There to protect our freedoms

The federal government is currently in the process of cutting red tape. Gee, that sounds pretty good.

The federal government is currently in the process of cutting red tape. Gee, that sounds pretty good.

The only problem is, that red tape they are cutting has to do with amendments and changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

The Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA), Chapter N-22, is a federal law designed to protect the public’s right of navigation in Canadian waters, as defined by the law, by prohibiting the building, placing or maintaining of any work whatsoever in, on, over, under, through or across any such navigable water, without the authorization of the minister of Transport Canada.

Within the content of the law, the term “navigable water” designates any body of water capable, in its natural state, of being navigated by any type of floating vessel for the purpose of transportation, recreation or commerce, and includes a canal and any other body of water created or altered for the benefit of the public, as a result of the waterway assigned for public use.

The Navigable Waterways Protection Act is one of the oldest pieces of federal legislation in Canada. It first came into law on May 17, 1882, and although it has undergone a number of changes over the years, its main objective is still to protect the public’s right to navigation.

Back in 2008, the federally appointed Committee for Transportation, Infrastructure, and Communities began to look at the Navigable Waters Protection Act in order to determine whether or not the act could or should be amended.

The same year, the committee also began a series of hearings where some 70 stakeholder groups were invited to make presentations on possible changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Of the 70 groups, only one (the Lake Ontario Waterkeepers) spoke about the value of the public right of navigation and the need to preserve that right. All of the other groups argued for the elimination of navigation rights in Canada. No one representing any conservation or tourism groups, First Nations people, boating and angling groups, cottage or outdoor recreation groups were among those invited to speak or give their views. One can only guess at the criteria for selection.

Then, in June 2008, the committee, without consulting in any way with citizens, groups, or business sectors that would be impacted by the elimination of navigation rights in Canada, submitted its report to the minister of transport, recommending that the act be amended.

In a statement dated January, 2009, John Baird, then minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, announced the government intended to overhaul the act in an effort “to ensure that the NWPA will not get in the way of projects funded under economic recovery infrastructure initiatives.”

In last week’s Shuswap Market News, North Okanagan-Shuswap MP Colin Mayes (see “From The Hill”) says that today this act does little more than cause “unnecessary” red tape. I’m not sure it’s all that simple. My question is unnecessary for whom and in what situations?

Mayes did go on to say the federal government “will continue to protect the environment in a logical and effective way that balances the interests of all stakeholders in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

My initial reaction was to think about the government’s track record with regards to the environment.

That was when I began to truly worry. I cannot help but wonder if the government’s eagerness to cut though red tape has less to do with streamlining things than it does with their overall strategy to remove environmental safeguards from Canadian law.

Most of us do not think about the rights and/or freedoms associated with federal government acts and laws until they are no longer there to protect such rights and freedoms.

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