Media release from Sierra Club Canada:
February 9, 2009 – Sierra Club Canada is raising the alarm that the Budget Implementation Act introduced Friday will eviscerate the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), an Act that has protected Canada’s waterways since before Confederation.
“This is just a power grab on the part of the Transport Minister,” said Stephen Hazell, Executive Director, “John Baird is attempting to eliminate all legal limits on his discretion to authorize projects that damage waterways and obstruct navigation.”
The amendments embedded in the budget implementation bill would authorize the Minister of Transportation to establish “classes of works” and “classes of navigable waters” that may be exempt from all or part of the NWPA, and to change, at any time, the criteria used to assess whether a waterway is navigable or whether a work or type of work may interfere with navigation. The amendments also remove any reference to the previous four named works: bridge, causeway, dam and boom, which by their very nature interfere with navigation and aquatic ecosystems.
“This bill is about throwing out all of the regulatory requirements relating to permits to obstruct waterways and navigation, and giving total discretion to the minister,” explained Celeste Côté, National Water Campaigner. “Since the NWPA triggers the environmental assessment process for works that are a significant obstruction to navigation, leaving what constitutes “a significant obstruction” up to the Minister is problematic because environmental assessments can be avoided, in an entirely non-transparent manner.”
“This all ties in with the government’s scheme to gut the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act under the guise of minimizing bureaucracy,” explained Hazell, “The whole point of EA legislation is to ensure that governments have the environmental information they need in order to make good decisions about development. Without EA we will get bad projects.”
The amendments to the NWPA are based on a report submitted to the Ministry of Transport in June 2008 by the parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, which failed to consult any stakeholders from the environmental, paddling, tourism, or First Nation communities.
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