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Welcome to the new autocracy of Canada, an autocracy being defined by Merriam Webster as government “in which one person possesses unlimited power”. Our autocracy only differs from a pure autocracy because every few years the public gets to choose which potential autocrat to give all the power to. In fact we in BC have two autocrats set in authority over us – The Right Honourable Stephen Harper and the Honourable Gordon Campbell. Both of these autocrats subscribe to the theory that the more humungous private companies doing their thing on our rivers, the better. They also believe in avoiding all contact with the public – after all, they might not like it and stir up a terrible fuss although the Autocrats  must  know that they’re safe because their tame media can be counted upon to be silent.

Harper has employed parliamentary trickery by including changes to The Navigable Waters Protection Act in the Budget Bill making the amendments of the Act a matter of confidence so that the only way so The Commons can defeat the amendments is to defeat the government. The Senate, if it had had any backbone, could have severed the Amendments to the Act but the parliamentary poodles forbore doing so.

Let’s look at what the Navigable Waters Protection Act was designed to do and what the amendments will do.

Back in 1882 the federal parliament passed the Navigable Waters Protection Act which, was “designed to protect the public right of navigation in Canadian waters, as defined by the law, by prohibiting the building, placing or maintaining of any work whatsoever in, on, over, under, through or across any such navigable water, without the authorization of the Minister of Fisheries and Ocean Canada. The expression « navigable water » designates any body of water capable, in its natural state, of being navigated by any type of floating vessel for the purpose of transportation, recreation or commerce and includes a canal and any other body of water created or altered for the benefit of the public, as a result of the waterway assigned for public use. The public right of navigation also includes the use of both pleasure craft and commercial ships as well as all other types of boats.

Now Autocrat Harper wants to amend this act, because, he says, the Act is out of date.

How the hell can an act be “out of date” unless it’s been overtaken by new circumstances? In fact, the old act is more a propos now than ever before. So indeed is the Magna Carta upon which the right to navigation was based.

The changes that disembowel the old act are

1. The removal of the four named works (bridges, causeways, dams, and booms) as obstructions to navigation

2. Giving the Minister of Transportation the power to create “classes of works” and “classes of navigable waters” – i.e.: separating them into “major” and “minor” categories. It’s noteworthy that the Minister in charge of the Act until now has been the minister of Fisheries and Oceans and it seems obvious that the change is more than merely cosmetic

3. Giving the Minister sole discretion in determining what constitutes “significant interference with navigation”

In essence this eliminates environmental assessments in most cases, as the matter moves from environmental protection to a matter of who has made wise political investments. It effectively permits the minister to do what he wishes. (it should be noted that estimates of Canada’s supply of fresh water vary Depending on whether we mean all fresh water or just from lakes. In total we have about 20% of the world’s supply and we live next to a thirstier and thirstier country which would vastly prefer importing our water than using their own.)

Enter, stage RIGHT, Autocrat Campbell. His energy policy uses water and it’s a considerable nuisance when kayakers and their ilk use these rivers then claim that they are navigable rivers so that their use of them brings the rivers under the protection of the 1882 Act. Wouldn’t it be nice and convenient for Autocrat C to call up Autocrat H and get him to name the rivers that Autocat C needs for private energy production? What Campbell worries about is definition of Navigable Waters in the old act, which, God forbid, actually gives people, ordinary people the right to use navigable waters! After the amendment passes, that right will be subject to the Minister of Transportation without any hearing or debate.

What if some or even all of the BC rivers coveted by private energy companies were in fact within the definition and needed a federal permit? Can’t have that, you know! My God! This brings the rabble into the deal chanting for their rights going back to 1215 when John “The Bad” gave them those rights, the ones Autocrat Harper and Autocrat Campbell want taken away from them.

In short, gentle reader(s) I smell a rat. I see two governments bound and determined to see our water in the form of energy or in bulk going to the US and my sensitive proboscis tells me that as happened with fish farms the federal government doesn’t want any part of environmental protection of BC rivers.

What is the logical conclusion?

The Autocrat Campbell gets rid of a federal nuisance leaving him in charge of environmental assessment which he can waive or, forgive the pun, “water down” to suit his private power pals and political donors.

Let’s see then where we stand: Our autocrat C says we need power, when we clearly do not and fiddles the figures to make that seem the case*, says BC Hydro can’t make that power we don’t need, gives the job to friends in the business world, forces BC Hydro to give them fat contracts for power which can only be created in the Spring thaw when BC Hydro doesn’t need any power meaning that this private power is obviously intended for export. Now, because he doesn’t want the public to make nuisances of themselves, he has his federal government remove all obstacles to companies like General Electric that want to rape our rivers as their need and greed arises.

We British Columbians can do something about this on May 12 when Autocrat C and his party face an election. We will learn that day just how much we care for our rivers and the outdoors in general.

*The government says we have been net importers of energy for 7 out of the last 11 years. The real figures from the National Energy Board show we are net exporters of energy for 8 of the last 11 years. The Campbell governnment includes power imported from Alberta and immediately “flipped” to the US, power that was never intended for domestic consumption.

This article is published on TheTyee.ca

2 Responses to “The new autocracy of Canada”

  1. ROL Admin says:

    What can we do on May 12th, BC election day?

  2. Dave Owen says:

    Last week John Duncan (Conservative, Vancouver Island North) said that the federal government altered the Navigable Waters Act in order to ensure that the flow of money from the economic relief plan wasn’t improperly held up through of a misuse of the Act. He made it seem like a no risk thing to do by saying that there were two levels of government (Federal and Provincial) that legislate the protection of Canada’s waters, and since the Federal legislation overlapped the Provincial legislation, they simply altered the act to effectively remove the underhanded way the opposition was using to hold up the flow of economic recovery monies. He didn’t actually say the Provincial legislation did the same job as the Federal, he just eluded to it, shrugged his shoulders, wobbled his head back and forth. I didn’t know what to think, but I had that feeling I get when I’m being played for an uninformed fool.

    With the BC Liberals’ bent for sweatheart deals crafted in secret that benefit a select crowd, this cannot be good for BC. It’s probably VERY good for Gordy’s business buddies, but for the rest of us… not so much. I can’t help thinking… the US wants our water. What easier way to get their hands on it than under the guise of BC’s private river power plans, along with a helpful little nudge by way of watering down of the Navigable Waters Act (pardon the pun).

    I can’t help but fear that we’re already on an unavoidable collision course with disaster over Canadian waters. The US wants our water, and the first spigot to be sold is right here in BC. Gordy’s got buddies, and some of them seem pretty nasty and sneaky to me.

    Canadian waters are for all Canadians. Canadian waters are not for sale, at any price. Sneaky politicians can be bought though.

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