Cannan: Smoother sailing on Canada’s navigable waters

Feds change the rules when it comes to governing navigable waters in Canada.

Iwould like to share information with Capital News readers regarding the changes proposed to the Navigable Waters Protection Act in Bill C-45.

As a Kelowna city councillor for nine years, I can tell you that these changes have been a long time coming and are   welcomed by local governments across the country, lessening their frustrations due to delays and cost overruns.

As a news release issued by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in support of the legislation noted: “Municipal leaders have consistently called for common sense reforms in Ottawa that deliver better results for Canadians.

“We look forward to working with the federal government to turn the reforms announced today into a strong, sensible action plan that strengthens our communities, and protects our waterways and the environment.”

The changes are based not only on recommendations from local governments but also on recommendations from a 2008 report by the all-party Standing Committee on Transport, which held consultations with the public to determine how best to proceed with the modernization of the Act, taking into consideration economic and environmental concerns by the public, local and provincial governments.

Already in 2009, changes were made to the Act, introducing the implementation of the Minor Works and Waters (NWPA) Order.

This order enabled low risk works, such as foot bridges across streams and culverts in ditches, to be pre-approved under the Act.

As the government has pointed out, the Navigable Waters 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.

The Act’s main purpose was then, and is still, to facilitate trade and commerce by balancing the efficient movement of maritime traffic with the need to construct works (e.g. bridges) that might obstruct navigation, in order to encourage economic development.

Over time however, the scope and application of the Act has significantly expanded.

Today, the Act applies to all waters in Canada that can float a canoe including ditches, brooks, streams and fields temporarily flooded in spring.

The volume of applications for approval is so large that there are inevitable backlogs, delaying essential infrastructure projects by months and even years.

In line with the federal government’s commitment to returning to streamlining the regulatory process and encouraging long-term economic growth and job creation, the proposed amendments to the Act not only ushers in a risk-based approach to the regulation of works and obstruction and builds on the 2009 amendments, but seizes the opportunity to create a modern, robust, and flexible legislative scheme that is effectively responsive to the needs of Canada in the future.

They refocus the scope and application of the legislation to better balance the efficient movement of marine traffic with the need to construct works, such as bridges, wharfs and transmission lines.

The proposed amendments to the Act will:

• create a modern risk based regulatory regime;

• clearly define the major waterways upon which regulatory approval is required prior to the placement or construction of a work and relies on the common law to protect navigation in non-listed waterways;

• expand the minor works first introduced in 2009, allowing even more low risk works (such as docks and boathouses) to be pre-approved because they pose very little impact on safe navigation;

• allow proponents of works in unlisted waters (such as municipalities, provinces and other builders) to opt-in and seek approval of their proposed work to give them additional legal certainty; and

• change the name to the Navigation Protection Act to reflect the Act’s historic intent.

The list of major water waterways is focused.

Those placed on the list support busy commercial or recreational activity, are accessible by ports and marinas, and are often close to heavily populated areas.

Nautical charts compiled by the Canadian Hydrographic Services, reliance on historical data from the Navigable Waters Protection Program as well as Statistics Canada numbers related to freight movement on Canadian waterways were used to compile the list.

Under our common law tradition, we have consistently protected navigation in Canada’s waterways, and we will continue to do so in both listed and unlisted waters.

I can assure constituents that under this modernized Act, Canadian waters will continue to be protected by Transport Canada’s marine safety laws, the Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 and various provincial statutes.

Should you have any questions regarding this issue or any other federally-related matter, please do not hesitate to contact my office via email to or call 250-470-5075.


In my last column, there was an incorrect factual reference which said the federal trade minister was responsible for the Investment Canada Act, when in fact it is the federal industry minister.

Ron Cannan is the Conservative MP for Kelowna-Lake Country.


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