The federal Minister of Transport, Denis Lebel, is proposing changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act under an omnibus Bill C-45. On October 18, the minister said that the amendments to the Act are intended to make it easier for the provinces and municipalities to approve bridges and other infrastructure on waterways, so that the projects are not held up with "unnecessary red tape."
The proposed regulations will limit the number of waterways that will require federal approval to a list of 40 or so. Under the current Act, which dates from 1882, every bridge or similar project on a waterway must receive federal approval, even on waterways only wide enough for a canoe to pass.
The name of the Act will be changed to the Navigation Protection Act. The government selected the waterways that will continue to come under the Navigation Protection Act's jurisdiction according to which are the most actively used by either freight or recreation purposes. The list includes the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean shorelines, the Great Lakes and large waterways like the St. Lawrence and Mackenzie Rivers, but it also includes lakes of the size like Lake Rosseau and Lake Couchiching in central Ontario. For the full list, click here.
The government stressed that the Act is intended specifically for the safe and efficient movement of marine traffic so the new regulations will not compromise the environment. Transport Canada's website says, "Thee will be ... no reduction in the environmental protection of Canada's waters as a result of these amendments.... Through federal legislation such as the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, environmental protection will continue to be assured."
However, environmental groups including Greenpeace, Environmental Defence, and the Sierra Club, issued a joint statement expressing concern over the proposals. Some are afraid that if municipalities have the final say on development, they will cede to the pressure of developers and economic interests.
The Canadian Construction Association, on the other hand, praised the proposed changes. In a statement, Michael Atkinson, CCA president, noted that currently delays in getting approvals on projects can take 12 or 18 months, which makes it difficult for construction companies to predict their costs and mobilize their work force. Atkinson said in a statement: “We believe this [proposed legislation] strikes the right balance between the regulatory oversight Canadians expect, and the needs of the business community for greater regulatory efficiency.”