Amendments leave important gaps in restoring lost protections for navigable waters

Representatives of the Canadian Freshwater Alliance say the newly proposed Navigable Waters Act may broaden some protections for navigable waterways across the country, but falls short of fully restoring the lost protections promised in ministerial mandate letters.

“Although we are encouraged by the requirement for all major projects on navigable waterways to undergo a review, we expected something with more rigour,” said Natalija Fisher, NPA Organizer with the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “Rather than an impact assessment, the approval and review of major works remains subjective and at the full discretion of the Minister of Transportation. It remains to be seen if Members of Parliament will canoe the course and ensure that amendments leave all of Canada’s navigable waters truly protected.”

“Unfortunately, the proposed amendments fall short of truly modernizing the protection of navigable waters in Canada,” said Lindsay Telfer, National Director of the Canadian Freshwater Alliance. “To regain public trust, all waters need to be protected from the cumulative impact of multiple projects. We remain concerned that these impacts will go undocumented and untested.”

Environmental groups across Canada have vowed to keep tracking the new legislation as it gets debated, and amended, in the House of Commons. The public is also keen to see all lakes and rivers protected. During an engagement campaign led by the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, residents across the country nominated over 200 lakes and rivers for protection - more than the 164 listed for protection under the current Act. Many voiced their opinion that all navigable waters should be protected from developments that could obstruct their flow.



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In 2012, sweeping amendments to federal environmental legislation were made, including to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Protection Act. Changes to the former Navigable Waters Protection Act stripped federal oversight of obstructions to navigable waters on over 99% of Canadian lakes and rivers. With the introduction of a Schedule listing only 3 oceans, 97 lakes, and 64 rivers, the previous amendments obliterated century-old protections to the millions of waterways deep enough to float a canoe. These changes, along with reduced requirements for environmental assessments, were made without adequate consultation and broke public trust. 

About us

The Freshwater Alliance, a project on the Tides Canada shared platform, is a national initiative that builds, connects and supports freshwater constituencies across Canada. We work with environmental organizations, community groups, government and businesses to strengthen citizen engagement and participation in the protection of our lakes and rivers.