‘The Navigable Water’s Protection Act is one of Canada’s oldest pieces of legislation, dating from 1882 at a time when our waterways were Canada’s primary transportation routes.’
That’s how the government of Canada describes the act that it wants to replace in order to cut down on red tape and facilitate development and prosperity for us all.
Canadians love to struggle with the idea of what makes us unique. I can’t think of anything much more historically Canadian then navigating the waterways of this country by canoe. That’s what the act was originally proposed to protect: free, unimpeded travel by canoe.
According to the federal government, we’re at a crossroads. There is too much legislated protection for rivers and streams. Transport Canada cites Lake Wabamum, an ‘oval shape’ lake near Edmonton, as a prime example of how this crazy canoe act impedes our future and requires legislative action.
Transport Canada was obliged to process ‘roughly’ 80 applications over three years by cottagers who wanted to build docks on this oval lake.
But the lake is shaped like an oval. Get it? Obviously, navigation can’t be impeded by docks on the shore of an oval lake, so why bother with all these ‘pointless’ assessments.
Clearly, if we can just point to the geometrical shape of a body of water or river and assay its navigational complexities, then there’s really no need for this kind of protection at all. How did that escape us all these years? The federal government concluded that only two rivers (the Skeena River and the Peace River) in Northern British Columbia deserved protection under the new navigation act.
The Muskeg River in Northern Alberta doesn’t lend itself to a tidy analysis. Not only is it not shaped like an oval, but Shell Canada wants to mine a long section of it. There’s tar in those sandy banks of the Muskeg and the last thing that Canada needs is a canoe standing between us and the extraction of those sandy hydrocarbons.
Maybe we need more canoes on the banks of the Muskeg River, not more dump trucks bigger than a house. Or, it might be in Canada’s best interest to have more dump trucks and fewer canoes, but how about an open debate about it.
There’s been no federal debate about this change. It was buried deep in a giant budget bill that wraps it and other changes together in one massive pill that we are, more or less, forced to swallow.
Some Canadian voters like the idea of protecting unimpeded travel by boat on our waterways.
Critics might say, but that’s just an idea. How important is travel by canoe or small boat these days anyway?
The practical response would be that it’s plenty important to large numbers of First Nations that rely on waterways to draw a livelihood from the land. It matters to everyone who enjoys and values our rivers and lakes for recreation and quality of life.
Most importantly, some ideas just matter on their own. We don’t have to be exclusively guided by the value of a dollar. We can be governed by the value of ideals. But only if we’re given the choice. And no debate is no choice at all.