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The flow of water is reduced to a minimum during annual maintenance on the Welland Canal on Jan. 18, 2011.

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The Conservative government is throwing its support behind a private member's bill that would bolster the protection of Canadian waters that flow across an international boundary from bulk removal.

Bill C-383, which was introduced by Conservative MP Larry Miller in December, has the support of the government, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said Wednesday morning.

"This is an important priority for Canadians," Mr. Baird said. "It's an important environmental issue to protect our ecosystems and it's something that matters to Canadians in a very big way."

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The bill is expected to be debated at second reading next month.

It would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to give transboundary waters – which start in Canada and end elsewhere – more protection against bulk water removal. It would give them the same federal protection as boundary waters, including lakes, which are shared between countries.

It would amend the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act to give transboundary waters – which start in Canada and end elsewhere – more protection against bulk water removal. It would give them the same federal protection as boundary waters, including lakes, which are shared between countries.

It would mean increasing fines for violations and adding minimum penalties, according to Foreign Affairs.

When he introduced the bill, Mr. Miller said it would introduce new penalties including fines of up to $6-million for corporate violations. He said the issue was important to him since his Ontario riding of Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound is bordered on three sides by the Great Lakes.

Mr. Miller's bill is very similar to one put forward by former foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon in 2010. It didn't get past first reading because of the most recent election.

Bulk removal includes diverting water by pipeline, canals, tunnels or any way that more than 50,000 litres of water are taken per day.

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The bill would move exceptions and definitions from regulations to the act to, in part, give more parliamentary oversight. It would also amend the International River Improvements Act to prevent projects, like dams or canals, that would be used to transfer water across the border.

Asked if the bill would stop the United States from exporting water from the Great Lakes, Mr. Baird said shared water resources between the U.S. and Canada are managed by the International Joint Commission.

"We can't force the United States to do in Canadian law to do anything within their own waters," he said, adding the commission has been successful.

Mr. Baird said he expects support for the bill to extend outside the Conservative caucus.

"I am still reaching out to some of the individuals but I have spoke to members in the Liberal Party who have indicated that there's support for the bill," he said.

Mr. Baird said he is still talking to the NDP and noted that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has also indicated her support.

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