Budget bill will gut Navigable Waters Protection Act

With all the recent focus on provincial politics (so long, Dalton) and municipal politics (our Ford has been recalled), we’ve been giving the federal politicians short shrift these days. Sure, a Liberal leadership race is exciting, but the outcome of that is still months away. Seems like no one is paying any attention to Parliament. Well, it’s still there, the Conservatives are still in control, and the Harper agenda continues. Yesterday, the Standing Committee on Finance released its report on the latest omnibus budget bill, C-45. Here’s more or less the total of what the committee reported:

In accordance with its Order of Reference of Tuesday, October 30, 2012, your Committee has considered Bill C-45, A second Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 29, 2012 and other measures, and agreed at its meeting of Wednesday, November 21, 2012, to report it without amendment.

So, after three weeks of study, the committee decided everything in that bill was hunky-dory, A-okay. But there has been much criticism of this and the previous omnibus budget bill in the spring of this year for the many changes they make to a number of disparate acts. One act that is slated to drastically change with the passing of C-45 is the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the legislation that has been ensuring, since 1882, that waterways in Canada are open to any and all to navigate; that anyone who wants to build something, such as a pipeline, that affects a river or a stream or a lake has to follow a rigorous set of guidelines and get government approval; that our bodies of water are protected from environmental damage. So much for that.

Unfortunately, once the budget act passes, and it will pass, you can expect that some will find it easier to get a dock built, but it will also be easier for your neighbours to get their dock built, and for the municipality to build whatever structures (bridges, dams, etc.) that it deems necessary, and those structures may affect your waterway. And resource-extraction and development companies will benefit from the change as well. As critics have pointed out, what the government is effectively doing is externalizing the costs of regulation onto “unsuspecting taxpayers.” A project that may have been delayed by red tape before it was started, or cancelled outright because of the harm it would do, will now most likely be delayed by lawsuits filed by private citizens. And, of course, some lawsuits won’t get filed, because lawyers don’t come cheap and fundraising and organizing to protest a ill-conceived project are tiring and time-consuming jobs.

If your cottage is not on the list of water bodies still protected by the act, and only three oceans, 97 lakes, and 62 rivers are on that very short list, then you may be facing rough waters ahead, in more ways than one. In fact, we all will be.