The changes, introduced as part of a 443-page budget implementation bill tabled Thursday in Parliament, would replace the Navigable Waters Protection Act, first introduced in 1882, with a new Navigation Protection Act covering a list of 97 lakes, 62 rivers and the three oceans on Canada’s coasts.
Transport Minister Denis Lebel suggested that the changes could ease the burden on companies seeking approval on new industrial projects such as oilsands development or mining extraction.
For example, under the existing law, Transport Canada had urged Shell Canada to provide more information about a proposed “diversion” of the Muskeg River for a new oilsands project.
While this process would continue, future project approvals on that river or many others would not be subject to a review under the new law unless Transport Canada expands its list of protected bodies of water.
“All projects that are actually in the middle of the (approval) process must be held to the existing rules,” said Lebel at a news conference. “The day when this new law comes into force, it will be another thing.”
A First Nations group promptly slammed the proposed changes, suggesting that it was giving industry a green light to destroy vital waterways in its community, violating existing treaty rights in Canada.
“I am seriously concerned this is an indication of corruption in our current government,” said Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. “We hope there will be a public outcry that echoes our sentiment. After all, we all share the responsibility to protect mother earth.”