MP’s Report

MP Jean Crowder discusses the Cowichan River and new legislation that might affect it.

The weather this summer was amazing – warm and dry. It was the perfect summer for going to the beach, hanging out at the park or working in your garden.

But it was a terrible summer for the Cowichan River.

Everyone knows that water flow levels have dropped to dangerous levels throughout the summer.

Without significant rainfall to increase the river level, the Crofton Mill may have to temporarily close.

And salmon are starting to return to the river, prompting concerns the levels may be too low for them to get to prime spawning areas.

While there are many reasons, both technological and meteorological, for why the Cowichan River is in danger, another reason is political.

Over the summer, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation released a report charging that “Canada is failing to effectively enforce” rules to keep our fresh water safe.

Since 2011 the Conservatives have changed decades-old legislation, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, taking out the protections for our waterways and environment.

Under their management, only 159 lakes are protected, down from 2.5 million.

There are even fewer rivers, and the Cowichan River, a designated Heritage River, is not one of them.

I introduced a Bill in the House to return protection to the Cowichan River by re-inserting it in the re-named Navigable Waters Act.

I emphasized that the Fisheries Act only considered current damage – people can be fined for killing fish or dumping some material that degrades habitat.

But it doesn’t consider future damage, like that caused by long-term weather patterns. And that is why the Navigable Waters [Protection] Act is so important. Under that legislation, a full environmental assessment can be ordered when an alteration to a river is contemplated. And an environmental assessment can consider future damage or even future conditions.

We need policy options that make it easier for communities to work together to protect the waters that sustain their farms, livelihoods and environment. Not one-sided legislation designed to make it easier for resource companies to get major projects approved.