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N.W.T. MP wades into Peel debate

Dennis Bevington, MP for Western Arctic, has called on the federal government to put the Peel River back under the Navigation Protection Act.

Dennis Bevington, MP for Western Arctic, has called on the federal government to put the Peel River back under the Navigation Protection Act.

That act used to be called the Navigable Waters Protection Act, before the federal government made sweeping changes to it as part of the C-45 omnibus bill in 2012.

While the act previously covered all bodies of water in Canada that could be considered navigable, the government has added a list of applicable waters, exempting all others.

Just 67 rivers across Canada made the cut, said Bevington. The Peel was not among them.

“After consulting with people in the Mackenzie Delta and in Whitehorse I knew there was a need to undo the Conservative mistake of removing protection from the Peel. By removing the Peel from protection, the Conservatives gave a green light to any construction on the river without any review or licence required from the federal government.”

But the act was never intended as a measure of environmental protection, said Yukon MP Ryan Leef.

“The navigable waters act is purely, and has always been, an act designed to deal with obstructions to navigation in respect to particular classes of vehicles. It never was, nor is, a body of legislation designed to protect the environment, habitat or water in a lake or river system. He is misleading Canadians, as the Opposition has done on this issue, that somehow not having certain rivers or lakes listed under this act is an environmental issue. It’s not.”

The act, originally from the 19th century, called for federal assessments when a development project could interfere with someone’s right to navigate on the river, he said.

But the act had been adding months or years of delays to projects that clearly would have no impact on navigation, said Leef.

“It got to the point where projects and important community infrastructure investments were being obstructed because it was starting to be applied to small streams, small waterways, creeks, flooded ditches, anything that you could essentially float a canoe on, would trigger an assessment under the navigable waters act.”

There are other mechanisms designed to deal with environmental protection, such as the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board, said Leef.

While the intention of the act was never to protect the environment, it does offer a measure of de facto protection simply by adding another bureaucratic hurdle to any development on a body of water covered under the act.

Bevington picked the Peel because of the current political controversy surrounding it, he said.

“This bill that I’m putting forward is to try to bring attention to the fact that the Peel River is not being recognized.”

The Peel crosses the border from the Yukon into the N.W.T.

The debate over its protection is most heated in Yukon, where the territorial government is working to finalize a land use plan for the region, but a number of downstream N.W.T. communities are directly affected as well.

Leef said that Bevington should respect the jurisdictions of the territories over their land and water.

Bevington said that there must be federal oversight for bodies of water that cross borders.

“By tossing it into the hands of the provinces and territories, it may create divisive action between the two.”

But existing environmental review processes take inter-jurisdictional issues into account already, said Leef. The navigation act is simply not intended or designed to fill that purpose, he said.

“At the end of the day, it’s just a poor effort at scoring cheap political points, and along with that he’s attempting to mislead Canadians.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at