Sustainable Eastern Ontario
Bill Ends Protection for Canadian Waterways
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.
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