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Northwest Territories chapter submits brief on water protection to federal Transport committee

Chapter activist Lois Little.

The Council of Canadians Northwest Territories chapter has submitted its written brief on the Navigation Protection Act to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

NWT chapter activist Lois Little writes, “Under Omnibus Budget Bill C-45, the previous Conservative Government eliminated environmental protection of 99% of Canada’s lakes and rivers when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was replaced with the Navigation Protection Act (NPA).”

That change reduced the scope of the Act to just 159 lakes and rivers, leaving more than 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers without federal scrutiny.

Little highlights, “In the NWT, only three water bodies retain some environmental protection – Great Slave Lake, Great Bear Lake and the Mackenzie River. The NPA also exempted large projects such as pipelines from scrutiny so their impacts are no longer assessed for any navigable waterway. Lack of federal protection of our many lakes and rivers is worrisome for residents in the NWT as there is no modern legislation to protect our water against climate change, drought, and risky industrial activities such as fracking and mining, or to enforce trans-boundary water agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions.

And she notes, “Every effort must be made to protect our lakes and rivers and navigable waterways. The June 2013 Rosenberg International Forum report on the Mackenzie River Basin stated that the Basin may be the most threatened in the world by climate change. This is because it is the largest cold water basin on the continent and therefore, the lynch pin that holds the ice-water-weather-climate of North America together. Robust legislation to protect and manage water resources including navigable waterways must be in place to address these modern-day challenges.”

Little concludes by urging the Standing Committee to recommend:

  • Legislation and national policy to protect all lakes, rivers, watershed, and waterways in all Canadian jurisdictions. Rigorous Federal Government scrutiny and assessment of any activities that potentially impact the health of our lakes, rivers, watersheds, and waterways.

  • Each jurisdiction in Canada be required to enact legislation that bolsters Government of Canada law and responds to regional risks to water resources.

  • Meaningful consultations and accommodations that reflect responsibilities under the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous Rights for free, prior and informed consent in recognition of Indigenous treaty and water rights.

  • Strict safeguards for waterways and watersheds within the framework of the United Nations recognized human right to water and sanitation.

On October 4, the Standing Committee began inviting written comments on its review of the Navigation Protection Act. The deadline to submit written comments to them is November 9. Federal Transport minister Marc Garneau will study the report produced by the Committee and decide whether to proceed with whatever recommendations are proposed at some point next year, perhaps by June.

It’s important to write to the Standing Committee.

During the October 2015 federal election, the Liberals criticized the Harper government’s “elimination of the Navigable Waters Protection Act” and promised to “review these changes, restore lost protections, and incorporate more modern safeguards”. Now the Transport minister says, “Some of the changes that were made we may end up saying they’re reasonable, but some of them we definitely will change.” This equivocation may be because, as 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.”

To submit a brief to the Standing Committee, please click here to access a Government of Canada website on this.

To send comments directly to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Transport, click here to see a letter on our website that you can personalize and submit.