Lake Ontario Waterkeeper's presentation to Senate on the Navigable Waters Protection Act (May 7, 2009)
On Thursday, May 7 2009, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is pleased to speak to members of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources/Comité sénatorial permanent de l'énergie, de l'environnement et des ressources naturelles regarding the recent changes to Canada’s Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Lake Ontario Waterkeeper is one of eight “Waterkeeper” organizations in Canada and 185 around the globe. We are a grassroots movement of independent public interest organizations dedicated to clean water and strong communities. Our goal is to restore and protect swimmable, drinkable, and fishable waters for every person in every community.
Our vision of a swimmable, drinkable, fishable Canada is rooted in our respect for the environmental rights that have protected communities and individuals for thousands of years. These rights transcend legal systems, cultures, and continents.
The right to free passage of waterways is one of the oldest, most precious rights on earth. It is the bridge between a healthy civic society and a healthy environment. For more than 2500 years, people have enjoyed a common right to free passage on public waterways. This right can be traced from the Roman era, through such influential documents as the Magna Carta of 1215, to modern times.
Canada’s Navigable Waters Protection Act, passed in 1882, recognizes the importance of protecting navigable waterways. At the same time, the Act allows individuals and agencies to proceed with projects that interfere substantially with navigation, provided they obtain approval from the Minister. In this sense, the Act both reinforces the historic common right to navigation for Canadians and creates a legal process for limiting or interfering with this right.
On April 17, 2008, Waterkeeper received an invitation from Mr. Mervin Tweed, Chair of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, to provide a submission regarding proposed amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. A list of seven proposed changes was included in the letter. Waterkeeper provided written submissions on May 12, 2009 and, on very short notice, had an opportunity to appear before the Transportation Committee on May 29, 2008. To our knowledge, we were the only organization expressing concerns that had an opportunity to appear.
On June 12, 2008, the Committee presented its recommendation to Parliament and promised additional public consultation would occur. The next time information was released to the public was February, 2009, with the Budget Implementation Act.
In February, 2009, Lake Ontario Waterkeeper had an opportunity to speak to the Finance Committee of the House of Commons. Again, we were one of a handful of organizations chosen to speak. On this occasion, we explained to the Committee members that none of the concerns raised in 2008 had been addressed in the proposed changes to the Act. When the Budget Implementation Act, no improvements had been made to the Part relating to navigable waters. As a result, the newly-amended Navigable Waters Protection Act contains a number of flaws that undermine public rights and do little to accomplish the administrative goals articulated by Transport Canada’s staff.
Our primary concerns with the revised Navigable Waters Protection Act are as follows:
It undermines accountability, in part because it reduces transparency in the decision-making process.
It politicizes decisions that should be based on science.
It institutionalizes “two-tier” environmental protection.
We understand that your Committee is reviewing the new Act and will release a report to the public by mid-June, 2009. In our presentation on May 9, 2009, we hope to provide a brief overview of the primary questions and issues that a successful report will address.
We respectfully recommend that the following matters be investigated, studied, and analyzed in your Committee hearings and subsequent report:
Where did the pressure to change the Navigable Waters Protection Act originate? Who shepherded them through the unusual legislative process?
Who are Transport Canada’s “clients”?
Independent, rigorous environmental assessments are becoming increasingly rare in Canada. What role do/will the changes to the Act play in this trend?
Do Canadians still have the right to navigate freely on the nation’s waterways?
Who was consulted about the changes to the Act? When? How?
Who should be consulted about future changes to the Act? When? How?
What processes will ensure transparency and accountability when decisions are made under the new Act (including the creation of regulations)?
Thank you for granting us an opportunity to speak. We look forward to the presentation and to your questions.
Read the original presentation here