POLITICS

Mulcair's Old Remarks On Bulk Water Exports Anger Liberals

09/08/2015 06:52 EDT | Updated 09/09/2015 06:59 EDT

Thomas Mulcair's rivals are again turning to remarks he made in the past to make the case he's the wrong choice for Canada's future.

On Tuesday, federal Liberals released letters on behalf of candidates in British Columbia and Quebec — two crucial battlegrounds — demanding to know Mulcair's position on bulk water exports.

The request came on the heels of a recent story in Maclean's magazine, detailing the NDP leader's alleged flip-flops and shifting principles.

Martin Patriquin's story notes that in 2004, when he was Quebec's environment minister under Liberal premier Jean Charest, Mulcair advocated for the export of bulk water from the province despite a federal ban and studies suggesting the practice was environmentally harmful.

The Liberals dug up old clips of Mulcair in the Quebec National Assembly arguing that keeping water in river beds that might otherwise be exported in a sustainable fashion was a "quasi-religious" approach akin to saying all of Quebec's trees must never be cut.

"This is a renewable natural resource unlike a mine," Mulcair said, 11 years ago. "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?"

The Liberals also reference a Montreal Gazette story in which Mulcair said he didn't see why it would be a "mortal sin" to export water in bulk.

The letters note that in 1999, former prime minister Jean Chretien brought in the first comprehensive law banning bulk water exports from federally regulated lakes and waters. But, by 2011, Chretien told The Globe and Mail that it was time to debate whether shipping Canada's water to the world was really so different than oil or gas.

Water a 'precarious' resource, Grits say

The Liberal candidates said in their letters that water cannot be "commodified" like other resources.

"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," the letters reads.

They both end with a series of questions for Mulcair, including whether he agrees with a section of the 2013 NDP Policy Book — "which was recently removed from your party's website" — stating that it is the duty of the federal government to ban bulk water exports.

A number of Liberals took to Twitter to draw attention to the issue, including former federal Liberal environment minister (and leader) Stephane Dion and former B.C. environment minister Joyce Murray.

Murray's mention of "Thatcherism" referenced another blast from the past that surfaced during this campaign — a video of Mulcair singing the praises of Margaret Thatcher in 2001.

The NDP leader responded to that video last month by saying that in 35 years in public service his top priority has always been to get "good services to the public."

But it's not just Liberals concerned about Mulcair's views on bulk water.

Conservative candidate Larry Miller also took to Twitter to suggest Mulcair opposed the Transboundary Waters Protection Act, his private member's bill that was passed in 2013. The law protects transboundary waters, like the Great Lakes, from bulk water removal.

"Sorry Tom, it's now law," Miller tweeted Sunday.

Mulcair in 2012: This Liberal attack failed

NDP candidate Paul Dewar also challenged Mulcair to "clarify" his stance on the issue during a leadership debate in 2012.

"Come on, Paul," Mulcair said at the time. "I've always fought for the protection of our freshwater resources. The means of achieving that result can vary and that was the object of a discussion, a debate."

Mulcair went on to say he is opposed to bulk water exports.

"That was an attack used against me in 2007 by the Liberals and it failed, that's an attack that was used on me in 2008 by the Liberals and it failed. And you know why it failed? Because it wasn't true," Mulcair said. "I have always stood up to protect fresh water from bulk exports."

NDP candidate Nathan Cullen said in a statement to The Huffington Post Canada that the letters are just the Liberals' "latest attempt to try and smear" his leader.

"Tom Mulcair has been crystal clear for many years on this — he and the NDP firmly oppose bulk water exports," he said.

Cullen added that the NDP is focused on defeating Stephen Harper's Conservatives "who are the problem when it comes to protecteting the air we breath and the water we drink."

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