No Plans to Sell
Canada's Water: PM
But opposition suspicious of Liberal study
OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Jean Chrétien tried yesterday to allay fears he is prepared to export Canadian water, a reversal of long-standing Liberal policy. But opposition MPs say the government is sending out conflicting signals, and a proposal to set up a parliamentary committee tostudy the future of water has only sown more fear.
Chrétien told the Commons yesterday that water is exempt from the North American Free Trade Agreement. His foreign affairs minister, John Manley, also assured MPs there's no change in government policy.`Water should not be treated as a matter of trade' ``The position of the government of Canada is to oppose the bulk removal of water from any of our major drainage systems, period,'' Manley said.
Environment Minister David Anderson added thegovernment ``certainly does not regard water as a commodity, like gasoline. Webelieve that water should not be treated as a matter of trade.''But in the next breath, Anderson said he wasinterested by the proposal from Toronto-Greenwood MP Dennis Mills to strike a Commons committee on water issues that could include discussions on waterexports. But Anderson said agreeing to committee discussions on water exports would not mean the government is preparing to change its opposition to such exports.
The contentious issue surfaced after sources reported that Chrétien mentioned water as a tradeable resource at Wednesday's closed-door Liberal caucus meeting. Water came up during discussions about Canadian resources coveted by U.S. President George Bush. Chrétien's comments were in the context of a discussion the Prime Minister had about coming trade battles with the newadministration.
The New Democrats yesterday accused Mills of favouring water exports and said they would no longer participate in any committee chaired by the MP, NDP House leader Bill Blaikie said. The NDP pointed to a household flyer Mills sent to his constituents, which the party says backs exports. ``This reinforces for me the Liberals are up to something here,'' said Blaikie.
Mills, however, said Blaikie was waving around a10-year-old pamphlet that sets out both sides of the debate. ``I have been opposed to any bulk water exports or divergences from Day One,'' Mills said.
MP's 1991 pamphlet imperils water plan NDP says Liberal backed bulk water exports to U.S.
OTTAWA - The New Democratic Party is vowing to block Jean Chrétien's parliamentary committee on Canada's water supply after learning the proposed Liberal chairman once advocated massive exports of water. Dennis Mills, the four-term Toronto-Danforth MP who now describes himself as an avid opponent of water sales to the United States, had the agreement last month of all four opposition parties for an all-party House of Commons committee that he would chair.
That support evaporated yesterday when free trade and environmental critics, learning of the new committee in yesterday's National Post, uncovered flyers Mr. Mills sent to his constituents in1991 outlining plans to establish Canada as a major water supplier for North America.
"If the NDP has anything to do with it, there will be no committee as long as there's any chance that this committee is part of an overall plan to orchestrate a situation where the export of water would become permissible," Bill Blaikie, the NDP House Leader, told reporters.
Mr. Blaikie said Mr. Mills' flyer "is devoted to the virtues of exporting Canadian water, including the lunatic plan called the Grand Canal project whereby they dam James Bay, turn it into a freshwater lake and pump it back down to the United States."
Last night a spokesman for Don Boudria, the government House Leader, could not say if the committee will be killed because the NDP has withdrawn its support. While it was Mr. Mills who rounded up all-party support for his 16-member committee, itwas Mr. Boudria who supplied its terms of reference. In a handwritten note below the terms, Mr. Boudriaindicated there had been some negotiation around them.
"Dennis -- Here are the new words in the motion that I am trying to pass," he wrote. Mr. Boudria wrote that the committee would "consider prevailing concepts and definitions of freshwater security, review Canadian public policies related to freshwater management, examine the government's role and obligations in relation to the challenge of achieving freshwater security at homeand internationally, including with regard to the North American Free Trade Agreement."
Mr. Mills said his 1991 flyer was an attempt to stimulate discussion. In the 14-page pamphlet titled, Water -- The next wave, he wrote that Canada has the potential to solve North America's water shortages, putting itself "in a strong position of power" in the coming years. Speaking to the Post this week, Mr. Mills said: "I want to be right up front. There are no thoughts in my mind about selling water. There are Canadians out there that have thoughts on bulk water sales, selling water the same way we sell beer.
"There are some Canadians who even talk about diversion. Now all of those people frighten the hell out of me, but what we have to do is bring this debate to the light of the day."
He denied he has ever been an advocate of bulk water exports: "No, I categorically am not ... Everyone knows I'm a passionate nationalist, I'm a federalist, I'm an interventionist."
However, Mr. Mills' past remarks have raised questions about the Liberals' intent. Maude Barlow, chairwoman of the Council of Canadians, said Mr. Chrétien has signalled his plan to open uptrade of Canada's water, less than two years after his Liberal government promised to ban bulk water exports.
With files from Allan Thompson
Counter Set April 4, 2001