Written by Scott MacGregor Founder and Publisher, Rapid Media
Transport Canada is in the process of rewriting the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) to eliminate a developer's obligation to consider impacts on navigation when building dams, bridges, causeways or other invasive structures on thousands of waterways across Canada.
Transport Canada Minister Lawrence Cannon and his allies in government and industry hope to achieve this by exempting "minor waters" and "minor works" from the NWPA, and by re-defining "navigation" under the act in a way that will strip all legal protection from recreational navigation.
The new law will ignore all whitewater rivers, all seasonal waterways and all vessels with less than a one-metre draft. This is a direct assault on Canada's tradition of river travel and the future health of our waterways by the same people who are supposed to protect both. It is a fundamental breach of public trust.
The Navigable Waterways Protecton Act is a law that protects Canada's rivers, streams and creeks. The government wants to change that law leaving the rivers vulnerable. And they don't want to hear what you think about it. In January of this year, Lawrence Cannon, the federal Minister of Transport asked the Standing Committee for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities (TRAN) to begin hearings on proposed changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA).
Virtually all of the groups invited to speak to the TRAN committee about the NWPA over the past few months, have come from the "development" side and have argued and advocated for changes to the act that would eliminate the public right of navigation on most waterways in Canada.
Of 70 stakeholder groups invited to speak, only one spoke for the retention of the public right of navigation, and that was Lake Ontario Waterkeeper.
The TRAN committee, for whatever reason, has only heard part of the story.
Here are two quotes from senior federal bureaucrats who appeared before the TRAN committee and advocated for the erasure of the public right of navigation in Canada.
The first is from Shirley Anne Scharf, a senior manager with Infrastructure Canada:
"The way it (the NWPA) is constructed right now-and I believe David Osbaldeston made this point-minor waters are such that I believe if you float a canoe in a body of water it is considered a navigable water. From that point of view, streamlining the act and excluding things of that nature would be very advantageous."
Incredibly, Ms. Scharf is standing before a committee of parliamentarians, shamelessly advocating for the erasure of a piece of Canadian heritage.
The second is from David Osbaldeston, national manager for the Navigable Waters Protection Program, speaking about his vision of the future of the NWPA:
"As you can see, there's very little we deny or refuse. I think that's the main thing: if somebody has a need to put something in the water, over the water, under the water, or through the water, and has a valid need to do it, we'll try our utmost to get it done in a safe manner."
Incredibly, Mr. Osbaldeston, the most senior public servant in the country responsible for protecting the navigation rights of Canadians, is speaking to parliamentarians, advocating for the removal of those rights to make way for unbridled development on our rivers, streams and waterways. This is a breach of public trust of the highest order.
From a detailed read of these minutes of the Tran committee, it is clear that Transport Canada wants to open the federal purse and unleash a mountain of developments on waterways in Canada. And they want to remove the NWPA as an obstacle to that development.
This is an environmental issue. The public right of navigation, and the obligation under the NWPA to consider navigation when developing on a waterway, is one of the pillars of environmental protection for rivers in Canada.
Impacts on navigation qualify as environmental impacts under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). This is not a weakness. It is a strength.
Impacts on navigation are not covered in any way by the assessment of environmental impacts under the Fisheries Act.
Navigation and the obligation to protect navigation as a long-standing public right, are completely the jurisdiction of the federal government. No provincial laws and no federal law other than the NWPA, provide any protection for the public right of navigation.
For more information on how you can help stop the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, visit the "I Speak for Canadian Rivers" website.