This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to Content

S-12: Personal Watercraft Bill

Honourable senators, I would like to take this opportunity to commend Senator Spivak for her commitment to the environment and to navigation safety. While I share most of the concern conveyed by the senator on this issue, I cannot support Bill S-12 for many reasons.

The main reason I oppose this bill is that I believe it overlaps with current legislation regarding existing boating regulations. Furthermore, Bill S-12, if it becomes law, does not provide an open forum for democratic consultation, bypassing municipal and provincial authorities.

On the first issue, after carefully studying this bill, it has come to my knowledge that federal legislation currently exists regarding the utilization of boats on our waters. The Canada Shipping Act provides the statutory authority to restrict boating activities for motives of general public safety and the protection of the marine environment.

Under this legislation, the government was able to impose boating restrictions throughout Canada. It is important to note that the government uses the Boating Restriction Regulations to control boating by all watercraft, including personal watercraft, by regulating their access and speed to ensure public and environmental safety. These regulations cover all aspects of boating by all watercraft throughout Canada. They include a mechanism to restrict or even prohibit the use of all motor boats, including personal watercraft, on Canadian waterways.

Bill S-12 includes a mechanism allowing the minister to approve a resolution restricting the use of certain waterways.

Here is an example of duplication and redundancy. Subsection 8.1 of the Boating Restriction Regulations under the Canada Shipping Act states that:

Where a designated authority or a designated provincial authority seeks, in respect of certain waters, the imposition of a restriction on navigation that is of the same nature as a restriction imposed by these Regulations, the authority may submit to the Minister a request for such a restriction together with a report that specifies the location of the waters, the nature of the proposed restriction, information regarding any public consultations held in respect of such a restriction, and particulars regarding the implementation of the proposed restriction.

Also, "designated authority" is said to mean the deputy minister of a federal department, the chief executive officer of a federal agency or a representative designated by one of these persons to act on behalf of that person for the purpose of the administration of these regulations.

And "designated provincial authority" means any department of the government of a province designated by that government to process requests to impose restrictions on navigation in respect of waters within that province.

With these regulations, the primary objective of Bill S-12 is already feasible and being enforced. This primary objective is to limit access to certain waterways. This is precisely why I believe this bill would only make enforcing these environmental and public health restrictions complicated and redundant. More worrisome yet is the process whereby a group of owners without a structured organization in the communities could ask for a certain type of permissible craft to be restricted or prohibited.

I strongly believe that public and democratic consultation is essential to protect the rights of Canadians. It makes no sense to me that a group of users of a given waterway could limit public access to other undefined groups. The consultation process proposed in Bill S-12 would allow an association of cottage owners, for instance, to dictate its wishes to other users by prohibiting a certain type of craft and not another, or a certain practice and not another after having superficially consulted the local population.

It is important to note that municipal governments and provincial governments, in particular, would be almost completely ignored in this process. In New Brunswick, it is possible to fine those who violate existing regulations through the local authorities, including municipal police forces and the RCMP. Several provinces have this authority under some provincial provisions.

Provinces already have legislated in areas affecting the utilization of public waterways. Most provincial legislation exists to determine waterways deemed for public usage, as does the Beds of Navigable Waters Act in the Province of Ontario, or to define marine insurance liability, as does the Marine Insurance Act in the Province of Manitoba. Most provinces have adopted environmental protection legislation to protect water sources and to limit public access to bodies of water designated for consumption. The main objective of the Watercourse and Wetland Alteration Regulation under the Clean Water Act of New Brunswick is an example of such legislation.

The issue of noise pollution is, ironically, of great interest to New Brunswickers. We cherish our peace and tranquility, especially when we are at cottages or canoeing on our beautiful waterways. In New Brunswick, the provincial government can control the level of noise from all sources on lakes and rivers by regulations under the Clean Environment Act.

Bill S-12 would restrict the noise made by only one kind of watercraft and would not address the issue of noise pollution by other kinds of watercraft or other nautical activities.

Enforcement of the existing regulations is a real burden, and is what this bill attempts to address. It is therefore of great importance for the municipal and provincial authorities, who are already responsible for enforcing many of the regulations on public waterways, to be more involved in our objectives for enforcing these regulations. In my opinion, Bill S-12 would be difficult, if not impossible, to enforce.

Let us take as an example the Madawaska River in my part of the country to better illustrate my point. Originating in Lake Témiscouata, in Quebec, this river runs through a number of Quebec communities, before crossing into New Brunswick and passing through a number of wooded areas with scattered cottages that are not grouped together into any kind of organization.

When the Madawaska reaches Edmunston, New Brunswick, there are a number of houses along its banks. It cuts through the heart of the city and runs into the Saint John River. That river is part of the Canada-U.S. international boundary. It is accessible from Maine, as well as from New Brunswick and even Quebec.

The Madawaska River is a small river, about 35 kilometres long. It originates in Quebec, flows through New Brunswick and joins up with a river along a national boundary line. I can barely imagine the horror and complexity of enforcing the bill before us today. An interprovincial and international river — how could it be managed?

It could be possible for several groups of riverfront property owners on the Madawaska River to limit access to one type of watercraft rather than another in one section of the river. Then another group, a few kilometres downstream, could do the opposite. What position would be taken by the municipality through which the same river passes? And the provinces of New Brunswick and Quebec would have no say in all this. The RCMP, Sûreté du Québec and municipal police forces which already enforce the existing laws would have to enforce the restrictions set up to please each of these property owners' groups and associations.

In my opinion, it would be negligent to go over the heads of the provinces in matters of regulating watercraft, even if the federal government has the jurisdiction to legislate in this field. Since the regulation of all these craft is already a matter of federal and provincial jurisdiction, and since environmental protection is a task shared by the various levels of government, I think we should simply not go over the heads of the provinces and municipalities by passing this bill.

As legislators, we cannot bypass joint jurisdiction and we should not legislate where legislation exists. Therefore, it is my humble opinion that Bill S-12 should not pass the Senate, causing duplication of existing legislation and regulation.