Sometimes, a government decision seems to come completely out of the blue, and much to the chagrin of some of us cynics, actually turns out to be a wise decision.
It doesn’t happen often, so it needs to be applauded — I refer to the recent federal government decision to change the Navigable Waters Act to the Navigation Act.
To most city folks, this was probably the first time they had even heard of such legislation and if opposition party agitators were to be believed, even the thought of changing the act was sure to bring down upon Canada an environmental Armageddon.
The innocent voter might ponder — what has navigable water have to do with the environment. If only they had read some of my past columns on the subject.
Municipalities, provincial government agencies and anyone owning property that borders on water would surely sooner or later have been made aware of that much perverted piece of federal legislation. Those that had to deal with the watchdogs of the regulations attached to the act would surely have some pointed perspectives on their experiences with government busybody bureaucratic madness.
But, first, a bit of history — the original legislation dates back to the 1880s and its intent was to protect navigation on the lakes and rivers in Canada.
It was designed to have federal government oversight on provincial government schemes to dam rivers that might impede navigation or affect river flows downstream in other provinces. It was never designed to deal with environmental issues — considering, back then, no one even knew what the word meant.
Luckily for Alberta, it also did not interfere with the development of irrigation. However, over the ensuing years — particularly the past 40 years, all of that changed.
In a previous column, I told the story of the expansion of the federal department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) into jurisdictions where they had no original role. But they quietly built up offices on the Prairies and filled them with bureaucrats looking for something to do.
One of the pieces of legislation they used to expand their empire was the iconic 1880s Navigable Waters Act. What clever senior deputies did was to attach new regulations to the act that were rubber-stamped by gullible and at-time duplicitous federal politicians.
It didn’t take much prodding to get the Liberal governments of the day to inflict some political mischief on those recalcitrant voters on the Prairies who had the bad habit of always voting against them.
The new rules interpreted the act to define navigable waters as anything that could float a canoe.
In addition, new rules required the DFO to approve any action that might affect such navigation, including adverse environmental impacts.
It was the carte blanche to get the DFO involved in anything that affected water, including road culverts, cottage boating docks and diversions for irrigation, amongst other activities.
Previous to that, municipalities and provincial government regulators had quietly and competently handled those matters.
It’s been stated that if the now-defunct regulations had been enforced 100 years ago, there would be no irrigation industry in southern Alberta.
Most folks don’t realize that the main reason the infamous “road of death” to Fort McMurray has not already been twinned was the mindless interference by DFO demanding endless environmental assessment every inch of the way.
To date, literally tens of millions has spent to satisfy those never-ending demands.
Well, it seems the glory days of the DFO might well be over if the original enabling legislation is changed. The biggest losers will be the busloads of private environmental consulting companies who were hired by municipalities to create the endless environmental assessments to satisfy DFO busybodies.
One might ponder — will environmental impacts be ignored? Not likely — provinces have been mixed up with assessments of their own for years. All this does is eliminate a level of duplication, but it will save millions.
But don’t count the DFO outposts on the Prairies out yet — federal bureaucrats are remarkably adaptable and are ingenious at circumventing actions they don’t like. They may lie low, but I expect they will institute a medium-term survival plan to wait out the time until a more friendly government is elected.