OTTAWA (November 2, 2012) – On October 25th Leon Benoit, Member of Parliament for Vegreville-Wainwright, spoke in the House of Commons about the Navigable Waters Act, one of Canada’s most antiquated pieces of legislation.
“Put in place back in 1882, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, as it was then known, was meant to facilitate trade and commerce by balancing the efficient movement of maritime traffic with the need to construct works (e.g., bridges) that might obstruct navigation, in order to encourage economic development,” said Mr. Benoit.
Over time, the scope and application of the Act had significantly expanded due to many factors such as amendments, judicial decisions and changes in operational practices of mariners. Today, the Act applies to all waters in Canada that can float a canoe including ditches, brooks, streams and fields temporarily flooded in spring. Now, even a temporary creek created by spring run-off that dries up within a month or two would trigger review under the Act.
About 12 years ago, Mr. Benoit was doing his usual tour of county councils, municipal districts councils, and listening to councillors about the issues that were important to them and how the federal government might work with them to improve things.
“Something that started coming up on a regular basis,” explained Mr. Benoit, “was that the Navigable Waters Act was causing towns and municipalities problems in areas where there is, clearly, no navigable water at all.”
Mr. Benoit pushed for changes when the Liberals were in government and nothing happened. When the Conservatives first formed government in 2006, Mr. Benoit brought this issue to the Transport Minister, which led to the Transport Committee clearly defining what a “navigable water” is.
“As of about 2008-09, when that happened, I went back to the same councils and they said the issue had been dealt with,” explained Mr. Benoit. “However about a year later, I did my tour of municipalities again and now the Fisheries Department had filled that void, coming in and requiring a study of every little water way claiming that any change might have an effect on a fish habitat where there were no fish. Our Conservative Government is dealing with that, and things will get better.”
The new Act will put to rest claims, such as those put forward by NDP MP Megan Leslie, that this Act deals with the environment and nothing else. In reality, this Act will deal with navigation, and nothing else – as it was intended to do.
This Act will clearly define the major waterways upon which regulatory approval is required, and rely on the common law to protect navigation in non-listed waterways. The Act will also allow for even more low risk works (such as docks and boathouses) to be pre-approved because they pose very little impact on safe navigation.
“On the separate issue of environmental concerns, Canadian waters will continue to be protected by Transport Canada’s marine safety laws, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 and various provincial statutes,” concluded Benoit.