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River Rights Rip-Off

Posted on Sunday, March 22 at 16:50 by Keemo

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To borrow a line from Gordon Lightfoot, “There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run”.  Nor did semi-trailers, automobiles or airplanes. Instead we relied upon our vast network of rivers and streams to move goods across the land in canoes. To ensure the movement of goods, we have the Navigable Waters Protection Act. By the original definition, navigable water was any body of water in which a canoe could float.

The NWPA did not only ensure protection for freight, but for recreation. Today, we no longer need the rivers of Canada to move goods, and the canoes that do ply the rivers are much smaller than those used by Hudson’s Bay fur traders. The modern paddler is often womanning the canoe, or kidding it, along with someone daddying it. The canoe has become an icon of our heritage. Who is not familiar with the famous photo of Pierre Trudeau in a canoe?

The act is supposed to ensure that nothing done on or to a waterway inhibits navigation upon it, and requires projects to go through a thorough screening by the Ministry of Transportation. In the current budget, now before the senate, Harper and his cronies seek to do an end-run around the act by burying an amendment to the NWPA in the budget. This amendment would allow the Transport Minister to arbitrarily decide if a waterway is a major or minor one, with minor ones being exempted from protection.

I find this worrying on two fronts, environmental and political. The Harper government’s excuse for this is to remove hindrances to the infrastructure of economic stimulus projects.  Or in simple English, get rid of a layer of protection that may slow down or stop environmentally harmful mega projects.  In these tough times, economic stimulus is a good thing, but at what price?

Harper reigns under the sufferance of the opposition parties, who are not yet ready for another election. The opposition had said they would not stop the budget unless it was really bad, and the Tories made sure they spread enough money around to buy acceptance. Burying this amendment in the budget kept it from being fully debated in the House, and possibly (hopefully) defeated. It also kept it out of the headlines as the media spotlight was on the budget dollars, not the sense.

As a separate bill, the amendment would have had to pass three readings, surviving debate each time. Not that, in light of the current political situation, it would have ensured defeat. If any of the opposition parties truly cared about the environment, they would have fought this amendment, election readiness or not. It may just be me, but I find the way this amendment was handled underhanded by Harper, and cowardly by the opposition. Almost makes me glad I did not vote for anyone currently sitting in the House, nor, for that matter, any party currently sitting.

What does this amendment really mean to us? It means a vacation paddling along a previously unspoiled stream could be ruined by having to portage around a construction project that will forever ruin the stream. Or the once crystal clear water of the stream is now soiled with waste dumping from mining, whether oil or mineral. Or possibly a chunk of it has been forced into a large culvert. It means that the Minister of Transportation has decided YOUR right to recreation on the river is less important than short term monetary gain. That a corporate right to exploit the river exceeds that of all Canadian citizens to enjoy the river.

At least here in BC, most of our streams and rivers have an extra layer of protection at the Federal level, Fisheries. Their mandate is to ensure salmon habitat is protected. DFO is relatively new at river protection, back when NWPA came into being; no one thought BC’s salmon were finite or needed protection (Not that we were part of Canada, confederation came after NWPA). We know better now. With the precedent set buy this heinous corruption of parliamentary procedure, how much longer before that layer of protection on our precious rivers and streams is stripped away?

BC contains %25 of Canada’s fresh water. Canada contains %5 of the world’s fresh water. %9 of Canada is covered in fresh water. We need to protect that most precious of resources. Please write a letter to your senator asking the upper house to block this amendment.

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