Defend the Waterways that Connect Us from Coast to Coast to Coast

Now's Canada's chance to protect our right to work and play in healthy waters

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Write to your MP: Restore protections for all navigable waters!

Today on Parliament Hill, the federal government is making lasting decisions about a law that ensures kayakers, canoers, hunters, fishers and Indigenous communities can access waterways that make Canada unique.

The Canadian Navigable Waters Act – introduced as part of Bill C-69 – is meant to give Canadians access to healthy waterways by regulating development. 

But if Canada doesn't restore protections for all navigable waters, we’ll lose the spiritual, cultural, and historical access to the waterways that connect us.

Tell your MP: the Canadian Navigable Waters Act must restore protections for all navigable waters.

“The original Navigable Waters Act from over a century ago had the floating canoe litmus test, which meant anything that could float a canoe was a navigable waterway,” says Hap Wilson. He’d like to see that standard return and improve.

Read Hap's story →

When Canadians paddle a canoe or kayak into the backcountry, they’re doing more than immersing themselves in the nation’s wild places. They’re floating in the wake of their ancestors, and of Indigenous peoples who have traversed systems of interlinking waterways for millennia.

Hap Wilson has spent decades doing exactly this. The avid canoeist, back-country explorer, author, illustrator and photographer began as a park ranger in remote Temagami, Ontario, in 1977. He quickly fell in love with the region’s unspoiled woodlands, crystalline lakes and free-flowing rivers, going on to
become a guide and operate an eco-lodge in the region. He has charted thousands of kilometres of historical canoe routes in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.

So it came as a blow when, in 2012, the Harper government rolled back protections for this fragile network, doing away with the requirement for environmental assessments of industrial works on navigable waterways. Soon after, the government whittled the list of waters defined as navigable to 159 rivers and lakes (and three oceans), from a potential 2.5 million.

Fast-forward to 2018, and the Liberal government has introduced Bill C-69 – to fulfill a campaign promise to restore lost protections – and is hearing responses from Canadians right now in Ottawa before moving the bill forward. Wilson plans to speak out about several shortcomings.

Avid paddler wants protection for navigable waterways

Defend the waterways that connect us from coast to coast to coast:

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Restore protections for all navigable waters

Accepts Indigenous co-governance and knowledge

Document projects of all sizes in a public registry

Right now the federal government is making critical decisions about the fate of key laws that protect Canada's environment: the Impact Assessment Act, Canadian Energy Regulator Act, the Canadian Navigable Waters Act and the Fisheries Act.

For the next few weeks, the government is listening to Canadians about what we want for our country's future. You can help make sure there are strong laws in place that protect our land, air and water; keep future generations healthy; and make it possible for Canada to respond to climate change and meet Paris Agreement commitments.

Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. Lead photo: Wallace Howe / CC SA / flickr. Icons: Retinaicons, Alberto Miranda, A. Maslennikov, Zlato Najdenovski, Vectors Market, Freepik.

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Topping the list: the bill doesn’t restore the full catalogue of navigable waterways. “The original Navigable Waters Act from over a century ago had the floating canoe litmus test, which meant anything that could float a canoe was a navigable waterway,” says Wilson. He’d like to see that standard return, along with a new inventory of navigable waterways that takes stock of ecological, social and cultural value, as well as input from indigenous populations.

“It has to be inclusive of not just the water flow itself, but the whole riparian ecosystem right from the watershed drainage basin, and the cultural history of the waterway,” he says.

Another problem with C-69: currently only “major” works on navigable waterways require impact assessments. But small projects can have big, and cumulative, impacts.

“We see it with logging: for smaller areas, they sometimes need to create more access, and in the long run that can be more intrusive,” says Wilson. One example from his travels is the Leyond River, in Manitoba, where a logging company failed to remove a temporary bridge, creating a downstream jam. Trees now grow out of an island formed from the blockage, disturbing the local ecosystem.

Overall, Wilson hopes navigable waterways – and untouched wilderness – will be recognized as key ingredients of Canada’s cultural identity. “These are hallmark features of what makes Canada Canada,” he says.

Weigh the impact of multiple works on a waterway

Take environmental factors, sustainability and climate commitments into account