Will you be able to float your boat? The Navigable Waters Protection Act
On Thursday, October 18th the Government of Canada tabled Bill C-45 in the House of Commons. This 414 page bill, the sibling of Bill C-38 introduced in the spring, includes another tranche of changes to the laws that protect Canada’s waters, including further changes to the Fisheries Act and very significant changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Once in place – and the likelihood of them being stopped is low – these changes will make it more and more difficult for WWF along with other conservation organizations, scientists, academics and individuals to protect Canada’s waters for nature and for people.
© Tim Stewart / WWF-Canada. Mountains and forest landscape on the Tuchodi River, located in the northern Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada.
I was called to give testimony to both the House of Commons Transport Committee and the Senate Standing Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources. Below is my testimony.
If you are as concerned as I am about what these changes will mean for our waters, contact your Member of Parliament to let them know.
Testimony to the Senate Standing on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources
with respect to certain aspects of Bill C-45
Tony Maas, Freshwater Program Director
November 20, 2012
Check against delivery
Thank you to the Chair and to the members of the committee for the invitation to speak today on Bill C-45.
My name is Tony Maas and I am the freshwater program director for WWF-Canada. WWF is one of Canada’s largest and oldest conservation organizations, with staff and offices across the country. Our freshwater program is aimed at protecting and restoring the health of Canada’s waters through science, citizen and business engagement and policy analysis and advocacy.
I will focus my testimony on the proposed amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA) included in Bill C-45 (i.e. clauses 316 to 350), and on how they along with other recent changes to federal laws and cuts to federal agencies are putting Canada’s waters at risk.
Finally, I would like to leave you with some perspective on where WWF believes Canada should be going on water policy in the 21st century.
I will speak to three specific concerns related to amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act included in Bill C-45.
- 1. The first is the idea that we can suddenly separate navigation from the health of the aquatic environment by changing the law.
That Canadians depend – often unknowingly – on the protection of navigation rights as a means for protecting the health of our rivers and lakes reflects a natural fact: the two are inseparable.
Picking navigation apart from the waters that enable it is as artificial as thinking we can protect fish without protecting the waters they live in, or suggesting that the economy and the environment are unrelated.
So it should come as little surprise that over time the NWPA has become an important tool for protecting Canada’s freshwater resources and ecosystems. WWF is concerned that the amendments proposed in Bill C-45, which we see as weakening the NWPA, will leave gaps in the overall framework Canadians have come to rely on to sustain our aquatic environment, especially when considered along-side the major amendments to environmental laws included in Bill C-38.
It is also rather presumptive to think that other levels of government or other sectors can step in and fill the gaps that these accumulating changes to federal laws will leave in their wake.
- The second concern is the narrowing of the scope of the NWPA to the waters listed in Schedule 2 of Bill C-45.
I am confident in suggesting that most of the waters not listed in Schedule 2 are frequented by navigators of some sort.
The St. John River in New Brunswick, where WWF has a new field project, is a case in point. According to Schedule 2 of Bill C-45, only the portion of the river that runs from below the Mactaquac Dam to the Atlantic Ocean is deemed ‘significant’ for navigation.
I can attest that there is certainly navigation upstream of that dam. There are tourists and anglers that keep houseboat operators and marina owners in business. There is a group of youth we at WWF are helping send down the river by canoe next summer. All of this depends on protection of navigation and waters all along the river’s entire course.
- 3. Finally, as with the many changes to environmental legislation witnessed in this and the previous budget bill, there has been a lack of meaningful stakeholder and public consultation and limited transparency in decision-making.
It very much seems that Canadians are being told, not asked, if their waters are significant.
While I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the committee today, I am not a representative voice. It would take hundreds of meetings to hear from the diverse organizations and people who will be impacted by the changes proposed in Bill-45.
For example: I recently attended a meeting of the Waterloo-Wellington Canoe Club who I believe would have a strong interest in the proposed changes to the NWPA but may not even be aware of them. The same goes for the recreationalists and business owners on the St. John River that I referred to earlier. I believe you should be hearing from these people – but there has been no mechanism to facilitate that.
I would also like to speak here to how the list of water bodies included in Schedule 2 was developed. I participated in a conference call briefing on the proposed amendments to the NWPA provided by staff of Transport Canada held on Friday, October 19 (at 4 pm Eastern). One of the items discussed was the process and criteria by which agency staff to arrive at the very limited list of waters included in Schedule 2. Following the briefing I requested, by email, documentation from the department on what was explained on the conference call and promptly received a link to a webpage that provided a high level overview of the process and criteria.
The covering email included an offer to provide further information if required. Well I did request further information – I outlined five very specific questions to gain a better understanding the process and criteria. I made my request on November 5th and again yesterday, but have received no response from Transport Canada staff.
It makes it very difficult to participate effectively in democratic processes like these hearings if agency staff will not, or cannot, share basic information on how decisions are being made.
Let me close with some thoughts on where WWF believes Canada should be going on freshwater policy. Canadians have come to rely on a wide range of tools and institutions – on laws, policies, programs and agencies at municipal, provincial and federal levels – to protect water resources and sustain the health of aquatic ecosystems. These many tools and institutions have been described as a “bewilderingly complex jurisdictional maze” – and for good reason. There is often a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what as it relates to water. There may be overlaps in mandates and functions in some areas, and gaps in others.
Could the overall system be more rational? Yes.
Could the system be modified to be more efficient and effective and results driven? Yes.
Are there good ideas on ways to move forward in the business community, among NGOs and civil society groups, in governments? Yes.
So my recommendation is this: If the Government of Canada would like provinces, territories, municipalities, business and industry, NGOs and citizens to take on a greater role in protecting our waters and our aquatic environment, they could start by providing direction to that end, and then follow-up on that direction with meaningful engagement that brings sectors and interests together to figure out a way forward that works for everyone.
That small step alone would bring Canada back into stride with leading jurisdictions on water policy and sustainable water management: the European Union, South Africa, Australia.
By contrast, the current process of amending laws and expecting other levels of government and citizens to take up the slack stands to put at risk the waters that are so fundamental to Canadian culture, and to the health of our economy, our communities and our environment.