I'm calling the meeting to order.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), this is the study of the Navigation Protection Act.
The witnesses today from 8:45 on are the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and Paddle Canada. I welcome you both.
Our other witness is coming to us by teleconference from British Columbia. She would have been on this panel. I'll suggest that we'll allow the panels to roll forward if there are questions. She's getting up at six in the morning to be able to be with us by teleconference this morning as it is. We'll allow those to continue on, if we have questions on a variety of different ways.
I'll turn it over to Mr. Farrant, manager, government affairs and policy, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and for Paddle Canada, we have Jay Morrison, director of the Quebec branch. Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming and contributing to this important study.
Good morning, Madam Chair, and members of the committee.
On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, our 100,000 members, and the 740 member clubs across Ontario, thank you for the courtesy of inviting us here this morning to address our concerns with the Navigation Protection Act.
Maintaining safe and navigable waters is critically important for providing access to angling and hunting opportunities. Despite Transport Canada's insistence that the impacts to these activities would be minimal when changes were made to the former legislation, the OFAH remains concerned that the reduced scope of this act as it now appears could negatively impact on accessibility.
The previous act applied much more broadly to all bodies of water capable of being navigated by any type of floating vessel for transportation, recreation, or commerce, whereas the current act only applies to 162 of Canada's waters, oceans, lakes, and rivers, that are listed under schedule 2 of the act. In essence, this means that the right of navigation on all waters not listed in schedule 2 is no longer protected under the current statute.
The Canadian public right of navigation on waters not listed under the act is only protected under common law, meaning that infringements on navigation rights, for example, a private or public nuisance complaint, would have to be addressed through the courts, which are already backlogged.
We live in a society that is increasingly litigious, but for most individuals, using the courts to ensure navigation is cost and time prohibitive. Whether intentional or not, the common law provision in the NPA may in fact prove to be even more cumbersome and inaccessible for the majority of Canadians than the system it replaced.
Having to seek remedy through the courts will do nothing to prevent obstructions to navigation from occurring, and it put the onus on the angler, hunter, canoeist, or paddler to identify and challenge infringements on their right to navigation, which means that the infringement has already occurred. Having to resort to the common law is an adversarial, cumbersome, and ineffective means of protecting navigation rights in unlisted waters.
In the past, there was considerable discussion regarding the removal of environmental protection for unlisted waters in the NPA. In our experience, the former act was not entirely intended to be used as a primary legislative tool for environmental protection. There are other federal, provincial, and municipal statutes that are specifically designed to provide protection for aquatic ecosystems, such as the Fisheries Act, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, among others.
Another agency will have the resources to effectively deal with navigation concerns, so expecting them to address the shortfalls in the act is moot.
As I was saying, another agency will have the resources or expertise to effectively deal with navigation concerns, so expecting them to address the shortfalls in the act is moot.
Other federal agencies, provincial agencies, and municipalities have relied on Transport Canada for their guidance and advice related to navigable waters to effectively implement their own laws and regulations. For example, some in-water obstructions to navigation, dams for example, are subject to Ontario's Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act, but we are not aware of similar legislation that prevents out-of-water obstructions or in-water obstructions that do not impede water flow or levels to navigation, such as fences, wires, zip lines, and other.
The focus on commercial navigation in the NPA largely removes consideration of most recreational activities that occur on what are now unlisted waters. In its current form, the NPA effectively separates the protection of navigation from the protection of navigable waters. For most recreational activities that occur on lakes or rivers, the waterways that Canadians use to pursue these opportunities are largely excluded from schedule 2 of the NPA and thus excluded from federal oversight.
The waters no longer listed in schedule 2 provide for a diversity of fishing, hunting, recreational boating, kayaking, canoeing, and other opportunities. If there are gaps in the legislation that allow for the obstruction of navigation in unlisted waters, access to traditional uses could be restricted. This in turn reduces the potential social, cultural, ecological, and economic benefits gained by these same opportunities. For instance, hunting, fishing, trapping, and outfitting in Canada contribute $15.2 billion annually to the national economy, and it's fair to say that the restrictions left in place in the NPA could have a negative impact on that bottom line. Changes to the former NWPA also potentially impact public safety, given that fences, wires, and other obstructions across waters can be extremely dangerous, especially in high-flowing waters where the majority of navigation issues occur.
In closing, I want to touch briefly on one of the most puzzling aspects of the changes that were made. For the purposes of the former act, minor works and minor waters were certain classes of works and navigable waters that could already be exempted from the application process under the act. This was introduced originally to streamline the federal approval processes to save time and effort for some of the proponents. An exemption would be granted when the physical characteristics limited any realistic potential for practical navigation. Since the mechanism already existed in the NWPA to allow for an exemption to address these circumstances, surely the legislation could have been refined to respond to the concerns that had been raised and make it clearer rather than simply gutting the process entirely, leaving 99.7% of Canada's lakes and almost 100% of its rivers unprotected. Although it appears that changes made to the NWPA several years ago were not intended to restrict public access, the fact remains that we may lose access to thousands of lakes, rivers, and streams across the country.
We believe that changes are needed to the current statute to ensure that the right to navigation is fully protected, and encourage members of the committee to take another look at what was done, and seek a better way to accommodate the concerns raised in connection with the previous legislation, while restoring the right of access for all those who use waterways for economic, cultural, and social benefit.
Navigable waters not only helped to shape early Canadian commerce, but also our culture and our identity. Many Canadians continue to have a strong desire to experience this great country through the use of our navigable waters. Let's not put up legislative barriers that keep them from exercising that right.
Thank you again, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for your time and courtesy this morning.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank Greg for that very thorough treatment. I, on the other hand, reviewed my opening remarks many times to get them down below the five-minute barrier. That was a very thorough treatment of the legal issues and, I think, very useful.
Paddle Canada is a non-profit organization with a mission of promoting paddling instruction, safety, and environmental awareness as related to recreational canoeing and kayaking. We have over 2,000 instructor members, some of whom work in more than 200 organizations, businesses, and clubs from coast to coast.
Over 25,000 people attend Paddle Canada courses and events every year. We support federal government programs to promote safe outdoor activity through the PaddleSmart and AdventureSmart programs. We are the national voice of recreational paddling.
How many Canadians paddle canoes? Who knows? Nobody knows. The boating industry doesn't know. It's certainly in the many millions.
I'm the Quebec representative. There's not a Quebec branch. I'm actually the Quebec board member on Paddle Canada and a certified instructor in a number of canoeing disciplines. I'm also president of the chapter for west Quebec and eastern Ontario of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, CPAWS, which, as some of you may know, is Canada's foremost wilderness conservation organization.
I claim no particular expertise in the environmental assessment process, which of course was an integral part of the former Navigable Waters Protection Act, but I assume and I hope that you will be hearing from people who are. I did testify on behalf of CPAWS in 2009 before the Senate subcommittee that was examining changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, so I'm quite familiar with the history of the legislation.
I do claim expertise in what constitutes a navigable waterway. I have paddled the over 8,000 kilometres from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Inuvik using the traditional routes of the indigenous people and the fur traders who followed. Parts of these routes involve traversing swamps, wetlands, beaver dams, and rapids, and the definition of navigable waters that was established by the Privy Council in 1906 and affirmed by the courts quite recently is still absolutely relevant.
If it floats a canoe, it's navigable, and if it is navigable, then the public's common law right to navigate it should be protected by the government. The Navigation Protection Act fails to do that.
We have been looking forward to the work of this committee since 2009, when the previous government, through an omnibus bill and without parliamentary debate, began dismantling the provisions of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This act had served for more than 100 years the dual purpose of helping to protect the environmental quality of Canada's waterways and the common law right of the public to safely navigate these waterways.
These changes were opposed by a broad coalition comprising many of Canada's leading environmental groups, boating associations, hunting and fishing organizations, cottage and property associations, and first nations. The primary concern was the government's removal from the NWPA of provisions automatically triggering an environmental assessment whenever a significant work was to be constructed on a navigable waterway.
I may say that it was not until one of the very last hearings at the Senate subcommittee that the senators began to realize what the implications of that were. They did not realize that not only would there be no duplication of environmental assessments between provinces and the federal government, as was claimed by the government and which was not occurring, but there would be no environmental assessments when these major works were contemplated over navigable waterways.
While not succeeding in getting the changes to the bill, the exercise was not a complete failure. An opposition MP promised to look into the changes to the NWPA should his party form government. His name, of course, is Justin Trudeau. The Navigation Protection Act, which superseded the NWPA in 2014, further eroded the public right to navigation by establishing that only for two lists of 100 oceans and lakes and parts of 64 rivers would the government continue to fulfill its duty to protect the public right of navigation, leaving to individual citizens the nearly impossible task of suing those who had interfered with that right on the tens of thousands of large lakes and rivers in Canada.
It is interesting that the schedules of favoured waterways include lakes and rivers in the cottage playgrounds of the rich and famous, while excluding those that are the lifeblood of first nations and small communities that might oppose large projects threatening their way of life.
In all of Quebec, for example, only three lakes are listed, and the Gatineau River, on the doorstep of Parliament, is excluded, the citizens of its communities left to fend for themselves.
This is just a summary of the shortcomings of the NPA. While the paddling community might be expected to be concerned about maintaining its right to navigate Canada's waterways, we are equally concerned about the impact of works on the environmental quality of those waterways and the people who live there. For a more thorough treatment of the legal aspects of this subject, I recommend that the committee reference the Ecojustice background paper of 2012.
As a former senior manager in the public service, I understand that processes need to be streamlined and taxpayers' dollars used wisely, but this can be done without abdicating the government's responsibility to protect the environment and the public right of navigation. In my view, the current government should repeal the NPA in its approach of selective application of rights, restore the protections of the pre-2009 NWPA, and properly resource the transportation ministry based on a more efficient application and enforcement regime. We can protect all our waterways and provide timely approval of sustainable projects.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Mr. Farrant and Mr. Morrison, thank you kindly for being with us today.
We would have much preferred to meet with you with draft legislation to amend the Navigation Protection Act in hand, legislation the government could have introduced. Unfortunately, however, the government chose to do the opposite in its review of the Navigation Protection Act.
We, the committee members, received a letter from the and the compelling the committee to undertake consultations even before learning what the Minister of Transport's intentions were with respect to the proposed amendments to the Navigation Protection Act.
I'd really like you to understand the position we, on this side, are in at this stage in the committee's study and to tell you about the mandate given by the Prime Minister. At the time, Mr. Trudeau made quite clear, or just about, that he wanted to restore lost protections. In fact, you talked about that in your presentation, Mr. Morrison. I'd like to read an excerpt from the document you sent to us:
While not succeeding in getting changes to the bill, the exercise was not a complete failure; an opposition MP promised to look into the changes to the NWPA should his party form government. His name of course, was Justin Trudeau.
That resulted in the letter that the two ministers wrote and sent to the committee. The letter contains the following statement:
As part of our mandate from the Prime Minister [the very same Mr. Trudeau you mentioned], we have been asked to work together to review the previous government's changes to the Fisheries Act and to the Navigable Waters Protection Act to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards.
You said the message had been received, coming in loud and clear. Unfortunately, we still don't know what those amendments will entail. We don't know which protections exactly the people in the Liberal Party want restored. We don't know what the government's intentions are. As I see it, it's premature to think that you will get back all the rights you had previously because we don't know what the government is going to propose.
There is another point I absolutely want to mention. The ministers, on their end, committed to consulting the various stakeholder groups to ascertain their interests and plans. Unfortunately, we found out from the , himself, and the that he would not be undertaking any consultations apart from the general consultations a minister engages in when meeting with groups on specific issues in the usual course of their mandate.
Our preference would have been to have the proposed amendments before engaging in this exercise with the various groups who were in agreement on the amendments put forward and adopted in the previous act. It is a shame, but the government's approach sheds absolutely no light on its reasons or motivation or, more importantly, the proposed amendments.
I just wanted to give you a bit of context. We don't object to studying the amendments. What we object to is the process being followed. We object to the way the government is using the committee to justify a position that is hardly justifiable.
Now, I have some questions for you, Mr. Farrant.
In the wake of the changes to the rules under the Navigation Protection Act, what problems have the hunters and anglers you represent encountered?
Sure. Thank you, sir, for the question. I appreciate that.
I'll give you a couple of examples, if I may. For instance, a zip line has been erected across the Thames River in London, Ontario, and it poses a threat to anybody who is using those waters for recreational fishing, canoeing, and paddling. There is no protection against that kind of thing. Also, in many cases on smaller rivers and streams, especially in the spring when the waters are high and flowing quickly, there are farm fences erected right through the water, from both banks right through the middle of the water. Whether you are on those rivers trout fishing, duck hunting, whatever it may be, you can appreciate, if you're coming down the river and you come around the bend and there's a fence suddenly in the middle of the river, not only is it a bit of a public safety issue, but what do you do then? Where do you go?
Those are examples of the types of thing that have been occurring.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
I'd like to thank the witnesses for joining us this morning.
I have some fairly specific questions in the same vein as Mr. Hardie's. I'd like to know what could be done to improve the legislation, assuming that's even possible.
Mr. Morrison, you brought up something that strikes me as incredibly important, the link between the construction of potential works and environmental assessments. Under the former government, the Navigation Protection Act and environmental legislation were watered down, let's just say.
In the case of major projects like the Energy East pipeline, which crosses countless unprotected rivers, do your members perceive some disregard for the fundamental environmental assessment process? In your view, would it be more appropriate to put that responsibility back in the hands of Transport Canada, or are you satisfied with the assessment being done by the National Energy Board?
In terms of the economic implications, I'll speak to our members' immediate concerns, which are hunting and fishing. Obviously, recreational fishing quite clearly requires waterways for the most part, unless you're shore fishing. There's also a huge number of duck hunters in this country.
We see a trickle-down effect here. For instance, we see it every time there are changes at the provincial level when the licences and tag allocations are changed. We see it when people feel that it's not worth going out anymore because they can't access a waterway, and when they are concerned that they can no longer get to where they used to get. There's a problem there in terms of people saying that they're just not going to do that anymore.
For instance, in Ontario for people who fish and hunt, the revenues from licences and the tags they buy provide the funding through the special purpose account for two-thirds of all the funding for fish and wildlife management for all Ontarians, not just for people who fish and hunt. When you see changes that restrict people's ability to engage in those activities, they stop buying licences. They stop buying boats. They stop buying gas. They don't use hotels. They don't use restaurants. They don't go on trips.
You can look at something like the Canadian Tourism Commission's 2012 study on the economic impacts of fishing and hunting for Canada, and the billions of dollars just from U.S. visitors alone that come into this country for those two particular activities. If you cannot be guaranteed access to the lakes or the rivers that you normally use or that you traditionally used, why bother coming? Why bother taking those trips? Why bother going to the hunt camp? Why bother going on the fishing trip, etc?
All of that has an economic spillover effect that means people are going to spend less and not engage in those activities. Economically, it affects the bottom line.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Thank you to our two witnesses for being with us today.
I have no doubt that, like us, you are very busy. It will probably seem as though I am asking the same questions you have already been asked, but I am really trying to get confirmation of certain facts.
Transport Canada's navigation program no longer accepts complaints about works that impede navigation on unlisted waterways. Individuals who believe that a work on an unlisted waterway has an impact on the public right to navigation need to seek a court order to resolve the issue.
Witnesses who are having problems have talked a lot about the environment and fishing. I believe a department or another authority is responsible for that part of the problem. For the moment, I would prefer that we stick to navigation.
Within your respective organizations, have any legal complaints been filed since 2002, the year the legislation was amended?
Mr. Farrant, please go ahead.
I'm going to go even further.
Earlier you mentioned aboriginal communities. On Tuesday, a witness told us that they were relatively satisfied with the consultations held prior to 2012, and that the same was true for aboriginal communities. I can't recall the witness's name, but the analysts no doubt have it in their files.
Regardless, the legislation isn't perfect. When a government introduces a bill and adopts measures—and the same applies to the Liberal government—it's a step forward. Then, efforts are made over the years to improve it.
Even though I believe that the government has already decided what it is going to do, what measures would you suggest the government take? The government really doesn't want to tell us what we are allowed to work on, and that's truly unfortunate. If you were to make a recommendation, however, please take this opportunity to tell us what it would be.
Good morning, everyone. It is early here, but I am happy to be heard. I want to thank the standing committee for inviting the Council of Canadians to present today.
The Council of Canadians is a social action organization, and we advocate for clean water, fair trade, green energy, public health care, and a vibrant democracy. We have roughly 60 chapters and 100,000 supporters across Canada, many of whom have lakes and rivers in their communities that are unprotected under the current Navigation Protection Act. Many have expressed concerns about the projects that are threatening navigable waters in their communities. Industrial projects, such as pipelines, dams, mines, and fish farms are moving forward with little or no scrutiny of their impacts on navigable waters.
Many of these projects are also happening on the traditional territory of indigenous peoples and will have impacts on their cultures, ways of life, and economies.
Yesterday we launched a report called “Every Lake, Every River: Restoring the Navigable Waters Protection Act”, which looks at four key studies: the energy east pipeline that runs from Alberta to New Brunswick; the Keeyask dam and the Bipole III transmission line in Manitoba, and the Ajax mine in British Columbia. These case studies show that these projects are putting navigable waters and navigation at risk. For example, the energy east pipeline would cross nearly 3,000 waterways, many of which communities rely on for fishing, transportation, tourism, and recreation.
Oil spills like the one that happened on the Kalamazoo River impacted navigation. For example, parts of the river and a nearby lake were closed for two to three years because of the spill. In 2012, Mountain Equipment Co-op presented a list of 40 recreationally important waterways that are no longer protected. They pointed out that the recreation industry creates at least six million jobs in Canada. In comparison, there are roughly only 250,000 jobs in mining, oil and gas, and logging combined, which makes up only 1.6% of the jobs in Canada.
There's a big push for jobs in the extractive industry, but according to Statistics Canada, most of the jobs are actually in non-extractive industries. For example, 12% are in retail trade; 12% are in health care and social assistance; another 12% are in manufacturing; 8% are in accommodation and food services; and 8% are in educational services.
As the Trudeau government reviews the Navigation Protection Act and other water and environmental legislation, it's crucial that it no longer puts our waterways at risk, and modernizes water legislation so that it's a bigger part of a long-term plan to transition away from fossil fuels and other extractive industries, and creates green and sustainable jobs.
Specifically, we're looking for the federal government to restore and enhance the Navigable Waters Protection Act so that all lakes, rivers, and waterways are fully protected. We ask that the schedule of the Navigation Protection Act be eliminated so that the act applies to all lakes, rivers, and navigable waters. We are asking for the federal government to reinstate and strengthen federal scrutiny of large pipelines and powerlines under the act, and assessment of waterways under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. We're also asking that a clause be included in the act so that potential spills or discharges of harmful substances are assessed for their impacts on all navigable waters.
We're also asking for public consultations and an independent expert panel, and feedback to be incorporated to strengthen the Navigable Waters Protection Act. We recognize that the standing committee is inviting written comments from the public. I met with Transport Canada last week when I was in Ottawa. I know they're holding some meetings, but we believe that consultations must also be held with the public, in-person meetings, that is.
We also want the federal government to ensure that a consultation process is established in the act that fosters true collaboration between communities and governments, so that regulatory agencies or federal departments implement community recommendations on an ongoing basis. The government must develop a mechanism that establishes a community's right to say no to projects that threaten waterways, and empowers communities to create low-carbon, sustainable jobs that safeguard navigable waters in the long term.
We are also asking that they consult with indigenous peoples and incorporate the obligation to obtain free, prior and informed consent into the navigable waters protection act so that indigenous treaty and water rights are respected, and a nation-to-nation relationship is truly established.
Finally, we're asking for the implementation of strict safeguards for waterways within the framework of the United Nations recognized human right to water and sanitation.
Again, I thank you for your time. I urge you to make recommendations that will protect every lake and every river for now and in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Hardie, for the question.
I'm not a legislator. It's easy for us to sit here and say that all of this stuff should be included, but it's not always necessarily the easiest thing to put into effect.
I go back to the balancing issue again. I agree that without a doubt there needs to be an ability for comment before projects occur, before obstructions occur.
The Lakes and Rivers Improvement Act in Ontario deals only with barriers that obstruct the flow of water, so dams per se. If somebody sticks a dam in the middle of a river—and it happens that private landowners build a dam in the middle of a river—that act kicks in and forces them to remove that particular dam.
In this case there is no ability for anybody beforehand to make comment, and there are certain things that have just been raised that are exempt from the act that need to be looked at very carefully in terms of whether they should be included, because they will have an impact on navigation and they will have an impact on navigability of any waterway.
There was a very small list of waterways that were protected, and while you may not want to open the act to cover every waterway in Canada, certainly, as the young lady who was just speaking in reference to Mountain Equipment Co-op's report from a few years ago mentioned, 40 in particular that are no longer protected are extremely important waterways, and there might be consideration. The balance comes into play when we are considering changing or amending the act to include those 40 specific ones as maybe a middle ground, if you will.
I do think that a consultation process, as we're seeing here today, is above all else the most important component of going forward with whatever changes are made.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I know that my colleagues across the way are a little bothered by the way we table motions simply for the purpose of having a clear process. My motion says, “That the committee invite no further witnesses to appear as part of this study, and that it wait for the upcoming amendments from the before continuing its work.”
I think that is a very reasonable motion. When we have the amendments from the minister, we can decide whether to hold six, seven, eight or nine meetings on this topic. I think it would be quite legitimate for our committee to do this, because then we will have something on which to base our work. We will know the intentions of the Minister of Transport with regard to the Navigation Protection Act. That is what concerns me. And that is why we have in the course of this study regularly tabled motions to ask that we have the details of the amendments to be proposed by the minister on the Navigation Protection Act.
Our colleagues seem to believe that the is only going to propose minor amendments. It is true that from the beginning all of the witnesses have expressed their satisfaction regarding the amendments that could be made to the Navigation Protection Act, with the exception of those we are hearing this morning. I feel that the minister's amendments are absolutely necessary to the conduct of a proper study. At that point, the Council of Canadians and your organizations, Mr. Morrison and Mr. Farrant, would have ample information to be able to formulate a clear proposal and assess what the government intends to do.
My colleagues on the government side have on several occasions mentioned that relevant changes have been made to the act. Several of them feel that we should not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Some amendments will stay, and in light of what we have heard in the past from your organizations, you will surely have things to say about them.
So, we would have to begin this study again in the course of the normal legislative process. That is why I consider that these amendments should be submitted to the committee before we do our work. Tuesday, we adopted a budget of more than $10,000 for this study, to hear witnesses and to pay for their travel costs. That sum of money will have to be spent again when we have to study the amendments submitted by the Minister of Transport. I think that repeating this exercise twice is a poor use of taxpayers' money.
I think it is important that Canadians listening to us know that we are not against studying an act again if it can be improved. We deplore the fact that the has already decided that the act is not adequate and that we have to start all over from the beginning. I will read the expressed intention again, and it is even included in the minister's mandate letter, “... restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards.”
If that is what the intends to do, why does he not submit the amendments to our committee to give us a chance to debate them. You may come back before us. I am convinced that if the government submits amendments to the Navigation Protection Act, both the Council of Canadians and your organizations will ask to be heard again.
Mr. Farrant, you said that you take every possible opportunity to put forward your organization's point of view when it concerns the interests of your hunters and fishers. So you will have to come back to see us and once again we will have to grant an additional budget to the committee to conduct a new study. Basically, the work we are doing today is almost—and I did say “almost”—useless, because we are going to have to start all over again from the beginning.
In previous testimony, we received a lot of information from people who, as opposed to today's witnesses, were of the opinion that the changes to the Navigation Protection Act had had beneficial effects.
The president of the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, in fact, Mr. Al Kemmere, made the following statement:
The previous legislation did not utilize local knowledge on how water bodies were being used, and therefore increased the cost to municipalities and to the Government of Canada.
The new legislation balances federal oversight with municipal autonomy. The new legislation allows the minister to add more water bodies to the schedule as they see fit and allows owners of works...subject to the NPA, even if it's not on a scheduled water body, by opting into the process.
According to the comments made in the beginning, it is possible to act within the context of the existing law. No witness came to tell us that this process had been used. No one has asked the minister to add bodies of water to the list, although this is possible under the act.
So, once again, I wonder what the problem is with the Navigation Protection Act? Why do we absolutely want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and restore prior safeguards, when the current act specifically makes interventions possible?
The president of the Rural Forum of the Canadian Federation of Municipalities, Mr. Ray Orb, also had this to say:
The FCM welcomed changes to the Navigation Protection Act brought about in 2012, which eliminated unnecessary requirements to accommodate non-existent public water travel. The amendments allowed the existing legislation to be brought up to date and into line with the country's current transportation routes.
By reducing project delays and higher building costs to municipalities, while at the same time providing protection to these important waterways, the changes to the Navigation Protection Act directly related to municipal concerns aimed at improving the capacity of local governments to build infrastructure and to deliver essential services. To make environmental planning easier, the federal government also recognized the limited capacity of rural municipalities and ensured that these communities have access to rural-specific resources, including tools, expertise, and financial capacity.
When the government wants to keep its election promises and amend a bill, it seems to me it is only fair to put its intentions on the table. At this time the government does not intend to listen to witnesses' recommendations, nor hear what people have to say about the bill. The government's intentions, as expressly set out in the letter sent to us by the two ministers, are to restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards.
This morning my colleague Mr. Hardie made a few suggestions concerning improvements that could be made to the Navigation Protection Act. Would there be anything in Mr. Hardie's suggestions that the minister could study to make amendments to the act? If that were the case, we could discuss something specific. We could discuss concrete cases and the concrete effects of changes to the legislation on navigable waters for paddlers, for pipeline projects, and for hunters and fishers. Unfortunately, once again, we are in the dark. Society evolves, Madam Chair.
Let's get back to Mr. Farrant's comments concerning hunters and fishers. Personally, as the former mayor of Thetford Mines, I can tell you that hunting and fishing have changed over the past years. These days, in order to get to hunting and fishing grounds, you need four-wheel drive vehicles and snowmobiles. Since hunters and fishers have to cross rivers or streams, structures have to be built over them, and those structures need to be regulated.
If we want hunters to have access to resources, we have to be able to intervene on certain bodies of water, but should we prevent paddlers from using all rivers? Certainly not!
You raised an extremely valid point, Mr. Morrison. You said that there is a lot of activity on rivers and lakes and that Canada is known for its vast bodies of water. I think we need protective measures, but that is not the role of the Navigation Protection Act. There are other laws and other departments that do that work. Some of the comments you made this morning could be addressed to other ministers, departments and committees. You presented arguments that were relevant and concrete enough to back up your viewpoint.
Let me get back to two other statements we heard, to support the motion I am submitting today.
We had the pleasure of receiving Mr. Michael Atkinson, president of the Canadian Construction Association. He said he was satisfied with the changes made in 2012.
He said, “It has been said that the 2012 changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act reduced environmental protections across the country.”
This is what Mr. Atkinson had to say:
We couldn't disagree more.
To begin with, the amended act was no longer a trigger for the environmental assessment under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Any change to that would have to be taken into consideration with the changes that were made to CEAA. To do that unilaterally with respect to this act without taking into consideration the changes—
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
Out of respect for my colleagues and the witnesses, I will try to get to the heart of the issue, with these two brief remarks.
Mr. Chris Bloomer made the following statement before this committee:
I think that provision can be enacted if, in adding water bodies, it's deemed necessary, and there's a process and principles that apply to that. I think it's on a case-by-case basis, and I think that's probably the best way to deal with it.
We hear from witnesses who would like to see amendments and would like to go back to the way things were, but for having been mayor and for having heard what many associations had to say about this, I can tell you that the old process caused a lot of problems in municipalities regarding the development of our regions and the development of access to those regions. Something needed to be done.
I heard it said today that Canada has been protecting its navigable waters since 1906. But today's Canada is not the Canada of 1906. Technology, and the use made of bodies of water, have changed a great deal. In the past, rivers were used everywhere for trade, but that has almost disappeared now.
I think that the changes made to the Navigation Protection Act were appropriate and needed to be made. That is why, in the interest of transparency, since we are talking here about the government of transparency—
Thank you, Madam Chair.
As I mentioned, the transparency of this government at this time is rather opaque, since it is refusing to submit the amendments it wants to make to the Navigation Protection Act.
I think it is absolutely essential that it do so. I will continue to insist that we not spend taxpayers' money uselessly and that we put an end to our current study until the government's amendments are available. Afterwards, we can discuss all of the points the witnesses raised.
Madam Chair, in closing, I would like to read the following paragraph, which supports the reason why I believe the has used our committee for government ends, whereas that is not the normal role for committees.
The 's mandate letter, which he received from the himself, clearly discusses his responsibility to work with the . I will quote what it says in this regard:
Work with the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to review the previous government's changes to the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, restore lost protections, and incorporate modern safeguards.
Madam Chair, I am asking the —if he really wants the committee to do its work properly—to tell us what he means by “restore lost protections”, and what it is that is not working in the act that required the inclusion of such a clear mission in the minister's mandate letter, one that directly sets out the conclusions this committee should come to?
I see that you are anxious, Madam Chair, for me to conclude my intervention. I am going to stop here because I don't want to use all of the time we have left, since there are probably still questions people want to put to the witnesses.
However, and it is good to remind my colleagues of this, at the previous meeting I mentioned my intention to present my arguments over a ten-minute period before we heard the witnesses. I had referred to that possibility. Unfortunately, I was interrupted at the time. And so I was forced to use the time I had when I could, that is to say while the witnesses were here before us. It is important to point that out. For this reason, I will invite any colleagues who would like to speak to the motion to do so. I remind you that it reads as follows:
That the committee invite no further witnesses to appear as part of this study, and that it wait for the upcoming amendments from the Minister of Transport before continuing its work.
I am a bit disappointed about what just happened and what this means to be able to voice the concerns of our chapters and our supporters, and the time taken up by Mr. Berthold, so I just want to note that.
But I'll address your question now, Mr. Aubin.
We, including our chapters and many of our supporters, do have concerns about the ability of the National Energy Board to make these reviews. We do feel it is the federal government's responsibility to be looking at impacts on navigable waters. We understand there are staff who have been with the department for a long time who have the expertise to look at this, and really, it is the federal government's responsibility.
I mentioned there are many navigable waters that would be impacted by projects like the energy east pipeline. Kinder Morgan is a really big issue here in British Columbia as well, and crosses over 1,000 waterways from where it starts in Alberta to where it arrives in the Vancouver area.
There are some big concerns about the National Energy Board. There have been concerns raised about the legitimacy of the board. I know the Trudeau government has committed to reviewing the National Energy Board Act and revamping it and so forth, but it needs a huge and major overhaul to regain the trust of people in Canada, and of indigenous communities, as well.
The federal government must take responsibility to protect waterways. We're looking at very specific pieces of legislation, but I think it's particularly important to be thinking about the broader vision for Canada and indigenous communities.
During the election campaign, made some really big promises that the people really liked and really wanted to see implemented. I do have concerns about whether those promises are going to be implemented, and this remains to be seen. Part of the changes to this piece of legislation and also other pieces of legislation, whether the Trudeau government will fulfill those promises remains to be seen.
Thank you very much, Madam Chair.
I think, for our witnesses, it's important to understand perhaps why we, on this side of the table, continue to push back on our colleagues when it comes to the purpose of this study. What needs to be noted is that there is a mandate letter from the to this committee asking us to review this act with a view to restoring what was removed from the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It was also made clear by the minister himself when he said that there will be definite changes made to this act.
In order to provide the context to you, typically if the minister has a desire to change the act, that would happen prior to the study coming to committee. He would indicate what areas of the act he would like to see amended. It would be debated in the House, and then referred to committee if the bill passed at second reading, at which time the committee would then launch into a study.
My concern is that we are doing this without knowing what changes the minister wants to see made to this act. Therefore, your being here, while it is important for us to hear the testimony, may become moot depending on what the minister chooses to do with the act anyway. You may be called back. Your time, I believe, is valuable. This is why we have actually continued to push back on our colleagues across the way, and the minister, who has chosen to ask us to do a study knowing full well what he already wants to change in the act. It's putting the cart before the horse, quite frankly.
With that, Madam Chair, I'd just like to give the rest of my time to my colleague.
Can I have a quick show of hands from the others? Mr. Farrant and Ms. Lui, are you okay with the opportunity today?
I appreciate Mr. Aubin's motion that we get you back, because it does give us an opportunity to hear more from you. We all know now that we are entitled to the Conservative view on things, which we've received, and now, with that out of the way, maybe we can coax a little more out of the people we actually need to hear from, who weren't heard from when this all happened.
I would ask that, in advance of coming back, you think about the following things. If you can bring material back with you, that would be perfect.
Again, what would be the essential element of a process to protect rights, the rights of people who use the waters, plus the rights of people who need to build things? What would be good in that mix?
There have been a few references to “modernizing” the act, but what does that look like? That suggests that, as it was, the old act was deficient in certain ways. Rather than throw out the baby with the bathwater, to quote my friend across the way, what do we do to elevate this whole thing to something that's really going to work?
What does “restore protection” look like? Mr. Farrant, I appreciated your point that a ditch that might have water in it for six days a year isn't necessarily something that needs to receive the same attention as a major waterway.
Finally, one thing that hasn't come up is that the Navigation Protection Act gave a lot of discretion to the minister to make decisions, particularly on adding waterways, rivers, or lakes to the list of protected rivers. Is there a different mechanism that you might propose in the interests of, again, having a streamlined, fair, and transparent process to ensure that the right thing is being done in the right way?
That's really my ask of you. Again, I look forward to the opportunity to have you back, and hopefully we'll have the time to actually hear from you on those issues.
Thank you very much.
I'll be happy to do so.
Thank you, Mr. Hardie, for your comments.
I'll put aside the political gymnastics in my response.
Look, there are always two sides to every equation, as there are in this case. Are we here suggesting that the entire NPA be thrown out? Absolutely not. There are probably measures within the legislation that should be retained. Are there measures that need to be changed? Most definitely.
Do I think this is a waste of time coming here today? Absolutely not. Any time that the public, an organization, a stakeholder, or an NGO has an opportunity to come before a committee—and I've had the good fortune to do this numerous times over the last 16 years where I work—I think it's an exercise in democracy and I think it's an exercise in usefulness. I can quite unequivocally say that if indeed I have the privilege to be invited back to testify before this committee again, I'll be happy to do so.
I appreciate your questions. I also appreciate Mr. Berthold's suggestion that if there is something to comment upon more substantially, that would be useful, but you've also posed to us some very interesting questions. I have promised to follow up on some of those already today and will be happy to respond to those questions, whether in written form or before this committee again. I thank you for that.