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Bill Ends Protection for Canadian Waterways

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The federal government will gut the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) with the omnibus bill C-45, which changes more than 40 existing Acts. Many believe the bill is leading toward the Northern Gateway Pipeline approval and the dismantling of environmental protection in Canada. 

Introduced in 1882, the NWPA is one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation. It ensures that activities that could potentially hinder navigation will trigger an environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. 

These types of environmental assessments are what make this piece of legislation important. The NWPA has been foundational in environmental law for generations. 

People monitoring waterways across Ontario are upset by the changes being made to the NWPA within the omnibus bill. 

More than 99% of all Canadian rivers and lakes will be unprotected, and there will no longer be requirements to apply to governments for many development approvals. 

This means that individuals investing in development projects do not necessarily need to notify the government when they are building things that interfere with water navigation. This could lead to further obstructions and even to toxic chemicals being released into waterways. 

The NWPA was never discussed in the public forum, when Canadian citizens could have had a chance to vote on it, or even to contemplate how the changes would influence environmental protection. 

   A goose crosses the river. Photo: Richard F. Charles

NDP Member of Parliament Megan Leslie spoke in the House of Commons: "Mr. Speaker, members opposite must be getting dizzy from all the spin around their talking points on the Navigable Waters Protection Act," she said. "First, they claimed that the changes had nothing to do with environment. They were just reducing red tape for cottagers. However, even Conservatives knew that this law actually did have a role in environmental protection, although they did try to deny it by rewriting websites, and history."

Leslie presented evidence of partisan geography, showing that, in fact, Conservative MPs hold the majority of ridings around the majority of lakes which retain federal protection under the government's proposed changes. 

An Ottawa Citizen analysis showed the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act will not affect 90% of lakes in Conservative territory. 

For instance, in Conservative MP Tony Clement's riding of Parry Sound-Muskoka, more than 10 lakes will retain federal government protection once the government removes protection from thousands of other bodies of water across the nation. 

Lake Rosseau, in Muskoka--where business elites, NHL superstars, and celebrities have homes--will not be affected by this bill. 

"Last night the truth was exposed because these changes were actually politically driven," Leslie reported. "Eighty-nine per cent of the protected lakes and rivers are found in Conservative ridings, so whoever decided what bodies of water were protected sure seemed to have a riding map handy. Canadians deserve better than Conservative preferential treatment of their friends. Why are the Conservatives making environmental protection a privilege of the few?"

The Conservatives disputed this argument by stating that their MPs normally hold more rural seats, and that New Democrats and Liberals normally hold more seats in urban and suburban districts, which is why Conservative ridings understandably have more lakes and waterways. 

Steven Fletcher, the Conservative Minister of State for transport, responded to a question posed by the NDP's MP Peggy Nash regarding the federal government's gutting of the NWPA. Fletcher suggested that Nash and many others do not understand what this law really entails. 

"The Navigable Waters Protection Act has always been and remains about navigation and navigation only," Fletcher said. "What the act isn't about, and has never been about, is environmental protection."

The Conservatives argued that changes to the Act are not related to environmental protection and are designed to maneuver through bureaucratic red tape, which stunts development and economic growth. 

But companies such as Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), the largest Canadian recreational and outdoor supply company, have warned the federal government of the negative economic consequences that could follow this dismantling of the NWPA. 

MEC CEO David Labistour told federal Senators that outdoor recreation is a growing industry, establishing a minimum of six million jobs. Changes to the NWPA will determine whether people are still able to use waterways for outdoor activities. 

In November, artists and environmental activists joined to oppose NWPA changes. Many said that the Harper government's second omnibus bill is perceived as not necessarily "eliminating the red tape," but actually eliminating engaged citizens from the discussion about health, safety and the rights of Aboriginal communities. 

Green Party Representative Elizabeth May plans to introduce amendments to the bill during the report stage. 

She said elements of the bill regarding waterways are not budget measures, and should not have been included in the omnibus budget bill, further stating that the changes being made have not been properly reviewed. 

May told CNC News, "I don't think any Canadian would have ever imagined--even the people who voted Conservative--that they would propose to eliminate the navigation protections over 99.5% of the waterways in Canada. It's hard to put into words how devastating this is. The entire framework of environmental laws is being systematically destroyed in Canada."

 

Ryan Moore writes about social and environmental issues.

 

 

In this issue..

Energy East -- A Present Danger
A project to pipe massive amounts of bitumen-based oil from Alberta to Canada's east coast is drawing opposition from communities along its proposed route.
TransCanada Pipeline's Energy East project is being promoted as a means of moving oil from Alberta's tar sands to ports in Quebec and New Brunswick, primarily for export overseas. TransCanada claims this project will expand oil refineries and related industry and create jobs. Energy East would be larger than either the Trans-Mountain, Northern Gateway or the controversial Keystone XL projects.
The issue motivated a discussion, "Energy East: Our Risk - Their Reward," hosted recently in Ottawa by the Council of Canadians and Ecology Ottawa. The meeting was one of a series of forums organized by the Council with local concerned groups in towns along the possible pipeline.
The evening featured a panel composed of Eriel Deranger of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN), Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, and Graham Saul of Ecology Ottawa.
Eriel Deranger stated that Treaty number 8, an agreement signed by (among other First Nations) the Chipewyan people and the Crown in 1899, guarantees its First Nations signatories hunting, fishing, trapping, and cultural preservation rights. These rights, which were later reinforced by the Canadian Constitution and Bill of Rights, are now threatened by the oil sands development in the Athabasca region.
Tar sands, she said, are destroying local ecology and poisoning First Nations peoples. Many Chipewyan have no running water or are subject to years-long boiling water advisories. They suffer increased cancer rates.
 
Water pollution 
The Tar sands reportedly use four barrels of water for every barrel of oil. Tailings ponds are suspected of leaking millions of litres of toxins into the McKenzie and Athabasca Rivers daily. The mining has caused acres of forest to be cleared, disrupting animal habitats and migratory patterns. Tests on local wildlife indicate probable contamination and a risk to the First Nations practice of sustainable hunting.
Deranger stated that the Harper government threatens democracy and environmental protection. She cites Bill C-45 (2012), which deregulates the management--and protection--of lakes and waterways, as an example. Critical habitats are now vulnerable.
The ACFN, she said is suing Shell Oil Canada for failure to honour agreements with the Chipewyan First Nation regarding resource exploitation on their land. Furthermore, the ACFN is legally protesting the Federal government's approval (with stipulations) of Shell's proposed Jackpine mine project to expand tar sands production.
"Canada has become the playground for oil companies. " Deranger commented. "Aboriginals' traditional territory is being sold."
Maude Barlow explained that TransCanada's use of Benzene (an organic chemical compound) to facilitate the flow of piped bitumen makes spillage extremely toxic. In such an event, the oil would sink into--not float on--water and make the clean-up "a nightmare." Some of the pipes TransCanada uses are old and ill-equipped to handle pressure.
Energy East, she said, will cross 90 waterways systems and provide "a new threat to the Great Lakes, which are already in danger." Barlow explained that U.S. authorities allow fracking wastewater to cross the Great Lakes, with spillage a constant possibility.
The global water supply, Barlow said, is itself threatened.
"The planet," she said, "is running out of water. "
Water is being pumped out faster than it can be (naturally) replaced. The Great Lakes are being drained of so much water that they might be depleted in 80 years. Half of China's rivers have disappeared since 1990. The dumping of waste water into oceans adds further damage.
"We have a responsibility not to destroy this water," she stated. "This is part of a larger struggle."
 
Local impacts
Part of the Energy East pipeline will cross the Rideau River just south of Ottawa, along with the Oxford aquifer, and a groundwater recharge area [a pumping station is planned in Stittsville]. A spill could thus close down Ottawa's water supply.
Barlow advocated building a strong movement against Energy East. She recommended that citizens tweet and otherwise contact representatives such as Jim Watson to have a risk assessment done regarding an oil pipeline in the Ottawa area.
Graham Saul stated that the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently found that, while global warming will increase by 3 ¼ to 4 ¼ if coal and gas are continually burnt for energy, mitigating this is still possible. The IPCC says that alternative energies do not, despite what their critics say, really damage economies.
Saul explained that while Norway and Germany are increasingly using energies such as solar power, Canada does the opposite. The Harper government has reduced federal energy programs while promoting "radical, reckless, ultimately unethical projects such as the tar sands."
Saul said that Kitimat, BC recently held a non-binding plebiscite on the construction of a pipeline and an oil tanker terminal for Enbridge's Northern Gateway project. Enbridge claimed that Northern Gateway would create 180 jobs locally. Nonetheless, 60 per cent of citizens rejected the project. This, Saul said, proves the power of grassroots opposition. (The plebiscite motivated a BC environmental group, Dogwood Initiative, to campaign to have Northern Gateway subject to a popular provincial referendum). He said that communities in New Brunswick and Quebec affected by Energy East are mobilizing against it.
Saul advised that citizens in the National Capital Region lobby the Ontario Energy Board and the federal government regarding the risks associated with Energy East. People should express their concerns to candidates in the upcoming Ontario provincial election.
"We have to stand up and say we do not want this pipeline," he stated. "The time to organize is now."
 
David Mills writes on environmental and social justice issues.
 

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