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Will today’s announcement usher in new legislation to protect every lake and every river?

The Saint John chapter is one of many Council of Canadians chapters that collected jars of water from unprotected lakes and rivers to send to their MP over the past two years in an effort to encourage the Liberal government to take immediate action to restore and enhance the protection of waterways.

We are expecting to hear more this morning about how the Liberals will fulfill their long-delayed October 2015 election promise to “restore lost protections” in the Navigable Waters Protection Act and “incorporate more modern safeguards” to protect lakes and rivers across the country.

The Liberals are now set to introduce “An Act to enact the Impact Assessment Act and the Canadian Energy Regulator Act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts”.

The Hill Times reports, “Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is scheduled to appear at a news conference at 11:45 a.m. in the National Press Theatre in Ottawa to discuss ‘environmental and regulatory reviews related to major projects’, according to her office. A technical briefing for media with departmental officials from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Natural Resources Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada, and Environment and Climate Change Canada will be held prior to the press conference from 10:45-11:30 a.m.”

The CBC adds, “McKenna will announce a new approach to protecting the country’s oceans, lakes and rivers. Many have had little to no protection for the last six years.”

As we have been highlighting over these past six years, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government decimated the Navigable Waters Protection Act through omnibus legislation in 2012 by removing federal oversight on pipelines and power lines from it and by reducing its scope to just 159 lakes and rivers, leaving more than 31,000 lakes and 2.25 million rivers without federal scrutiny.

The former Conservative government even renamed it the Navigation Protection Act, removing ‘water’ from the title of the legislation.

The gutting of this Act came just months after the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and other oil and gas lobby groups wrote the Minister of Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources calling on them to “address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada”.

That letter also called for a “one project – one review by the best placed regulator” approach. In a worrisome parallel, the CBC now reports, “Instead of three separate bodies [the National Energy Board, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission] reviewing a designated project like a pipeline, the Trudeau government is expected to create a single agency to assess the environmental and economic impacts of a project along with social and health impacts.”

What we are looking for today:

1- All lakes, rivers and waterways must be protected (we do not want a piecemeal process where waterways would be individually added to the list covered by the Act).

2- Strict safeguards for waterways must be implemented within the framework of the United Nations recognized human right to water (the obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to water).

3- The Indigenous right to free, prior and informed consent must be explicitly recognized in all environmental reviews (not simply consultation).

4- The legislation should be built on the foundation of the government committing to a 100 per cent clean energy economy by 2050 (not just ‘impact assessments’ and the industry-driven demand for ‘predictable timelines’).

5- A new review of the Kinder Morgan 890,000 barrel per day tar sands pipeline that would cross 1,309 water courses in Alberta and British Columbia (not legislation that would only apply on a go-forward basis).

Further reading
Cautions to consider as Trudeau government tables water and energy project review legislation
Trudeau’s water review should favour community voices over Big Oil’s demands