In the late nineteenth century, Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir john A Macdonald, and his government passed legislation protecting our right to unimpeded navigation of our lakes and rivers. Any body of water deep enough to float a canoe needed federal approval for any change that could affect navigation: dams, pipelines, bridges, docks, and certainly diversions, had to have government permission.
In 2012, Stephen Harper 's government gutted that environmental protection, leaving more than 98 per cent of our rivers and lakes at the mercy of industrial interests. Now, it will be harder for residents and environmental activists to fight proposals for development because approval will rest with several different levels of government, if needed at all.
Canada has gone from 2.5 million protected lakes and rivers to just 159 with the stroke of a pen. This is in keeping with Harper's disdain for environmental science: laying off researchers and closing libraries and facilities that disseminate knowledge will mask much of the havoc he is wreaking on our land and natural resources.
The three oceans surrounding our coast, the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans, will still need federal approval for development, as do some of our main waterways: the St Lawrence, Athabaska, Bow, Columbia, Fraser, Kootenay, Peace, Thompson, Assiniboine, Red, Mackenzie, French, Humber, Saguenay, and Saskatchewan rivers, amongst others. But it is hard to understand some of the decisions: why are Lakes Rosseau, Joseph, and Lovesick more valuable than Canoe, Smoke, or Oxtongue, for example? Is it the property values of the cottages surrounding them?
Lake Huron is ostensibly protected, and presumably diversion of its water into the St Clair River will be as illegal as ever, but we do have to wonder why it is that they are still planning to bury nuclear waste in its water table?
Finally, as every Canadian paddler knows, every lake has a government dock that guarantees access to the water. Once lakes are no longer protected, will this leave them open to privatisation? Americans can tell us of the discomforts of "private" or "sports" lakes, where jet skiiers and fishermen battle it out for supremacy, often at the expense of the local environment and wildlife. One expat joked that if a puddle exists in USA for longer than one week, people will call it a "private lake," block public access, and start building homes around it!
We don't yet know what the overall effect of wrecking this long-standing legislation will be. Lac Mousseau, site of the Canadian Prime Minister's summer residence, is not on the list for protection. Perhaps someone would like to divert its water to one of the 49 First Nations currently living without drinking water?