This morning, our President and Waterkeeper, Mark Mattson, presented to the Senate Committee about Bill C-45. This 414-page omnibus bill changes the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Our presentation from this morning relates specifically to the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Good Morning. My name is Mark Mattson. I am a lawyer with more than 20 years experience, and the Waterkeeper and President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a registered charity. I’m also on the board of Fraser Riverkeeper in B.C., North Saskatchewan Riverkeeper in Alberta, and Moose Riverkeeper in Northern Ontario, and I am the Canadian Representative on the board of Waterkeeper Alliance, a global network of Waterkeepers with more than 200 groups working around the world.
I am here today as a Waterkeeper because this act is about navigation on water. The act has always been about navigating specifically on water. If you take the word “water” out of the title, it makes no sense: this act isn’t going to start covering navigation on roads, in the air, on bike paths, or railway tracks.
If it did, the proposed changes would be absurd: you wouldn’t say that there are places in Canada where you can build an airport or a new highway without informing the government or the public. Yet, that is exactly what these changes will do to Canada’s waterways.
As a Waterkeeper, I know there are impacts when you reduce water flows, reverse water flow, or block watercourses without taking precautions or informing people. You will see homes flooded, jobs lost, fisheries destroyed, and most significantly, people harmed or killed.
When the Ontario government slated dozens of northern rivers for new power dams, the Moose Riverkeeper and wilderness guide, William Tozer, could take solace in the fact that - at the very least - the NWPA would ensure he would be notified and accommodated if the dams blocked rivers he navigates every day. The Abitibi River and most others in the region are not scheduled, leaving William and his community largely unprotected by the new act.
This goes to the heart of why the NWPA existed: so that if someone wanted to put a wire across a river, to build a causeway or a dam, or to lay a pipe, it would be done in a way that does not interfere with other uses. For example, if you put a submerged pipe across a river, and I don’t know that you put it there, your pipe can knock the prop off my boat. I lose all control of my boat and suddenly I am vulnerable to currents and other river hazards. Maybe you didn’t know that the water level there happens to drop by 50% every fall, and by not consulting the people who live nearby, you’ve just created a potentially life-threatening hazard.
The government has a constitutional obligation to protect people navigating on the water, no matter where, in Canada. When the government chooses not to do its homework, it is choosing not to protect people. Worse, these changes take away the means for Canadians to protect ourselves.
You declare “there will be no negative impact from the changes to the NWPA” but there is no study, research or significant public consultation to prove that claim. Even worse, you will never learn about the impacts of your decision; there is no mechanism built into the new act to monitor the rivers and lakes you abandoned as “unscheduled”.
This is willful blindness. Today marks Waterkeeper’s 4th presentation to government committees about the changes to the NWPA in as many years. Each time we come, we are responding to draft legislation that contains even weaker provisions for notice and consultation. The current changes are the worst yet, with notice and consultation all but eliminated.
If your aim is to be uninformed and make bad decisions go ahead and eliminate almost all opportunities for public notice and comment. That is what Bill C-45 will do.
If your aim is to be unaccountable go ahead and create two tiers of navigation. Ensure that the government is never informed about threats to navigation on the majority of rivers and lakes in this country. That is what Bill C-45 will do.
If your aim is to eliminate certainty go ahead and replace an established statute with common law jurisprudence that has to completely rewritten because of your changes. That is what Bill C-45 will do.
If your aim is to make it impossible for Canadians to protect themselves keep doing what you’re doing.
I don’t believe government is really this cynical.
I believe that you just don’t understand the true ramifications of this Bill.
These changes will hurt people. Canadians will suffer.
In short, the Navigation Protection Act protects nothing.