BC candidates’ letter to Thomas Mulcair on bulk water exports

Mr. Mulcair,

As residents of British Columbia, we are deeply concerned with statements that you made as Quebec Minister of the Environment on bulk water exports, which were referenced in an article released by Maclean’s yesterday (see: “A gun registry? No. Yes. No. Martin Patriquin on Tom Mulcair’s flipflops”, Maclean’s, September 5, 2015). At the time, reneging on a pledge the Quebec Liberal Party had made during the 2003 provincial campaign, you repeatedly stated in the Quebec National Assembly that you supported bulk water exports as a regional development tool:

“ …if I’ve got areas where I can’t have a bottling plant for all sorts of reasons, but I can export, and I’m capable of ensuring the sustainability of the resource, and it could bring something to the region, why wouldn’t I do it? It’s as if one said: Ah! All our trees in Quebec must stay there, we can never cut them. This is a renewable natural resource unlike a mine. As soon as you take the ore out of the ground it’s over, you can’t anymore. But here it’s water. If we manage it properly, if we take care of it as we should, why can’t we even talk about it? It is this quasi-religious approach that I can’t explain…” [TRANSLATION] (Thomas Mulcair, National Assembly, April 29, 2004)

“What we are saying is the following: while complying with the National Water Policy, which aims to ensure the quality and sustainability of water resources, and with a strong legal basis in terms of NAFTA, we want people in the regions to be able to take advantage of such a renewable resource.” [TRANSLATION] (Thomas Mulcair, National Assembly, June 15, 2004)

“So long as we ensure the sustainability, renewal and quality of water resources, so long as we ensure that there are solid legal grounds, why should it be taboo to think of a royalty, to go ahead with exports?” [TRANSLATION] (Thomas Mulcair, National Assembly, June 15, 2004)

Pressed by journalists to explain your position on this issue, you defended the statements you made in the National Assembly by saying that you did not understand why it would be a “mortal sin” for Quebec to export water in bulk, and that the ban on bulk water exports then in place across Canada “isn’t religion.” You even brushed aside legitimate concerns that a decision by Quebec to allow bulk water exports may lead to it being treated as a commodity under NAFTA, which in turn would have made federal and provincial laws banning such exports illegal under the treaty (see: “Minister says he’s open to exporting Québec water in bulk; Mulcair calls it regional development”, The Montreal Gazette, June 16, 2004)

Water cannot be treated like any other natural resource, nor is it to be commodified. Although Canada has abundant fresh water reserves, the unprecedented drought and serious water shortages that B.C. experienced these last few months underscore how precarious a resource it is and how it should not be wasted or sold to foreign buyers, but preserved for us and future generations of British Columbians.

We are proud of the Liberal Party of Canada’s long-standing position on this issue. After all, it was the Liberal government of Jean Chrétien that in 1999 brought the first comprehensive law banning bulk water exports from federally regulated lakes and waterways.

Mr. Mulcair, your statements while Quebec Minister of the Environment raise serious concerns as to your commitment to protect B.C.’s and Canada’s waters. Now that an election is upon us, you have a duty to tell the residents of this province and all Canadians what you believe and what your intentions are should the NDP form the next government:

  • Do you still consider bulk water exports as a regional development tool?
  • Which regions of B.C., Quebec, and other parts of Canada could you see as benefiting from bulk water exports?
  • Would you let the provinces decide for themselves whether or not they can export water in bulk?
  • Are you in favour of letting a province like Quebec export water in bulk?
  • Are you not concerned that by allowing bulk water exports in one part of the country, the resource would become a commodity under NAFTA, thus nullifying all current federal and provincial bans?
  • Section 2.2(e) of the 2013 NDP Policy Book, which was recently removed from your party’s website, states that “[t]he duty of the federal government is to exercise its jurisdiction and mandate to ban bulk water exports, including in any existing or future trade and investment agreements.” Do you intend to live up to that promise or will you instead repeal the Transboundary Waters Protection Act and authorize bulk water exports from lakes and waterways under federal jurisdiction?

British Columbians and all Canadians deserve answers.


Liberal candidate for Vancouver Granville Jody Wilson-Raybould

Liberal candidate for Vancouver Quadra Joyce Murray