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Krystyn Tully


Navigating the Parliamentary Waters

Posted: 10/22/2012 5:50 pm

The Canadian government introduced (another) sweeping omnibus budget bill on Thursday, changing as many as 60 different acts in a way that eliminates oversight from parliamentary committees.

One of those acts -- the Navigable Waters Protection Act -- is one of Canada's most important and oldest pieces of environmental legislation. It preserved the age-old right of every individual to navigate Canadian waterways.

If the omnibus bill changes, the new law will no longer protect Canadian waterways. Transport Canada stated that this better reflects the "historic intent" of the bill. Transport Canada is wrong.

The simple act of dipping oneʼs paddle into the water and pulling, propelling oneself forward -- such is an act that defines "Canada."

We use the word "navigation" because we have no other word, at least not in English, that captures the full meaning of the action. To "navigate" is to be constantly moving, coming from somewhere and moving towards somewhere else. "Navigation" is an act of faith that there will be some place waiting for you when you arrive. It is the gift of living near places of wealth and of being blessed with routes by which you may travel between them.

Navigation is not a recreational pursuit. It is not an economic pursuit. It is the act of converting the gifts of oneʼs physical surroundings into pleasure, freedom, wealth, or survival. Navigation is an act of citizenship.

For 2,000 years, to navigate water has been considered an act of human freedom. The ability to move from place to place and to access waterways free from tyrants, dictators, monarchs, and other powers has been one of the most important hallmarks of a just society.

It has been roughly 500 years since European and First Nations customs met, 800 years since Magna Carta, and 2,000 years since Roman Times; yet, notions of navigation, access to waterways, checks on power, and the rights of all people are still relevant. Collectively, they are the foundation of Canadaʼs legal system. They influence both legislators and justice officials to this day. For this reason, we cannot discuss issues such as navigation without understanding the history of thought, achievement, and struggle that came before us.

The relentless assault on Canada's Navigable Waters Protection Act turns a right into a privilege, politicizes decision-making, eliminates government accountability, and institutionalizes a system in which some organizations and individuals have greater access to our nation's waters than others.

Waterkeepers have been working to inform and educate people about the roots of navigation rights in Canada for years. You can learn more about the history of this act and the first government rollbacks in our 2009 paper, Born with a Grey Beard.

Krystyn Tully is Vice President of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper and co-creator of the Waterkeeper Swim Guide and Drink Guide apps. Learn more at www.waterkeeper.ca.

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  • The Conservative government has introduced Bill C-45, the second omnibus budget implementation bill. Here's a brief look at what's inside the 450-page document. <em>With files from CBC</em>

  • MP And Public Service Pensions

    <strong>UPDATE</strong>: <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/19/mp-pension-changes-passed-bill-c-45_n_1987522.html">MP Pensions have been hived off from the omnibus bill and passed without further debate in a surprise deal between the government and opposition parties</a>. Starting as early as January 2013, public servants and MPs will have to contribute 50 per cent of the payments into their pensions. MPs will also have to wait until age 65 to start collecting their pensions, or be penalized if they start at age 55. The precise date for MP pension changes is Jan. 1, 2016. There will be no change to the current eligibility for MP pensions of six years of service.

  • Unemployment Insurance

    The Canada Employment Insurance Financing Board will be dissolved, and an interim means of establishing premium rates set up to replace its work. The Crown Corporation is currently run by a seven-member board. This move continues employment insurance changes started with the first omnibus budget bill, as cabinet gradually receives more authority to reform EI.

  • Changes To The Indian Act

    The bill makes what could be controversial changes to the Indian Act, amending it to change the rules around what kind of meetings or referenda are required to lease or otherwise grant an interest in designated reserve lands. The aboriginal affairs minister would also be given the authority to call a band meeting or referendum for the purpose of considering an absolute surrender of the band's territory.

  • Environmental Assessment Act Tweaks

    Last spring's changes to the Environmental Assessment Act are tweaked further in this omnibus bill.

  • Hiring Tax Credit

    The bill will extend a popular small business hiring credit.

  • New Bridge To U.S.

    C-45 also facilitates the construction of a new bridge across the Detroit River at Windsor, announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper last summer. Certain legislation will be changed and other legislation won't apply to this bridge. Three federal bodies will cease to exist with the passage of this legislation.

  • Grain Act Amended

    The bill also amends the Canada Grain Act, simplifying the way it classifies grain terminals, repealing grain appeal tribunals, and ending several other requirements of the current Act, giving the Canadian Grains Commission more power to regulate the grain industry. These changes follow the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly over wheat and barley sales in Western Canada, which take effect for this year's harvest.

  • Hazardous Materials Under Health

    All the work of the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission will be transferred to the health minister.

  • Merchant Seamen Board Under Labour

    The Merchant Seamen Compensation Board will see its authority transferred to the Minister of Labour. The three-person board currently hears and decides benefit claims for merchant seamen who are injured or disabled as a result of their work and are not currently covered by provincial workers' compensation benefits.