The Canadian Freshwater Alliance has been busy tracking Bill C-69 through parliament. Together with you, we proposed amendments that would strengthen the protection of navigable waters in Canada. Today, Bill C-69 - which includes the Canadian Navigable Waters Act, passed third reading in the House of Commons. The legislation still needs to pass the Senate before the law can take force.
Significant effort was made to strike a balance that would restore and modernize the Act. The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development worked until midnight on the final day of clause-by-clause to vote through amendments in late May. Unfortunately, many amendments not accepted by the committee could have strengthened the Act considerably.
Despite this, the Canadian Navigable Waters Act is an improvement on 2012 amendments and does restore some of the lost protections. However, the amended Canadian Navigable Waters Act stops short of protecting the environmental, social, and cultural value of all navigable waters.
Going forward, the strength of navigation protection will rest on how major works are defined. This will determine which projects require approval and on what waters. While gains were made, the legislation, as amended, still fails to fully protect navigable waterways in Canada leaving a significant gap in federal freshwater protections. The full application of the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Navigable Waters Act would leave some waters exposed e.g. highland waters that bear no fish or minor waters with several minor works. Whether within Bill C-69, or in future freshwater legislation, more can and needs to be done to modernize protections of Canada’s rivers, lakes, and streams.
The Bill will now be handed to the Senate for review. We have identified three deficiencies and three advancements that the Senate could consider to strengthen the legislation and the protection of navigable waters in Canada.
Remaining deficiencies in protections for Navigable Waters:
- Minister is not required to consider environmental impacts of proposed projects under the Act.
- The controversial schedule of navigable waters remains giving some waters greater protections than others. The schedule lists priority rivers and lakes on which proposed projects must seek approval under the Act.
- Though the public no longer has to rely on expensive court battles to challenge unregulated developments, a significant burden of responsibility was placed on the public to monitor and respond to projects proposed on unscheduled waterways.
Some amendments to the former Navigation Protection Act (NPA) that have passed Third Reading improve the protection of navigable waters in Canada.
Advancements made in protections of Navigable Waters:
- Major projects on any navigable waterway in Canada will undergo a review.
- The Minister must consider traditional knowledge in making approval decisions under the Act. In cases where an Indigenous nation’s rights require consideration of the broader environmental, social and cultural values of a water body, the government may end up having to consider broader impacts.
- A public registry will enhance transparency on projects under review, approved and/or declined under the Act. What information will be stored on this registry and for how long remains unclear.
The Canadian Freshwater Alliance will continue to track the legislation as it proceeds through Senate and as regulatory amendments to the Major Projects list, the Schedule, and Minor Works are developed and reviewed.
Now that the Act has passed Third Reading, we will take some time to plan for how to engage the Senate in holding strong on the advancements that are made in this Bill.
The House of Commons will go on break for the summer and your MP will be back in the riding. While they are back home, you can meet and tell them that freshwater protection is important to your community. Let us know if you need a hand organizing a meeting!