Thank you, Madam Chair.
Madam Chair and honourable members, I am pleased to meet with the committee today to talk about Bill C-69, an act to enact the Impact Assessment Act.
Canada is fortunate to be surrounded on three coasts by the Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic Oceans, and is also home to countless lakes and rivers. I have had the pleasure of travelling coast to coast to coast to see these waters first-hand, and the special pleasure of being able to see the vast network of lakes, rivers, canals, and oceans that form our great nation from space. I can tell you that even from space, you can clearly see that lakes, rivers, and other water bodies are a key element of our transportation network.
I have also had the pleasure of hearing from Canadians about their passion for boating, be it in their canoes, kayaks, sailboats, motorboats, or larger vessels.
There can be no doubt that Canada relies on all of its navigable waters for recreational use and for the movement of goods and services. Indigenous peoples also exercise their rights in these waters.
Canadians want to ensure that navigation on these waterways can be protected now and in the future, including on our heritage and longest wild and free-flowing rivers. They expect that their public right of navigation is being protected.
When I was appointed Minister of Transport in 2015, the Prime Minister gave me the mandate to review the Navigation Protection Act with a view to restoring lost protections and incorporating modern safeguards. After an extensive review and consultation process, we are now proposing to amend the Navigation Protection Act and create the new Canadian navigable waters act to fulfill this commitment and better protect the right to travel on all navigable waters in Canada.
The new Canadian navigable waters act is the product of more than 14 months of consulting with Canadians, which began with a study of the previous government's changes by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Madam Chair, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the standing committee for the time it dedicated to this study and for its recommendations. The standing committee's work provided a solid foundation for the new Canadian navigable waters act.
The proposed Canadian navigable waters act was also informed by the views of indigenous peoples, provinces and territories, industry, recreational and environmental groups, and the general public. Waterway users have told us clearly that they want oversight on all navigable waters in Canada, more transparency and clarity around processes and decisions, greater partnership opportunities for indigenous peoples in administering navigation protections, and observance of the need for processes to remain efficient and predictable.
The proposed Canadian navigable waters act addresses these concerns. The act will contain a new requirement for approval of major works that significantly impact navigation on all navigable waters, such as large dams or other works, and authority for the Minister of Transport to regulate obstructions on all navigable waters.
Madam Chair, the government is committed to open, accessible and transparent processes. It is a question of public trust.
The Canadian Navigable Waters Act would provide better rules that will deliver greater transparency about proposed projects that could affect navigation, to make it easier for Canadians to have a say in projects that concern them.
We recognize that, to participate in decisions, Canadians need to know about projects before they are built. The Canadian Navigable Waters Act would require that project proponents notify and engage with potentially affected communities and waterway users before construction of a project takes place on any navigable water.
Should this early engagement leave unresolved navigation-related concerns for works, the government would now have the ability to review these concerns and require the proponent to seek an authorization if appropriate. This new resolution process would give Canadians a better and more modern way to raise navigation concerns for a project proposed in any navigable lake or river in a more efficient, timely, and modern manner.
The act would also require that the department establish a new public registry to house project information and information on decisions. This would help communities stay informed, participate in decision-making processes, and access information over the long term.
The Canadian Navigable Waters Act also provides for an improved, more inclusive schedule, allowing a layer of extra oversight to be provided for navigable waters where it is needed most, including those of particular importance to Canadians and indigenous people.
I must recognize the critical role the navigable waters have in supporting the indigenous peoples of Canada and their ability to exercise their rights. We have heard that water is critical to their way of life, and the Canadian navigable waters act has been proposed to further our goals for reconciliation in a number of ways, but most importantly, to facilitate partnerships between Canada and indigenous peoples in administering the proposed act within their traditional territories.
The proposed act supports a strengthened relationship with indigenous peoples based on recognition of rights, respect, co-operation, and partnership that is responsive to indigenous peoples and that aims to secure their free, prior, and informed consent. The act would require consideration of and protection of indigenous traditional knowledge and the consideration of any adverse effects that decisions may have on indigenous rights.
We also recognize that stronger navigation protections are only of value to Canadians if they can be robustly enforced. That is why the Canadian Navigable Waters Act would include new modern enforcement powers and stronger penalties.
Madam Chair, the proposed Canadian Navigable Waters Act is an important element of the proposed new impact assessment system that will protect our environment, our fish, and our waterways, while rebuilding public trust and respecting indigenous rights. This new system will require a rigorous assessment of a full range of impacts for projects that have the potential to pose a significant risk to the environment in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Furthermore, the proposed changes to the Fisheries Act will restore protection measures for all fish and fish habitats and create new fisheries management tools to enhance the protection of species and ecosystems. This broad new system will consider a whole range of potential impacts for any project designated for review—not just on the environment, but also on communities, health, indigenous peoples, and jobs. Decisions under the Canadian Navigable Waters Act will be fully integrated into this new impact assessment system.
To sum up, this proposed legislation will provide navigation protection for all navigable waters as a significant contribution to the new impact assessment system. It will also create more accessible and transparent processes, making it easier for indigenous peoples and the public to engage in projects that affect their communities and to resolve navigation issues of concern to them. Our navigable waters are the common heritage of all Canadians, and the right to travel on them must be protected. The proposed new Canadian navigable waters act will do this.