legislation and despite protestation by governments and ministers — an inventory of those watersheds.
Canada's population is less than half of 1 per cent of the world's population, so we have the greatest per capita allocation of fresh water in the world. This abundance of fresh water, in my view, is both a blessing and a curse. The blessings are clear: Water is an essential part of our life on this planet. The Department of Health tells us we need to drink eight glasses of clean drinking water each and every day to keep healthy.
The curse, honourable senators, is overabundance. We have become complacent with this vast resource. There is a myth that we help promulgate in our schools, and here, that we have limitless water. That is a myth. That is no longer the case. We are living by this previous myth. We have become too compliant and too complacent. We take this valuable resource for granted — and that resource is diminishing.
Why is there not a vocal lobby to preserve this precious national asset? In the last several years we have heard voices in the media. Article after article says the new oil is water. We have seen the media. We have heard environmentalists around the world talking about this. Why is it that we do not have a powerful lobby that knocks on our door, as many other lobbies do, day after day, to protect our water? We do have the Seven Sisters, or the so-called offspring of the Seven Sisters, the great oil companies. They are here. We have the big banks. They are here. We have the unions. They are here. We have ethnic groups. They are here in abundance. However, we do not have a fine, articulate, intelligent daily vocal lobby for water.
We do have the Sierra Club. We do have environmental groups and watershed groups, but they are not visible and powerful because they are underfunded.
There is a vested interest to protect and maintain oil in this country — we know about that — and drawing it out of the surface; yet, we do not have the Seven Sisters that will protect the water in this country. Why is that so? With rising economic, industrial and agricultural growth and increased housing added to the utilization of our water, as well as resources for recreation, all experts warn — and I repeat, honourable senators, all experts warn, and no one in the country speaks to the contrary — that it is time for Canada to take a fuller account of its water, to take inventory of its own water that is fast becoming a diminishing or at least questionable resource.
Honourable senators, I speak here for 100 per cent of the experts. I have not heard any expert, not one, disagree with this contention.
The Great Lakes, the single largest source of fresh water in the world, contained — I say "contained" because we do not know this anymore — 18 per cent of the world's total fresh water at least four or five years ago, but much of it is polluted.
I discovered 20 years ago when in Chicago at a meeting of Great Lakes mayors that there were 36 heavily polluted hot spots along the Great Lakes. Canada and the United States entered into an agreement, a treaty with the provinces, a contractual relationship, a treaty relationship, a political relationship — I will not get into the fine details — and guess where we are today, some 20 years later? Of the 36 centres of pollution, the last count I had was that 12 had been addressed. Canada did some of them, as did the Americans.
Several years ago the United States was preparing a water restoration bill to required $20 billion of appropriations from the U.S. Congress. That bill was led by Rahm Emanuel, who is now Chief of Staff to President Obama. That bill has gone nowhere because the $20 billion was never appropriated. Hopefully, some of the American stimulus package might be allocated, but we do not know if that is the case. In any event, we are where we are.
It is not safe to make the calculation any longer that the Great Lakes contain 18 per cent of the world's fresh water in terms of volume. One per cent is currently not renewable, according to the most recent scientific sources. We can no longer take for granted the sustainability of the Great Lakes for each and every citizen in the Great Lakes Basin — the jewel of our country — and beyond.
Given this diminishing resource, economic measurements should start to come into play. How should groundwater, aquifers and watersheds, which are now paramount sources, be shared? With a limitless resource, we do not have to worry about sharing. Everyone can have a fair share. However, when the resource is diminishing, in comes government and in comes policy because in a democratic society we have to decide how we share a diminishing resource.
In Alberta, there is a huge water crisis. For every barrel of oil, four barrels of water are needed in order to bring the oil out of the oil sands. Some say twelve barrels, others say six, others say eight; let us just say four. It may be more, but at least four barrels of water are required for every barrel of oil.
Among the agriculture, oil and health communities, how do we share this diminishing, precious resource called water? How can we hope to share it if we do not know how much we have or where it is?
The idea of this bill, very simply, is to get the facts: facts before policy. I was always taught by my great mentor, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, to find out the facts first and then come up with a solution. Facts first. We do not know.
Genius, I was told, is a glimpse into the obvious. One does not have to be a genius to first get the facts. How do we find out how much and where and what? For a moment, let us share models of allocation between farmers and settlers, between industry and recreation, and between oil and minerals and others as our water abundance decreases; but we cannot do that without knowing how much we have.
Honourable senators, recent public opinion polls have demonstrated, and I urge all members of the house on both sides who are indifferent to this bill — and there are many of my bills that senators are indifferent to — hallelujah!
Senator Segal: Say it is not so!
Senator Grafstein: The honourable senator is talking like my wife. She knows.
I urge senators on both sides to look at the polls. We are not moved by our conscience any longer in this chamber. We are moved by the polls, so let us look at the polls. What do the polls say? They say the same thing — that water is emerging as almost the number one issue in Canada. Just this year we have heard that some cities are thinking of banning bottled water. That is not a bad idea. However, if we ban it, what will we be left with when we cannot guarantee the cleanliness of the water from the end of the tap? We ban bottled water, but we cannot guarantee to each and every Canadian that clean drinking water will flow out of the tap. How ironic is that?
We started this long crusade — I do not like using the word "crusade," as it has some undesirable aspects in some corners — it is a mission. When we started this mission, water was in the mud. Water has now come out of the mud.
We have heard an astounding and supportive hallelujah to Senator Keon, with which I agree, but he will be surprised to find out that water now rivals medicare in this country because people are becoming concerned about this compelling problem. This is in no way, shape or form meant to diminish the honourable senator's outstanding acts of leadership in the field of medicine.
As parliamentarians and politicians, we value public opinion. We should take this rising phenomenon into account to justify in some measure this Senate. We heard from Senator Segal that it is important to justify and legitimize our work here, so would it not be nice if we took a rising issue that concerns the public and encapsulate it in a bill, when the other place refuses to act? Would that not be a pleasing result specifically for new senators so they can go home and tell their wives how hard they are working in the Senate?
Senator LeBreton: And husbands.
Senator Grafstein: Yes — spouses, friends, countrymen, relationships, wives, alternates. I want to be politically correct.
Water is near the top of the polls in terms of concern for each and every Canadian.
Bill S-211 is designed to allow the Minister of the Environment, in conjunction with provincial counterparts, to map out water aquifers across the country. This bill is a cost-effective and cooperative way to map, measure and create a national inventory of our most precious resource. Once completed, this inventory, open and transparent, will ensure that water resources are developed in a fair, equitable and careful way, to be shared by all sectors of our society based on their paramount needs.
Let me relate an extraordinary story from my home province of Ontario. It is well known that one of the major watersheds in the Greater Toronto Area is the Oak Ridges Moraine. This moraine services much of the clean drinking water in Toronto. It was also discovered, as Senator Di Nino knows, that several developers in Toronto had acquired sites there and were starting to build on that moraine. The Province of Ontario woke up and discovered that the moraine was targeted for development. The Liberals in Ontario woke up, and the Province of Ontario decided that the situation was a crisis. They passed emergency legislation to prohibit building on that moraine. It struck me as rather curious that building would occur on this precious resource when there is ample place to build elsewhere in the province and in the GTA. Furthermore, the construction would affect the rights of every resident of Ontario, particularly each and every resident of Toronto, who would be denied access to this precious resource.
Water is a problem wherever we go. However, the problem is no longer local. Water is now a national problem because it affects the entire country. Water has emerged as a national macroeconomic as well as a microeconomic problem. If we do not manage this resource, honourable senators, and take steps to enhance the sustainability, we will unconsciously compromise the future of Canadians. I urge honourable senators to adopt this measure in second reading before Canada's fresh water resources are diminished beyond renovation and sustainability.
If we address the situation now, we can save a precious resource from atrophy, benign neglect and deterioration. Canada's water supply will not run dry if we are careful and transparent, and if we protect its sustainability for future generations.
I have been told that the subject matter of this bill is under study by the government. That news is good, but it is not new news because three previous governments and now this government have all told me the same thing; namely, that they are studying this particular matter. Good for them. We are told that the government will continue to study this matter, and I believe they will continue to do so until the water is too low to do anything about.
This bill is not a question for further study; this bill is a question for action.
When I spoke in conjunction with the clean drinking water bill, the act to amend the Food and Drugs Act to provide clean drinking water, the Gordon Water Group of Concerned Scientists and Citizens brought their most recent study to my office. I read that 55-page document, and I quoted it before in my previous address on second reading of the amendment to the Food and Drugs Act to provide clean drinking water. The study is called Changing the Flow: A Blueprint for Federal Action on Freshwater, and I urge honourable senators to read it in conjunction with this bill. The study involved every major environmental group and scientist with respect to their interest and studies in the water system. The document is a prestigious and impressive report, and I will give you brief quotations from it.
On page iii, part of the preface is called "Thinking Like a Watershed," and it states:
Because watershed boundaries seldom coincide with political boundaries, we need to take better account of watersheds in our decision-making.
Watershed-based management requires an appreciation of the complex interactions that occur between the natural hydrological system and human activities.
The paragraph continues:
. . . urban development, commercial and agricultural operations all impact the quantity and quality of both surface and groundwater.
The complexity of these interactions means that our future management approaches need to be more integrated, precautionary and adaptive than they have tended to be in the past.
On page 12, under the headline, "The Economic Importance of Fresh Water," the text states:
The measurable contribution of water to Canada's economy is estimated between $7.5 and $23 billion annually, values comparable to agricultural production and other major economic sectors
I point to those who are experts in this chamber. Water outstrips agriculture and other industrial sectors.
The paragraph continues:
A prime example of the importance of freshwater to Canada's economy is the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River region.
This region supports 45 per cent of Canada's industrial capacity and 25 per cent of its agricultural capacity, and contributes $180 billion to Canada-U.S. trade annually. The lakes sustain a $100 million commercial fishing industry and a $350 million recreational fishing industry and every year 1.5 million recreational boats enjoy the Great Lakes.
The report goes on to deal with one more important topic, and the heading is interesting. The topic is right up Senator Nolin's alley because he brought the provincial aspect of this subject matter to the attention of the Senate, and I thank him for that. The quote is found on page 21 and states: What happened to the federal water policy of 1987?
Ralph Pentland, who assisted me and encouraged me to draft this particular bill, is one of Canada's outstanding experts who has appeared before our committee in the past. Formerly a senior bureaucrat involved with water in the federal bureaucracy, he co-authored this blueprint and was a member of the Gordon Water Group. He was responsible for drafting the federal water policy in 1987.
Ralph Pentland describes the policy rise and fall in this way: In early 1984, federal environment minister, the late and revered Charles Caccia — I say "revered" because he was a good friend of ours — recognized that many of the water issues that would confront Canadians over the next several decades could not possibly be addressed without effective federal leadership. That was in 1987, 20 years ago.
Accordingly, he appointed a three-person inquiry on federal water policy, and the inquiry was instructed to consult widely and report back in 18 months. The Pearse inquiry submitted its final report, Currents of Change, in September of 1985. That was 22 years ago. The study states:
Over the following years, I chaired an Inter-departmental Task Force, which carefully considered the inquiry's recommendations, and developed a Federal Water Policy which then Environment Minister Tom McMillan tabled in the House of Commons in November 1987.
We have gone from a Liberal minister to a Conservative minister, and, of course, now we are back to a Conservative minister from a Liberal minister.
Shortly thereafter, the Canada Water Preservation Bill was tabled in the house, promising to prohibit water exports, and the government's green plan promised billions of dollars — that was back in 1987 — which I do not think were ever allocated or spent. We made the promise and we heightened the expectations that the problem was solved, but we did not put our money where our mouth was.
By the way, I am not critical of this government only; I am critical of this government and previous governments. They have all said the same thing — We are with you — but they did not put their money where their mouth is, or show action or leadership.
Canadians' hopes were raised when the government said, at that time, that they would finally address a number of serious water and environmental problems. However, their hopes were dashed. In 1987, the federal water policy included over 100 well thought out amendments and commitments. I point out to honourable senators opposite that few of those commitments were ever met in any meaningful way. Again, I cast no aspersions. It was non-partisan. Both sides were benignly negligent in not dealing with this matter.
At that time, the water export bill was never passed. Most of the planned green plan dollars evaporated — a nice word — and through the 1990s Canada plummeted from the middle of the pack of countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of per capita environmental expenditures to somewhere near the bottom.
I will conclude with the rest of the quote from this section:
Since the National Energy Program fiasco in the 1980s —
We all remember that quite well, honourable senators. Take a look at the scars.
— the federal government has been particularly gun-shy about treading on provincial toes regarding resource matters.
That is indeed a great tragedy because water is not just a provincial resource; it is both a key ecological integrator across many jurisdictional boundaries —
— as I have tried to point out painstakingly in these comments —
— and a critically important, strategic national resource.
A constructive way to look at the turf war question is to start from the assumption that neither the federal nor provincial governments have the total "powers" per se. What they do have is frequently overlapping constitutionally-defined "responsibilities" to the same citizens, many of which are not being met.
We have a crisis, honourable senators — a stasis. It is not working. We do not have a water policy in Canada. We have partial legislation on the books, but it is not enforced.
Again, I thank every member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee under the leadership of Senator Banks. The committee has followed this issue as assiduously as anyone in this country.
Senator Banks' responsibilities have been turned over to my great friend Senator Angus. I would hope that he, known for his missionary zeal in many areas, might take on this mission, as Senator Banks did, to do things in the national interest.
Honourable senators, this matter then went to committee. As I pointed out, a major issue was raised by my good colleague and friend, now the constitutional watchdog from the province of Quebec, Senator Nolin. By the way, I do not quarrel with his responsibilities to be a constitutional watchdog, as some of us are, but he has been assiduous. Therefore, he raised the question of constitutionality, and we agreed in good, non-partisan spirit that we would not pass the principle of the bill but would pass the subject matter of the bill to committee.
I will quote from the committee proceedings of November 27, 2007. Senators will recall we had a very spirited discussion just a few days ago about constitutional opinions. I quote from the government, on page 1850 of the committee hearings of the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee chaired by my colleague Senator Banks. The government official was Henry Schultz, Senior Counsel, Legal Services, Department of Justice. He said:
First, as regards its constitutionality, we reviewed this bill from the perspective of division of legislative jurisdiction between the federal and provincial governments. We have not identified any objection to this bill on division-of-powers grounds.
Therefore, the question of constitutionality is gone. We now have an opinion by the law officers of the Crown, which we did not have before, that it is constitutional. The major objection raised by Senator Nolin was answered in committee.
Honourable senators, I have some startling news, hot from the committee two years ago. We have learned that the government had been mapping the aquifers. We discovered in the learned evidence before Senator Banks' committee that it is believed that 30 aquifers or watersheds are the sources of clean drinking water across the country. That is very good news. We now know there are at least 30. By the way, this was discovered some years ago.
What is the bad news? As of the committee hearing in 2007, we discovered that the government was committed with zeal to finish the mission of mapping these aquifers. When will that mapping be completed? That would be in 2030. I am not sure how many senators will be in this chamber in 2030, and I do not know where I will be in 2030, but I certainly will not be here. Perhaps Senator Brazeau will be here, but I cannot think of anyone else. Will Senator Ringuette be here? Good. Perhaps two vestigial remains will be here, but our job, honourable senators, is to do something in our time.
Senator Segal: I will be here until 2021.
Senator Grafstein: Senator Segal will be out of luck, too. He will not be here to see the culmination of the zeal of the federal government to map the aquifers.
Finally, honourable senators, I do not want to make light of this, but we have another problem that came to our attention in the very good cross-examination of officials. We also discovered that under an overlapping bill, which I believe is functus and many officials agreed with me — certainly Ralph Pentland who, in effect, was the author and the administrator of the previous bill, the Canada Water Act — it needed fresh impetus and fresh political will. He told us that under that act the bureaucracy was mandated every year to receive a progress report so we would know what they were doing — by the way, we will have a stimulus package, we will have accountability and we are going to find out. In the bill, there is a mandate for the department to issue a report every year. When was the last report, Senator Banks?
Senator Banks: Never.
Senator Grafstein: The last report was in 2003. The mandate of having an up-to-date report to find out where the precious asset of water was going, and the progress, was never completed. What did the Auditor General say about that? Well, she is too busy looking at other things. However, I think this is a pretty important issue.
By the way, the Auditor General did look at the question of clean drinking water and came to the conclusion that the responsible department was not fulfilling its mandate to keep the guidelines up to date — not the regulations — for clean drinking water. Therefore, we do not have a water policy. It is time that we had a water policy. This is not a costly bill.
I would like to pass along one last anecdote, having heard laborious testimony from these honest and forthright bureaucrats, who are strapped for money and tell us that until the year 2030 they will not be able to complete their work. This summer I was in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of American governors, and I attended a workshop on the question of water and environmental issues. We heard testimony from a group in the United States that had decided to use modern technology to map America. Senator Moore recalls that I was astounded to hear this. I spoke to the experts there, and then I spoke to Martin O'Malley, the outstanding Governor of Maryland. We will hear great things from Governor O'Malley. He is a comer in the American establishment.
I spoke to Governor O'Malley and I listened at that workshop because there is much to learn from our American colleagues. I discovered to my amazement that he had a presentation, and the presentation was a map of Maryland. On the map, which was done by satellite in the most recent radar technology, they had mapped the water, the green areas, the forests; every inch of Maryland was mapped on a colour-coded map, including water sources. Governor Edward Rendell of Pennsylvania was consulting with Governor O'Malley to see if he could do that for his.
Honourable senators, the technology is here. The good news is that we do not have to wait until we leave the Senate. We can do something in the next year or so to get this done. The way to get this done is to move this bill to committee, call back the officials, and let them rebut everything I say. I will rebut everything they say and honourable senators can decide whether they really believe that Canada has a future in preserving its water.
I believe water is our most precious possession aside from our liberty. Liberty first, water second. Please support this bill.