I hope this isn’t a sign of things to come—it seems the federal Conservative government is putting money ahead of the environment in its bid to fix the faltering economy. Quietly tucked into Bill C-10, the new federal budget passed last week by the Senate, are amendments that dramatically weaken the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Since 1882, the NWPA has served to not only protect Canada’s myriad rivers and streams from wanton development, it has also afforded anglers and hunters access to our great waterways. Under the newly adopted changes, however, that access would be impinged—and our nation’s riverine habitats threatened (flooding or draining of spawning grounds, anyone?).

Angler and hunter groups across the land are justifiably concerned, and in the lead up to the introduction of the legislation, they lobbied unsuccessfully for Ottawa to separate the NWPA changes from the budget bill. The B.C. Wildlife Federation, for example, says the proposed changes will:

  • Eliminate environmental assessments, with few exceptions, for development projects on Canadian waterways.
  • Allow Canada’s rivers to be separated into those that are worth protecting and those that can be exploited.
  • Those classifications can be determined secretly within cabinet with no public consultation, no basis in science and no opportunity for any appeal.
  • Ensure that these decisions will most certainly be made based on political expediency rather than on scientific or long-term social and environmental considerations.
  • If a waterway is designated as navigable the bed of the waterway is considered to be crown property. Designating the waterway as non-navigable will enable the bed to pass to private ownership. From this flows the further concern that private ownership of the waterways bed implies private ownership of the fishery.

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters has also been quite vocal on the issue, and in February, the organization addressed the Standing Committee on Finance to state its case against the NWPA changes. Here, in part, is what OFAH had to say:

  • In Canada, the use of rivers and streams for commerce and recreational purposes is a fundamental part of our economic and social fabric. The ability to use our waterways helped us to build a nation. While today our waterways may not be the lifeline of commerce that they once were—they are nonetheless essential to a host of economic and social activities that are essential to the well being of Canadian businesses, individuals and communities. Further, our waterways, and in particular rivers and streams, are the spawning and nursery areas and the habitat for our world-renowned fisheries and the recreational and commercial activities, which they support.
  • In the process of trying to bolster some aspects of the economy and put people back to work, it is equally imperative that the government does not eliminate the critical checks and balances that protect other elements of the economy and the way of life of Canadians. It is essential that that in ‘fixing’ some problems we do not create unforeseen economic, social and environmental problems that will live with us far beyond the current economic crisis.
  • We believe that some of the proposed changes to the NWPA have this potential for significant negative impacts.

Now that the Bill C-10 has passed the Senate, its final assent in the House of Commons following the March break is all but assured. When it comes to the outdoors and the environment, I’ve yet to be impressed by this current government. Not that we’ve seen anything better from the opposition Liberals—Ignatieff and his crew, it must be noted, made nary a peep about the changes to NWPA.

For more on this legislative debacle, along with an in-depth follow-up, watch for the May issue of Outdoor Canada. As well, you can find our previous coverage of the NWPA changes on page 16 of our October/November 2008 issue.