Bill C-45 Greatly Diminishes Right to Unimpeded Navigable Waters

In Bill C-38, Stephen Harper gutted environmental laws brought in by Brian Mulroney. Now he has gone after environmental laws brought in by Sir John A. Macdonald.

Bill C-45, a second Act to Implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, the Conservatives’ latest omnibus bill, has weakened Canadians’ historic right to navigate the lakes, rivers, and streams of Canada without being impeded by pipelines, bridges, power lines, dams, mining and forestry equipment, and more.

The Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) of 1882, considered Canada’s first environmental law, has been changed – to the Navigation Protection Act.  If a body of water is not mentioned in Schedule 2 on page 424, it will no longer be covered under the NWPA permit process from the rampant resource development being advocated by the Harper Conservatives.

“This is nothing less than tragic for the majority of Canadians who love and respect our waterways from coast to coast to coast,” said Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, MP Saanich-Gulf Islands.  “Even rivers like the Margaree River in Cape Breton, a National Heritage River, will no longer be covered by the NWPA. The only river listed in the entire Yukon is the Yukon River.

“Our inland harbours, including Shoal Harbour in my riding, and gulfs, including the Gulf of St. Lawrence, will be vulnerable.”

The Conservatives first weakened the NWPA in the 2009 budget when they curtailed the heritage rights of anglers, hunters, cottagers, and paddlers to access our streams, lakes, rivers, and other waterways.  Under the previous version of the NWPA, any body of water deemed navigable could be accessed to the high water mark without that being considered trespassing.

Under the Harper version, a natural body of water was considered navigable only when the Minister of Transport deemed it so.  The Minister of Transport was also given arbitrary power to exempt certain “works” from assessment or oversight – like dams, bridges, booms, and causeways – without public consultation, transparent disclosure, or a review of any kind.  The Minister could also set up an arbitrary “class system” for waterways, and exempt them from the Environmental Assessment Act (now greatly weakened too).

With Bill C-38, further changes to the NWPA made pipelines and power lines exempt from the provisions of the Act.  Also, the National Energy Board took control over the NWPA whenever a pipeline crossed a navigable water.

“This is a real threat for thousands of our pristine waterways,” said May.