Improvements and shortcomings in the new Navigation Protection Act

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise this evening in adjournment proceedings to return to a question I asked on October 23 of last year.

Some will remember this question only for the uproarious laughter that ensued, most inappropriately, as some members in this place thought the Minister of Transport had misspoken. He referred to the kind of sense of shared commitment the opposition benches all felt in opposing the omnibus budget bills put forward by the previous government.

In the spring of 2012, the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38, repealed our environmental assessment act and destroyed the Fisheries Act. We fought very hard against that, and then in the fall of the same year, there was another omnibus budget bill, Bill C-45, that gutted the navigable waters protection act. In referring to that, the hon. Minister of Transport referred to remembering spending the whole night with me, which of course, was in this House over 24 hours of straight voting. Very few members actually stayed in their seats voting continually on every amendment and every motion, but since most of the amendments were mine, I stayed here in my seat for 24 hours voting straight through. It certainly was not an occasion for raucous laughter, but we know sometimes people in this place do not rise to the occasion. They sink to grade two or maybe kindergarten.

In any case, I want to return to that, because now we have seen the proposed amendments to the Navigation Protection Act. In fact, they were tabled in this place just last week. I have reviewed them thoroughly. I had extreme concern, which I raised in my question, that the Minister of Transport was not likely to meet the mandate letter, in which the Prime Minister had instructed him to restore lost protections to the Navigation Protection Act. It appeared from discussion papers and from the report of the parliamentary committee on transportation that the government was going to be prepared to say that this is what the previous government did, that it took some 99% of navigable waters from our inland waterways out of the act and created a short list of about 100 named waterways that are internal to Canada, and that is that. If a waterway is on that list, it is navigable water. If it is not on the list, it is not. It appeared for quite a while that the Liberal approach would be to say that they would create a system whereby people could add waters to the list by application.

It was a real relief, in reading Bill C-69, one of the few places in reading that bill that I was actually relieved, that the definition of navigable waters has been changed such that it is not just the schedule of waterways that will be considered navigable waters but any waterway human beings are currently using. It would not be as broad as what there was in 1881, but any body of water, anywhere in Canada, in which one could put a canoe or a kayak and navigate one’s way through would require a permit from the federal minister before that body of water could be obstructed. It is much broader than it was under Harper. It is not a complete restoration of lost protections, but a much bigger swath of interior waters of Canada would now be under a navigable waters act.

One of the aspects of the lost protection was that the issuance of a federal permit would trigger an environmental review. Under part 1 of Bill C-69, we would now have what would be called an impact assessment, but without any triggering to review projects where a federal minister had to give a permit. We await finding out what the designated projects would look like, but it would still fall short of what was promised.

Karen McCrimmon – Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Tranport

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for her tireless commitment to environmental protection. She has made a difference.

Our government committed to restoring navigation protections, and that is what it has done. On Thursday, our government introduced Bill C-69, which contains amendments to the Navigation Protection Act and would create the new Canadian navigable waters act.

This new act is informed by a study conducted by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, as well as 14 months of listening to Canadians, including indigenous peoples, boaters, industry, other levels of government, environmental non-government organizations, and the Canadian public.

The new Canadian navigable waters act delivers on our government’s mandate commitment to restore and better protect the rights of Canadians to travel on Canada’s vast network of waters. It will do this by introducing navigation protections for every navigable water in Canada, increasing transparency in our processes, giving indigenous people and communities a say in projects that may affect them, and by providing opportunities for indigenous people to become partners in protecting navigation.

Indigenous peoples have a sacred relationship with waterways and use those waterways to exercise their rights. This is why the Canadian navigable waters act is an important opportunity to advance our government’s commitment to reconciliation with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership.

Indigenous people have told us they want more information about development on the navigable waters in their traditional territories. The Canadian navigable waters act proposes new notification requirements and the creation of a public registry that would make information available about new projects in all navigable waters in Canada. It also proposes a new process that would allow indigenous people and communities to raise concerns about projects with project proponents, and for the government to assist with resolving these concerns when needed.

The proposed Canadian navigable waters act is aligned with the principles and approaches of the broader environmental and regulatory system introduced by my colleague, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, on February 8. Any permitting decisions under the Canadian navigable waters act will be fully integrated into this new impact assessment system so that we can protect our environment, fish, and waterways, rebuild public trust, and create new jobs and economic activity.

Together, we are committed to implementing a new environmental and regulatory system that responds to the needs of Canadians.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, if in my first introduction to adjournment proceedings I did not state clearly enough my appreciation to the Minister of Transport for listening to the concerns that the very narrow approach of allowing additional waterways to be added to a schedule was inappropriate, I am grateful he listened. Again, it is not the full restoration of protection but it is much closer.

I also want to add my voice of thanks to his hon. parliamentary secretary here tonight because I know she did a lot of the heavy lifting herself.

I do not see in the act the thing she just mentioned, so I would love to know where it is, which is the full integration of granting permits on navigable waters for obstruction under this new system of impact assessment. There is no law list in the new impact assessment legislation. It is only by project list designations, and those are not yet complete, or if it is on federal land. We have lost other environmental assessment triggers and it is a much weaker piece of legislation than the one Harper repealed. I would love to know how we, in fact, have an assessment before the minister gives permits under the navigable waters act.

Karen McCrimmon

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member is right. There was an awful lot of work that went into this, and these amendments that created this new Canadian navigable waters act include protections for navigation on every navigable water, including lakes and rivers. Through this legislation, we are delivering on that commitment to restore navigation protection. We are providing for greater transparency and accessibility to give local communities a say in projects that could affect navigation.

We recognize the importance of navigable waters to indigenous peoples and to providing them with opportunities to partner with Canada. That is why we developed a comprehensive and complementary protection regime that will preserve our priceless environment for generations to come.