Omnibus bill changes anger water keepers

Keepers of waterways in Canada say changes in the omnibus budget bill mean companies from other countries will be able to use lakes and rivers without asking the federal government.

Number of protected waterways would be limited to 3 oceans, 97 lakes, 62 rivers

Those who monitor waterways in Ottawa and across Ontario are upset changes stated in part two of the federal government's proposed omnibus budget bill do not protect navigable bodies of water in Canada.

The proposed legislation, tabled in the House of Commons Thursday, includes a change to the 130-year-old Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Ottawa River keeper Meredith Brown says she believes foreign industry is more protected than Canada's waterways with the updates to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. (Kate Porter/CBC)

That act currently protects every waterway in Canada, but changes in the omnibus bill mean three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers will fall under federal protection if the new legislation is passed.

Mark Mattson, president and water keeper for Ontario’s lakes, believes the government is choosing the rights of industry over the rights of outdoor enthusiasts, such as rowers and paddlers.

"It won't be protecting our ability to travel on water. It'll be protecting the ability for ships and shipping to use the water for navigation," Mattson told CBC Ottawa's Kate Porter.

"We're going to lose our right to travel on our waters in Canada and we're not going to know when those navigable routes are taken away."

Getting rid of 'red tape'

Transport Minister Denis Lebel explained the changes by saying the federal government is ridding itself of "red tape," adding the "most basic footbridges over small streams" require paperwork.

Water keepers disagree, citing large bodies of water such as the Gatineau River, which flows past Wakefield, Que., into the Ottawa River.

While both the Ottawa River and Rideau River made the government's list of protected waterways, the Gatineau River did not.

Ottawa River keeper Meredith Brown said she believes the act has been invaluable in triggering environmental assessments of waterways.

"As communities, we need to be a lot more vigilant in terms of what's being proposed on our river," Brown said.

Brown said she believes the amendments are covering developers' rights, not protecting waterways.