Taking the call to Restore “Navigable Waters” to Canada’s Capital

We’ve been speaking with government officials and MPs about restoring protections to navigable waters. Groups, and individuals, across the country are uniting in calling on the federal government to deliver on its promise. The time to get environmental laws right and #fixNPA is now.

In November, the Canadian Freshwater Alliance, along with environmental organizations from across the country, went to Parliament Hill to call for environmental law reforms. To see our recommendations, take a look at our collective briefing note. We met with cabinet ministers, Senators, officials, and MPs and bureaucrats in Ottawa about the Fisheries Act, the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) and the Navigation Protection Act. But, the work is not over!

 This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to draft a new vision for environmental protection in Canada. Now is the time to call on government to make substantive changes to environmental laws, and to bring back lost protections. Before the bills are introduced, our leaders need to know that we expect lost protections for Canada’s navigable waters to be restored.

Join us Thursday, December 14th at 12pm ET for an online conversation on steps you can take, like meeting with your local Member of Parliament, to help ensure we get the strongest laws for Canada’s waters. You can RSVP here.

Canadians like you are filling gaps in navigable water protections by submitting nominations of rivers and lakes, and by calling on the federal government to restore protections for all waters.


The Change We Want

 When it comes to environmental laws, protecting our rights and defending waterways comes down to the details. In fixing the Navigation Protection Act (NPA), we ask that all of Canada’s waterways are protected by:

1. Ensuring all waters used for, or are important to, navigation are protected in law;

2. Managing obstructions by regulating “major works” on all navigable waters;

3. Developing a public complaint mechanism;

4. Including a public registry which clearly documents applied, permitted and approved projects in either scheduled or unscheduled waters.

For the NPA to fully restore the protections lost in 2012, coverage under the Act must be returned to all navigable waters. The most transparent way to do this is to establish a definition of navigable waters covered under the Act. Navigation by water is as diverse as it is on land. Just as Canadians move by rail, ‘cycle, car, or foot so too does our transportation differ by canoe, kayak, or freighter. Navigable waters can be an aqueous highway used for the transportation of commercial goods, or they can be a canoe trail, a gateway to access Canada’s natural beauty. That is why the definition of navigable waters should be broad enough to capture the full range of navigation rights that exist across the country, from commercial interests, to cultural and historical routes of indigenous peoples, to the recreational water uses that connect Canadians to their favorite waterways.

The scheduling approach, preferred by government, ensures obstructions to navigation are regulated for a short list of Canada’s waterways, contained in a Schedule of the Act. The government is looking at a process for adding waterways to the schedule but it is still unclear who can do this and how. The scheduling approach has significant limitations. Expanding the schedule without transparent, science-based criteria, to guide decision making stands the risk of decisions being arbitrary at best. The absence of clear criteria for what constitutes navigable waters, and the lack of a transparent nomination process, would create an impossibly high burden for adding a waterway to the schedule.


A Lack of Balance

There are just over 8,500 named rivers in Canada, and countless others that are no longer listed, and thus protected under the NPA. Responsibility currently falls on individuals and their communities to defend their rights on unscheduled navigable waters by challenging harmful developments in court - a burden that requires time and resources.

If protection for all of Canada’s navigable waters is not restored, then remote waterways, including some of our last wild free flowing rivers, will remain at risk of obstruction with no cumulative oversight of the impacts to communities and the environment.


What Can I Do?

Join us Thursday, December 14th at 12pm ET for an online conversation on steps you can take, like meeting with your local Member of Parliament, to help ensure we get the strongest laws for Canada’s waters. You can RSVP here.

In the meantime, five things you can do to ensure no waters are left behind:

  1. Nominate a waterbody. Make sure the waters, lakes, and rivers that hold your memories aren’t left behind by nominating them here.
  2. Meet with your Member of Parliament and ask them to restore and enhance the Navigable Waters Protection Act and other freshwater protections. Remind them that waterways are not merely an economic highway but a part of our natural heritage.
  3. Share your story online. Post a photo of you, friends, family, or colleagues enjoying the lake or river you want to protect. Make sure to name the waterbody and include the hashtag #nowaterleftbehind
  4. Organize a kitchen table dialogue to talk about plans to restore and enhance the Navigable Waters Protection Act and gather more nominations.
  5. Become a supporter of the Canadian Freshwater Alliance by donating or getting involved to protect water.

This blog is part of a series themed “Rivers as Bridges” exploring the role of Canada’s waterways in providing access to the outdoors, preserving environmental quality, ensuring treaty obligations, advancing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and economic growth.  In our October blog, we marked the five year anniversary of reforms to the century old Navigable Waters Protection Act by reviewing the impact of those changes and introducing a movement of Canadians calling to restore protections and to ensure #nowatersleftbehind.