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Federal government asks for feedback on water protection review

“We need a new water ethic that puts water protection and water justice at the heart of all policy and practice.” – Maude Barlow

The Council of Canadians will be participating in the federal consultation process on the Navigation Protection Act to ensure the relisting of all rivers and waterways.

In terms of background on this, the Harper government gutted the former Navigable Waters Protection Act in omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 in 2012. C-38 removed pipelines and power lines from provisions of the Navigable Waters Protect Act while C-45 significantly reduced the Act’s scope over Canada’s waters. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has commented, “The Harper government killed the Navigable Waters Protection Act, stripping protections from 99 per cent of lakes and rivers in Canada. Major pipelines and inter-provincial power lines now have the green light to cross over and under more than 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers without federal scrutiny.”

It’s clear that the Energy Framework Initiative pushed for those changes. That group was made up of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Petroleum Products Institute (now the Canadian Fuels Association), and the Canadian Gas Association. The membership of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers includes Chevron, ExxonMobil, Husky, Imperial Oil, Nexen, and Shell.

Then during the last federal election, the Liberals promised to “review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards. …We will modernize the National Energy Board, ensuring that its composition reflects regional views and has sufficient expertise in fields like environmental science, community development, and Indigenous traditional knowledge.”

Unfortunately, it appears that some of the same corporations and their lobby groups are already pushing to stop the promised restoration of lost protections and the incorporation of modern safeguards. The Globe and Mail reports, “The Liberal government is feeling pressure from industry over a campaign pledge to restore regulations surrounding project permits and environmental assessments… Companies or industry groups, among scores registered to lobby on the review of environmental assessments, include Shell Canada, the Canadian Electricity Association, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, Ontario Power Generation Inc., and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.”

Our main opportunity to intervene will be when the House of Commons resumes sitting on September 19. That is likely the earliest date that the government will announce the MPs who will sit on a committee to review the Navigation Protection Act, with deliberations to follow after that. But there are two significant opportunities to intervene before then – both of which have summer-time deadlines of July 20 and August 31.

The first deadline (July 20) relates an open comment form on the “Environmental Assessment Processes: Draft Terms of Reference for Expert Panel”. While focused on the mandate of the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, it also notes the “complementary mandate” of the “Minister of Transport [to] review changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards.”

The principles we would encourage you to highlight in your response include:

  • The starting point should be to restore all the protections gutted by the Harper government from the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

  • Inclusive and welcoming public consultations should be held in every province and territory.

  • The Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent must be explicitly recognized in all environmental reviews.

  • Separate and substantive consultations with Indigenous communities on a nation-to-nation basis must take place.

  • Decision-making must be based on principles of social equity, ecological survival and governance by the peoples most impacted.

The second deadline (August 31) relates to a questionnaire generally informing “the Government’s review of environmental and regulatory processes”. It asks, “The Government of Canada is conducting a comprehensive review of its environmental and regulatory processes. Please tell us what are the key things the Government of Canada should take into account in its review?”

Sample responses (as highlighted in the Peoples Climate Plan) might include:

  • We want a plan that aligns with the science of climate change. Bold climate action ensures Canada meets its commitments to a 1.5°C world by keeping its fossil fuels reserves in the ground.

  • We want a plan that builds a 100% renewable energy economy. Bold climate action ensures Canada transitions to a 100% renewable energy economy by 2050, creating over a million clean, safe and rewarding jobs.

  • We want a plan that is justice-based. Bold climate action enshrines justice & reconciliation for Indigenous peoples, ensures no worker is left behind in the transition to a clean energy economy, and takes leadership from those hit hardest by the climate crisis.

The one question specifically on the Navigable Waters Protection Act states, “The intent of the Navigation Protection Act is, and has always been, to protect the public right of navigation.‎ The recent amendments to the Act concentrated its application on 162 of Canada’s busiest commercial and recreation-related navigable waterways. How were you impacted by the changes made in 2012 to the Navigation Protection Act, and what improvements, if any, would you like to see considered?”

The responses we would encourage you to highlight in this form are:

  • The protections that were cut from the Navigable Waters Protection Act by the Harper government must be fully restored.

  • All lakes, rivers and waterways must be protected by this Act.

  • Strict safeguards for waterways must be implemented within the framework of the United Nations-recognized human right to water.

  • Water sustainability and water justice at the heart of all policy and practice, water can no longer take the back seat to other interests and priorities, such as ‘free trade’ agreements, mining and pipelines.

  • Water must be recognized as a public trust, a common heritage to be protected for all people and future generations.

To access the websites for these two surveys, please click here.

We will soon be releasing a report on restoring and enhancing the Navigation Protection Act that we will be asking you to send to your Member of Parliament. We will also be asking you to take a photo and send a jar of water from the lake or river you live by that is no longer protected by the Navigation Protection Act (more details on that soon). And please note that Barlow’s new book Boiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis – which argues for a new water ethic to protect water in Canada – will be published on September 19.