Baird plans changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act

The National Post reported on January 12 that, "Among the laws earmarked for revision (by the Harper government) is the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which was enacted in 1882 to regulate the construction of dams and bridges and guard marine routes from intrusions by the logging industry."

"The law has been revised over the years, but (Transport Minister John) Baird said its antiquated guidelines fail to distinguish between 'the tiniest creek and the bridge between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.' 'It's a piece of legislation brought in the 1800s with, frankly, little benefit but huge regulatory burden that can really slow things down,' he said."

The Canadian Press reported the same day that, "Baird criticized the Navigable Waters Act, which dates to the 1870s. The act, he said, requires government officials to 'put a canoe in a creek or large puddle' to find out whether it is navigable."

The Canadian Press additionally reported that Baird, "points to the 139-year-old Navigable Waters Act as one piece of federal legislation he’d like to see amended. The act requires that every creek or stream altered by a project must first be checked for navigability using a water craft."

HE SAYS THE NWPA IS OUTDATED AND SHOULD BE STREAMLINED The Globe and Mail reported on January 13 that, "Mr. Baird said streamlining environmental assessments is one of several changes Ottawa is mulling, adding that rewriting laws is another. He said, for example, that the Navigable Waters Protection Act as currently written is an example of outdated legislation that can hamper public works. 'We got an earful wherever we went from British Columbia to Nova Scotia on that,' he said."

PROVINCIAL LEADERS SAY THE ACT NEEDS TO BE REVISED The National Post added, "Rodney MacDonald, the Premier of Nova Scotia, and other provincial leaders have raised the need to reassess the act."

The National Post reported, "potential revisions -- which would streamline the approval process for smaller projects -- have caused concern for environmentalists and boaters."

The Ottawa Sun reported on July 12, 2008 that NDP MP Paul Dewar, "suggests there had been significant lobbying by industry stakeholders to cut through the act's red tape and to dilute the environmental regulations that impede their corporate enterprises along waterways. 'They are trying to please a certain sector of industry and hope no one is paying attention,' he says."

"The legislation applies equally to ocean projects, major rivers or pastoral streams. 'It puts a huge delay on projects,' (says Baird). The suggestion didn't go over well with the Green party. 'Mr. Baird should realize that small waterways are a crucial piece of habitat for many wild creatures and are deserving of protection,' Adriane Carr, the party's deputy leader, said in a release."

Lake Ontario Waterkeepers have written that, "The changes to the Navigable Waters Act virtually eliminates the environmental assessment process, allows the Minister of Transportation and/or Cabinet to divide the nation's waterways into those which will be protected and those which will not as well as create sweeping exemptions from government approval or public notice for classes of projects. The rules drafted by Cabinet may not be subject to Access to Information, public consultation, or Parliamentary or judicial review."

The Canwest News Service reported on February 11 that, "The government’s proposed amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act removes an automatic trigger for federal environmental assessment for the building of dams, bridges, booms, causeways and other structures that may shorten or ruin the navigability of a waterway."

The Ottawa Sun reported that, "The Sierra Club of Canada has taken particular objection to amendments proposed by the (House's standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities) that would see the definition of navigable waters changed to exclude small watercraft, such as canoes, and the amending of infrastructure works to exclude such minor works on a waterway as a micro-hydroelectric project. Celeste Cote, national water campaigner for the organization, notes that it would remove any reference to four types of works, namely dams, bridges, causeways and booms, all of which have an impact on the waterway."

If you're not sure, a causeway is 'a raised way across wet ground or water', and a boom is 'a line of floating timbers used to hold logs in a restricted water area'.