Environmental time bomb hidden in omnibus budget bill
Canada’s rivers and coastal ecosystems threatened by proposed protection change, says Ecojustice lawyer Will Amos
Ottawa — An environmental time bomb that could put all of Canada’s recreational rivers and coastal regions under threat of resort or energy development has been quietly tucked into the 2009 budget legislation.
Proposed amendments to the federal Navigable Waters Protection Act threaten the long-standing public right to navigation, including the right to recreational navigation, stated a news release issued recently by the University of Ottawa’s Ecojustice environmental law clinic.
“The proposed changes jeopardize access to waterways and reduce environmental protection by granting discretion to the Transport Minister to bypass the approval process for potentially harmful projects,” said Ecojustice lawyer Will Amos. Ecojustice and others believe that the proposed amendments were included without proper public consultation.
Environmental assessment excluded
Harper’s Conservatives wants to amend the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which dates back to 1882, to give the federal Transport Minister the ability to excuse whole classes of project from the need for approvals or environmental assessments, removing any environmental protection.
But the environmental implications of this covert attempt at gutting Canada’s environmental laws could spoil even more that popular fishing holes or active whitewater kayak river runs. Already, BC premier Gordon Campbell is aligning with the government’s anti-environment thrust.
Entire BC coastline at risk
A line in the BC government’s recent throne speech supported the thrust: “A unified major project review process will speed up job creation in mining, energy, resort development and other areas,” it stated.
Campbell later suggested that the Act’s environmental protection should be scrapped because it was… well, old. “Don’t hold up 21st-century investment and jobs because of a 19th-century piece of legislation,” he pleaded. Is there an expiry date on environmental law?
If Harper’s amendments are passed by a compliant Liberal opposition, all of Canada’s rivers and coasts will be at risk. Major heavy oil and Liquid Natural Gas terminals are planned for west coast, which would bring huge oil and LNG tankers into Canada’s vital coastal marine ecosystems.
Will the Liberal’s declared intent to support the Harper budget at any cost put them at loggerheads with Canada’s environmental movement?
If so, Michael Ignatieff’s chances of becoming Canada’s net prime minister would be drastically reduced, and the Liberal’s environmental record while in government would be hauled out for public inspection.
That’s something that Michael Ignatieff may not want to have happen. He must deal with this environmental time bomb immediately, or face the consequences. Dion’s Green Shift may have failed, but Canada’s environmentalists — and Harper’s Conservatives — have a long memory.