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As some of you are aware, the Government of Canada has proposed worrisome amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), under the 2009 Budget Implementation Act (Bill C-10). The NWPA is an important piece of federal legislation that ensures protection of, and public access to all Canadian waterways that are navigable by “floating vessels”.
The NWPA helps to protect the integrity of our lakes and rivers because it requires that all “works” impacting navigable waters undergo an approval process. This approval process includes public notification of any proposed works. A decision taken under the NWPA to approve a project triggers a Federal Environmental Assessment (EA) under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA).
Bill C-10, tabled on February 6th 2009, aims to re-structure important environmental legislation without the standard parliamentary and public debate. The proposed changes to the NWPA mean that decisions about Canada’s waterways could be based on financial clout and influence rather than science, because of a short-term desire to expedite the approval process on infrastructure development projects. Bill C-10 proposes that the Government of Canada controls the fate of our beloved waterways, not the public.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act is one of the few pieces of federal legislation that recognize the importance of protecting Canadian waters. The existing law in concert with the CEAA ensures appropriate public consultation for development projects, mandatory environmental assessments and a formal and transparent process for decision-making. The existing law also upholds the long-standing right to enjoy access to Canada’s waterways.
If passed, the new law:
• Allows the Government to remove an important trigger for federal environmental assessments for all development projects that may impact our navigable waterways
• Fails to recognize the public right to navigate Canada’s waterways
• Fails to provide transparency and accountability, by eliminating the need for public consultation and science-based decision making
• Creates a “class” system, giving the Government discretion over public waterways, and ultimately the ability to exempt certain “classes of works” and “classes of waterways” from the approval process under the Act
By introducing changes to Canadian laws under the Budget Implementation Act (BIA), the Harper government is sending the message that the public does not need to be consulted. This deregulation of our environmental legislation is a concern to people, organizations and business who want to see decisions made in a fair and transparent manner. The health and diversity of our waterways, our Canadian Heritage and our navigation rights are at stake.
Amendments to NWPA need to be removed from the Budget Implementation Act, so the issue can be brought before the public for meaningful consultation, scientific review and debate.
We can’t let our federal government dismantle environmental regulations in a closed-door process that excludes public consultation, and ignores the interests of our communities and the environment.
Ottawa Riverkeeper is working closely with Waterkeepers, paddlers, recreational boaters and businesses including the tourism and recreational industries from across our vast and watery country. We are working tirelessly to bring information to decision-makers and empower individuals to participate in this debate and take action. We will be speaking to the Standing Committees on Transport and Finance as they debate Bill C-10, urging them to remove the NWPA amendments from Bill C-10 and give it the proper consultation it deserves.
Executive Director and Ottawa Riverkeeper