Toss Bill C-69 overboard and protect our water, Mr. Trudeau

Maude Barlow
3 years ago

Cedar George-Parker addresses the crowd as protesters opposed to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline extension defy a court order and block an entrance to the company's property, in Burnaby, B.C., on April 7, 2018. Darryl Dyck / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Op-ed: By Maude Barlow and Pamela Palmater, published in the Ottawa Citizen, April 19, 2018

The federal Liberal government recently introduced Bill C-69, which, in its current form, would make sweeping changes to Canada’s water, environmental and energy legislation. Unfortunately, the bill is deeply flawed. 

What’s the best way to fix it? Scrap it and start over.

The long-awaited bill includes amendments to the Navigation Protection Act (NPA), now named the Canadian Navigable Waters Act (CNWA), buried in the 412-page bill.

The amendments to the CNWA fall short of what Indigenous nations, residents and environmental and other groups demanded during the federal Standing Committee review: Restore protections for all lakes, rivers and waterways and obtain free, prior and informed consent from Indigenous nations. 

The bill is quickly moving forward. The Liberal government introduced a “time allocation” motion, shutting down debate after just two days. Now the bill is with the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The committee first invited Big Oil associations such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers to present for two days at the end of March. The hearings continue this week.

Despite the government’s claim that the bill protects all navigable waters, it still includes a schedule with a short list of lakes and rivers, implying these waters have automatic protections while the remaining 99 per cent of lakes and rivers across the country do not.

The CNWA does not restore protections to pre-2012 levels, breaking yet another Liberal election promise.

The new CNWA also still exempts pipeline and power lines, leaving waterways unprotected under the act by failing to restore protections. 

The former Stephen Harper government exempted pipelines and power lines from the NPA at the urging of the energy industry. And now the Trudeau government has approved Kinder Morgan’s 890,000-barrel-a-day Trans Mountain pipeline project without considering the impacts on the 1,355 waterways the pipeline will cross. There remains significant Indigenous opposition  to the project, including before the Federal Court of Appeals, the Tiny House Warrior movement in Secwepemc territory and recently built Kwekwecnewtwx Watch House in Coast Salish territory.

The proposed CNWA includes a section on Indigenous Peoples of Canada and points about Indigenous traditional knowledge. However, the amendments fall short of requiring free, prior and informed consent as outlined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is at odds with the many times Justin Trudeau’s government has committed to respecting and implementing these obligations, including in the 2018 federal budget.

What should “modern safeguards” for waterways include? All lakes, rivers and watersheds need to be protected to implement the UN recognized human rights to water and sanitation, and to recognize water as a common heritage that belongs to the Earth, other species and future generations as well as our own.

To do so, Trudeau needs to scrap Bill C-69, go back to the drawing board and draft new legislation that actually reflects what Indigenous nations, water groups and residents called for in the review.

New legislation should respect free, prior and informed consent as required by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and protect all waterways.

New legislation should protect the Fraser River and 1,355 waterways by rejecting the Kinder Morgan pipeline, as well as the oceans and the endangered right whale by banning new offshore oil and gas drilling. New legislation should commit to the deadline of a 100-per-cent clean energy economy by 2050.

And new legislation should appoint a Water Minister who would have the key role of overseeing a national action plan on water and advocating for the protection of water in major resource projects.

It’s time for real change that protects water – not more broken promises.

Maude Barlow is the honorary chairperson of the Council of Canadians and Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaq lawyer and holds the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University.