The Commons: Like a lawfully authorized bridge over navigable waters

It is to the Macdonald government's eternal shame that it did not enact a proper FAQ in 1882

The Scene. And so the House returned to the drama, intrigue and tragedy of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Oh if only the Marquess of Lorne—John George Edward Henry Douglas Sutherland Campbell, 9th Duke of Argyll and fourth governor general of Canada—had known what he had wrought when he signed into law “an Act respecting Bridges over the navigable waters, constructed under the authority of Provincial Acts” on May 17, 1882. One wonders if he would have hesitated to put his signature on the bill if he’d known that one day its reform would be used to mercilessly mock the president of the Treasury Board.

“Mr. Speaker, members opposite must be getting dizzy from all the spin around their talking points on the Navigable Waters Protection Act,” the NDP’s Megan Leslie sighed this afternoon. “First, they claimed that the changes had nothing to do with environment. They were just reducing red tape for cottagers. However, even Conservatives knew that this law actually did have a role in environmental protection, although they did try to deny it by rewriting websites, and history.”

It is to the Macdonald government’s eternal shame that it did not enact a proper FAQ when it passed the act in 1882. So much of this month’s confusion might’ve been avoided.

“Yesterday, the finance minister changed his tune again and he said that these changes were actually about austerity,” Ms. Leslie claimed, feigning confusion. “So, what is the real answer here? Why is the government gutting environmental protection from the bill?”

Transport Minister Denis Lebel stood and, in his deliberate English, lamented for the great blight that the old bill had become over the last 130 years.

“Mr. Speaker, for years provinces and municipalities have asked us to cut the red tape associated with the Navigable Waters Protection Act,” he insisted. “The act has created a bureaucratic black hole, holding up simple projects that do not impede navigation. Under our plan only projects likely to offset navigation require approval to changes about navigation.”

Ms. Leslie now appealed though to partisan geography. “Last night the truth was exposed because these changes were actually politically driven,” she reported. “Eighty-nine per cent of the protected lakes and rivers are found in Conservative ridings, so whoever decided what bodies of water were protected sure seemed to have a riding map handy. Canadians deserve better than Conservative preferential treatment of their friends. Why are the Conservatives making environmental protection a privilege of the few?”

Mr. Lebel stood and appealed to the kind words of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. “That is about navigation,” he concluded. “We are doing the right thing.”

Jean Crowder stood and wondered why various waterways in British Columbia were no longer to be protected. What of the Cowichan? The Campbell? And the Bella Coola? Mr. Lebel stood and referred her to the kind words of the Canadian Construction Association. “We want to help the country develop projects not for small, small rivers or small places where we do not have to consider the water,” he attempted to explain.

Across the way, Thomas Mulcair laughed.

Then it was Charlie Angus’ turn, the NDP MP afforded an opportunity to taunt his old friend Tony Clement. “Of the 30,000 lakes across this great country, only 97 will be protected, almost all are in Tory ridings and 12 are in the riding of the gazebo king, the member for Parry Sound—Muskoka. He protected Lake Rosseau that is home to Hollywood millionaires. He protected Lake Joseph where a cottage will set one back a cool $5 million,” Mr. Angus sang. “I love Muskoka, but does the minister really think that exclusive lakes of millionaires are worthy of more protection than the lakes in the rest of Canada?”

Across the way, Mr. Clement grumbled at Mr. Angus, then leaned over to say something to Mr. Baird. It is apparently Mr. Clement’s fate that the G8 Legacy Fund should be his curse, so that even when he is perhaps entirely innocent—and no evidence of wrongdoing has yet been offered in this case—the gazebos will be used to imply guilt.

Mr. Lebel now appealed to objective data and analysis. “Mr. Speaker, data from the Canadian Hydrographic Service’s nautical charts, Statistics Canada data on freight movement and historical data from the Navigable Waters Protection Program was used to create the list,” he testified. “That is science talking and we will continuing working this way.”

Once more Mr. Mulcair laughed.

Mr. Angus went on and went further, off into the realm of the unfounded. “How about we pull out the clauses of the bill?” he wondered aloud. “We could set up a new bill perhaps called the Goldie Hawn Property Preservation Act. Even better, we could call it the Protecting Millionaire Buddies of the Muskoka Minister So He Can Get Re-elected Act. How about some navigation there?”

Mr. Clement shook his head, appearing rather unimpressed.

“Mr. Speaker, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities applauds the federal government for the introduction of amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act,” Mr. Lebel informed the House. “We are doing the right thing. Our transport department is working on navigation. That is what we are doing.”

Mr. Mulcair threw up his hands and laughed at the Transport Minister, now verging on giggly.

The Stats. The Navigable Waters Protection Act, seven questions. The economy, six questions. Taxation, foreign investment, immigration and ethics, three questions each. Unions, veterans, the F-35 and arts funding, two questions each. Mortgages, the budget, search-and-rescue and the aluminum industry, one question each.

Denis Lebel, seven responses. John Baird, six responses. Pierre Poilievre and Diane Finley, four responses. Ed Fast, Jason Kenney, Shelly Glover, Rona Ambrose, Paul Calandra and Steven Blaney, two responses each. Vic Toews, Tony Clement, Christian Paradis, Gail Shea and Maxime Bernier, one response each.