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MP’s water bill passes

Ontario MP Larry Miller’s bill to prevent bulk water withdrawals from lakes and rivers along the United States border has passed the Commons unopposed even though the opposition parties said it didn’t go far enough.

The NDP and Liberals voted for the amendments to the Transboundary Waters Protection Act even though they want the government to impose a country-wide prohibition against bulk transfers from all Canadian bodies of water.

Miller had opposed giving the bill a wider reach because that would bring it into conflict with provinces, which have jurisdiction over most waterways.

The bill still has to pass the Senate and receive royal assent before becoming law, which should happen by spring. Not only is the passage of a private member’s bill rare, getting unanimous support for it and having Prime Minister Stephen Harper show up for the recorded vote are extra kudos for Miller.

“Canadians need to know that our water is not for sale,” said Miller, who is chair of the Commons transport committee and previously presided over the agriculture committee. “It’s not a commodity like coal or iron ore or oil.”

His bill added environmental and conservation powers to government legislation that died when the May 2011 election was called. It will create new powers for inspection and enforcement and introduces tough new penalties for violations, including fines of up to $6 million for corporate violations. Fines for contravening the law will continue to be cumulative, meaning that a violation that continues for more than one day is seen as a separate offence for each day it continues.

In his third-reading speech on the bill, Miller said he received support from all the parties plus many outside groups. The backing “reflects the opinion of the vast majority of Canadians, who strongly oppose the bulk removal of water from Canada’s freshwater basins.

“Not only do bulk water removals pose a significant threat to ecosystems, but water is also an important component in the fight against invasive species. By removing a potential pathway for these species, we could help prevent the devastation these species’ movement between basins could cause,” he said.

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