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Citizens, government working together protected Nottawasaga River

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Dec 12th, 2016
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Nottawasaga River -AWARE Simcoe photo

News release from AWARE Simcoe

Last week, members of AWARE Simcoe learned that a campaign they started almost four years ago has finally been successful. Liberal Transport Minister Marc Garneau has notified some local municipalities that the Nottawasaga River has been included in the small number of waterways across Canada that have federal status under the Navigation Protection Act.

“We were surprised and delighted to learn that our request has been granted by the federal government,” said AWARE Simcoe board member Kate Harries of Springwater. “This outcome was a result of cooperation between citizens and local governments — the democratic process at its best,” said Anne Learn Sharpe of AWARE Essa.

Essa, Clearview, Melancthon, Mono, Oro-Medonte, Springwater, Wasaga Beach, Collingwood and Simcoe County, as well as the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority, passed resolutions in 2014 calling on Transport Canada to add the Nottawasaga to the NPA schedule.

The change in regulation was published in the October 7, 2016 edition of the Canada Gazette. “The Nottawasaga River was overlooked as a busy recreational waterway that contributes to the regional economic interest of Simcoe and Dufferin counties,” the Gazette states. “It is an economic driver for tourism, fishing, boating, cottaging, hospitality and recreation in the region. These elements warrant its addition to the schedule.”

One other river has been added to the act – the Nass River in British Columbia. Transport Canada stated these were the only two waterways for which they received requests. “The Nass River is an important waterway for the Nisga’a for fishing (steelhead and salmon) as well as cultural and traditional activities. These elements warrant its addition to the schedule,” the Canada Gazette listing said.

“We had no idea whether the research and advocacy was yielding any result,” Harries said. “But now we find it did – so the takeaway is, always step up and never give up.”

Harries and Learn Sharpe acknowledged the work of the Nottawasaga Steelheaders and the Midhurst Ratepayers’ Association in creating awareness of the issues involved. “We worked from different perspectives, but towards a common goal,” Harries said.

The NPA, introduced in the Harper Conservatives’ October, 2012, Omnibus Bill, applied only to three oceans, 97 lakes and 62 rivers listed in a schedule. Obstructions to hundreds of thousands of ‘unscheduled’ waterways – large docks, materials dumped, poor construction of dams or bridges, inadequate signage – would have to be addressed by citizens going to court themselves to defend their common law rights to unimpeded navigation.

Under previous legislation dating back to 1882, unimpeded access to any waterway on which people could travel was protected by the federal government. “We felt outraged that our beloved Nottawasaga was not included on the list,” said Harries. “Outraged for the other excluded lakes and rivers, too. But we decided to take responsibility for our river.”

The act does provide for the addition of other waterways if it is in the national or regional economic interest; in the public interest; or is requested by a local authority. So Harries and Learn Sharpe set to work to do the research and make the case. In February, 2013, a petition was set up. Heartfelt comments were posted, from within the watershed and from afar, all from people who treasure their association with the ‘Notty.’

Then, not much happened. “We really didn’t know what to do to get the Harper government or Transport Canada officials to take note of our petition,” Harries recalled. Throughout 2013, many emails and phone calls went unanswered. Attempts to meet with Conservative Simcoe-Grey MP Kellie Leitch were unsuccessful.

“We wanted to explain the petition to her, and get her help in providing a way in which we could at least make our case in Ottawa,” Learn Sharpe said. Leitch was not available. But finally, an appointment was set up at her Collingwood constituency office for October 18, 2013. “We put together a comprehensive package of information for her,” said Harries. “But her office cancelled at the last minute.”

A new approach was needed. Singer-songwriter Ian Reid allowed his song Riverside to be used in a YouTube posting to promote the cause. And Harries and Learn Sharpe prepared to make presentations about the river and the Navigation Protection Act to a number of watershed municipalities, with information packages sent to all those they didn’t get to by May, 2014.

The first presentation was to Essa Township Council, which passed a resolution that became a model to be proposed to other municipalities. “Our reception in Essa was so encouraging,” Harries said. “It gave us faith that we were on the right track.”

Next stop, Clearview. Council instructed then planning director Michael Wynia to report on the issue. It took a few weeks, “but when we got the Clearview report, it extended the factual basis for our position,” Learn Sharpe said.

The key presentation was to the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority board of directors, in February, 2014. A month later, the NVCA board voted in favour of asking the federal government to add the Nottawasaga to the waterways regulated under the act.

And there matters rested, with people continuing to sign the petition. The final tally was 614.

In the 2015 election campaign, AWARE Simcoe emailed all party leaders asking for their position and received no substantive response. Local opposition candidates responded positively. MP Leitch met some AWARE Simcoe members while canvassing and assured them that the failure to meet was an office glitch and promised this would be rectified, a promise re-iterated at an all-candidates’ meeting in Wasaga Beach. But she never responded to an email sent after the election.

Following the election, AWARE Simcoe wrote to Transport Minister Marc Garneau to ask once again for federal status for the Nottawasaga River. He replied, advising that a review of the NPA was one of his priorities. garneau-npa-letter.  And we heard nothing more until a local news report referenced this letter in the Clearview Township Council agenda. garneau-10-5_minister_of_transport_revised The wheels of government had been turning, we discovered, exceedingly slowly. And, for the Nottawasaga and Nass rivers, to good effect. Canada now has three oceans, 97 lakes and 64 rivers listed for federal protection. “Which is a ridiculously low number,” Harries said, “but we’re glad our river is on that list.”

Link to Riverside 

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