Backgrounder: Conservative ‘Budget’ Bill Guts River and Coastline Protection
October 19, 2012
OTTAWA – The Navigable Waters Protection Act has protected Canada’s streams and lakes for 130 years. And now the Conservatives are demolishing this crucial law, exposing Canada’s waterways to risk from pipelines and other intrusions.
Previous Legal Situation
Passed in 1882, the Navigable Waters Protection Act is among Canada’s oldest laws still in effect. The last changes were made in 2009 after committee hearings and consultations.
Until now, the act covered all waterways deep enough to be navigable by canoe, in effect protecting hundreds of thousands of rivers and streams and more than 30 thousand lakes across Canada.
Changes through the Conservative Budget Bill
The changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act are embedded in the 457-page ‘budget’ implementation bill, tucked in between changes to the Mortgage and Housing Act and the Canada Grain Act.
Pipelines and interprovincial power lines are now exempt from the act and its review process for construction projects, as are so-called “low risk” works (undefined).
With the exception of a list of 3 oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers, the Act will no longer automatically apply to projects affecting waterways. This will leave thousands of waterways not covered, meaning fewer environmental reviews by Transport Canada.
Of Canada’s 37 designated Canadian Heritage Rivers, only 10 are now covered. Those left out of the new Act include the Bloodvein River (Manitoba/Ontario), the Cowichan River (BC), Clearwater River (Sask/Alta), Main River (NFLD), Margaree River (NS), South Nahanni (NWT) and Tatshenshini (Yukon), Mattawa River (Ontario), Upper Restigouche (NB).
The bill removes “waters protection” from the name of the bill – now it’s just about “navigation protection.”
Real World Risks
The risk of a pipeline accident is real: in 2010, an Enbridge pipeline burst in Michigan that released 3.8 million litres of toxic tar sludge into the Kalamazoo River.
Raw tar sands oil is thick and gooey, and needs to be mixed with lighter petroleum products like natural gas, benzene, toluene and xylene to be pushed through a pipeline. This mixture is usually called diluted bitumen.
Tar sands bitumen is 40 to 70 times more viscous than North American conventional crude oil. This high viscosity requires tar sands pipelines to operate at higher pressures than conventional pipelines, increasing the risk of damages and spills.