OTTAWA -- The federal NDP marked Earth Day Monday by introducing 10 different bills to try to get 27 waterways back on the list of federally protected lakes and rivers.
Ten MPs, including Manitoba's Niki Ashton, introduced private member's bills seeing to put what they call "heritage" rivers back into the Navigation Protection Act.
"It is a concerted effort across the country, also on Earth Day, to point out the extent to which the Harper government has gone to deregulate and take us back on environmental protection," Ashton told the Free Press.
Last fall, in one of its two omnibus budget bills, the government moved to limit the reach of the Navigable Waters Protection Act to fewer than 200 lakes and rivers, down from thousands. It also changed the law's name to the Navigation Protection Act.
Since 1906, a Supreme Court ruling had dictated any waterway in Canada big enough to float a canoe was protected by the act. It meant any proposed development on these waterways had to undergo a review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
The government signalled it would change that last fall so only major projects on the major waterways specifically listed in the act receive an assessment.
The government defended the changes, saying municipalities asked for them for years, as the act held up important projects for no good reason.
In question period Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeated that claim.
"In fact, there was no effective protection, and 98 per cent of all projects were approved, but only after long delays and unnecessary bureaucracy," Harper said. "This government is making sure we focus our actions on real environmental needs while not blocking projects that are needed by Canadian municipalities."
In Manitoba, the list of waterways in the act was reduced to just the six biggest -- Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipegosis, and the Red, Assiniboine and Winnipeg Rivers.
Ashton's bill would have the Bloodvein, Churchill, Seal and Hayes rivers in Manitoba also protected under the new act.
"These rivers are important to us," she said. "We depend on them for fishing, for trapping, for tourism."
Ashton acknowledged her bill and most of the others aren't likely to come up for debate for a long time, but the introduction of the 10 bills still plays a role in the conversation.
"We're raising awareness and signalling that we're not going to stand for this," she said.