Still trying to explain the changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act

Conservative Party candidate Denis Lebel celebrates with cabinet minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn, right, as he enters his campaign headquarters after he was elected in a byelection Monday, Sept.17, 2007 in Roberval, Que.. (CP PHOTO/Jacques Boissinot) CANADA

On Tuesday, Denis Lebel ventured that all of the provinces had been consulted about C-45’s changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act and that none of the provinces had any concerns. But it seems the Nova Scotia government, having received a letter from Mr. Lebel three days before the bill was tabled, are still working on their response.

A provincial spokeswoman said the province received a letter from Lebel on Oct. 15, three days before the bill went through first reading in the House of Commons. Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal Minister Maurice Smith wrote back to his federal colleague on Nov. 2, saying he would respond to the proposed changes, said spokeswoman Lori Errington. By that point, the bill had passed second reading in the House and was sent to the finance committee for study. The committee passed it with no amendments.

The province still had not responded as of Wednesday, when the House passed the bill for the third and final time. “We’re working on a response from the province, which has taken time because the Act is complex and affects four departments. We’re expecting to send it soon,” Errington said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the New Democrats quibble with Mr. Lebel’s explanation of what constitutes a navigable waterway.

This follows the government side’s attempt to explain where changes to the act were referenced in the spring budget and the disappearing FAQ. The Conservative argument that the act has nothing to do with the environment is also problematic.

Update 4:37pm. In a statement, Mr. Lebel dismisses the suggestion that the government of Nova Scotia was not informed until October 15.

The Harper Government continues to deliver on our budget commitment to reduce red tape and create jobs. The streamlined Navigation Protection Act will cut red tape that has held up provincial and municipal infrastructure projects like bridge construction and repairs.

The claim that Nova Scotia was not consulted well in advance is completely false. Throughout the summer, all provinces and territories were consulted. On July 5 Transport Canada met with 10 senior officials from Nova Scotia’s departments of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Fisheries and Aquaculture, and Natural Resources and there was more follow-up on August 29 and September 13. The Minister’s office was engaged on July 10 and contacted again on September 11. Officials did not express objections or propose any additions to the list of waterways.

My October 15 letter to the Minister Smith referenced these consultations. As well, I discussed the principles for reforming the Act with my colleagues at a Federal-Provincial-Territorial Council of Ministers, shortly before the bill was introduced. The new approach to navigation law will reduce the backlog of applications and ensure that provincial and municipal infrastructure projects can proceed more quickly.