If Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen gets his way, the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers will once again find themselves protected under the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Last week, Cullen, NDP House Leader, introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons proposing the protection of the full lengths of the Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers.
“I have submitted a bill demanding these internationally significant salmon-bearing rivers in our riding be fully protected under the NWPA,” Cullen said last Tuesday at a press conference in Prince Rupert’s Rotary Waterfront Park.
“These riversare incredibly important, they’re a big part of our history, but also a big part of our future,” Cullen said.
“Our rivers, lakes and ocean are key to who we are as people of the Northwest.
“They define us culturally and economically.”
Currently, only portions of the three rivers, originating in the area known as The Sacred Headwaters in north-central B.C., are protected under the NWPA.
“We will not allow a misguided Conservative government to destroy our lives and livelihoods by turning a water protection act into a pipeline protection act.”
Cullen’s initiative is seen as a positive step by local conservation groups.
“Way to go Nathan,” was Skeena Watershed Conservation executive director, Shannon McPhail’s, initial reaction to the news.
“It just doesn’t make sense that these incredibly important rivers that bring tens of millions of dollars to our economy should have ever been excluded from the Act.”
Cullen said the idea for the Private Member’s Bill had been in the works since the Conservative government stripped protection from 99 per cent of lakes, rivers and streams when it introduced Omnibus Bill C45 last October.
Discussions with voters and MPs of all stripes convinced Cullen he was not alone in his opposition to the NWPA.
“None of the Conservative backbenchers saw this [changes to NWPA] coming, this was popped on them, all of this just to enable the [Northern Gateway] pipeline,” Cullen said.
Given the potential environmental impacts the pipeline could have on local habitats, Rick Budhwa, research program manager with the Bulkley Valley Research Centre saw Cullen’s bill as an important step.
“When our waterways are protected, it gives the opportunity for thorough research and sober second thought before any projects are approved that could harm our salmon-bearing rivers,” Budhwa said.
“Northwest B.C. has an abundance of intact ecosystems and we welcome any legislation that contributes to their sustainability.”
Nonetheless Cullen admitted the uphill battle to get a Private Member’s Bill passed is steep at best, but was optimistic it would gain momentum over the summer as Canadians across the country learned more about the potential impact of leaving most of Canada’s waterways unprotected.
“Private Member’s Bills really face an uphill battle in the House of Commons, but this initiative could tip the hand of the government back,” Cullen said.
“Over the course of the summer we’ll be going door-to-door, farmers’ markets, on the docks, everywhere to gather names of peoplewho want to see this thing reversed,” Cullen said.
“Ideally the government picks this up [petition] and realizes they went too far,” Cullen said.
Cullen encourages constituents to log onto www.nathancullen.com/rivers to highlight other rivers and lakes meaningful to them for inclusion in a companion Private Member’s Bill he would introduce in the fall.
“What I think is going to happen is we’ll find all kinds of stories of powerful memories people have about rivers and lakes and just how strong our passion is for lakes and rivers,” Cullen said.
“It’s not a bad thing to be reminded that these things [waterways] matter.”