What we heard: Public consultation on introducing fees for the Navigation Protection Program

During the winter of 2020-2021, Transport Canada consulted the public on charging fees for services from the Navigation Protection Program. This report summarizes what we heard during this consultation.

On this page:

Our consultation approach

On November 25, 2020, we published a fee proposal for the Navigation Protection Program. for an 80-day public consultation. The fee proposal described the context, policy rationale (reasons) and analyses that we considered while developing the proposed fees.

We asked for feedback from interested parties. We:

  • emailed a link to the online consultation to 378 stakeholders and 989 First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations
  • held eight virtual sessions with stakeholders, other levels of government, and First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations
  • provided funding to help Indigenous Peoples participate in this consultation
  • promoted the consultation on social media

We received 37 written submissions:

  • 13 from the aquaculture sector
  • 9 from First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations
  • 8 from different levels of government
  • 6 from the mining and energy sectors
  • 1 from the cattle industry

We also received two comments through the Let’s Talk Navigation webpage, and we recorded the comments we received during the virtual consultations.

Of note, several stakeholders, First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations questioned the timing of the consultation because they are currently facing major challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feedback grouped by theme

The themes that emerged from the comments are presented in the following sections. The themes are listed in no particular order.

Cost recovery principle

Participants from the aquaculture sector strongly opposed the proposed fees. They felt that the taxes they pay on their revenue to the federal government should be sufficient to cover the costs related to processing their application for works. They also added that complying with a range of regulations and requirements from all levels of government, including time completing Navigation Protection Program applications, add a cost to them in terms of time and resources dedicated to fulfill them which is not considered in the fee proposal.

First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations who submitted comments would like Indigenous-owned projects to be exempt from the proposed fees. Most mentioned that fees should not apply to works that benefit Indigenous Peoples or relate to Indigenous ways of life and help Indigenous Peoples exercise their constitutional rights.

One First Nation who submitted feedback agreed that collecting fees, particularly from large industry projects, would provide an opportunity to reduce the costs paid by taxpayers, but that the negative impacts of fees on Indigenous Peoples would outweigh the limited benefits to Canada as a whole.

Different levels of government disagreed with Transport Canada’s assessment that the Navigation Protection Program’s services provide mainly private benefits to the applicant when the works are public infrastructure. They believe that fees should not apply to government-funded infrastructure projects (like roads and bridges) because these projects ultimately benefit the public.

Participants from the mining and energy sectors as well as the cattle industry agreed with the idea that those who directly benefit from a service should pay a share of the costs.

Concerns about the proposed fees

Participants from the aquaculture sector had concerns about how the proposed fees could have a negative impact on:

  • small aquaculture businesses, especially shellfish producers’ ability to make money and expand
  • the Canadian aquaculture industry’s ability to compete internationally
  • new companies’ ability to enter the market

Participants from the aquaculture sector also felt that sales have declined because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has had a major financial impact on the sector. They felt that the proposed 60% cost recovery rate for approving aquaculture works is too high, especially for small to medium sized businesses in rural coastal areas.

They also questioned why aquaculture works were placed in Fee Category B alongside works typically owned by large companies like dams, aerial cables and tidal turbines. Finally, they noted that the proposed fees don’t seem to align with Canada’s Blue Economy Strategy.

First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations raised concerns such as:

  • the proposed fees could negatively impact Indigenous Peoples’ constitutional right to use navigable waters, as well as rights related to harvesting, traditional economies and other practices that are integral to their culture and customs
  • the proposed fees could create a barrier and keep Indigenous Peoples from developing their economy
  • public-private benefit assessments not considering the Indigenous peoples’ relationship to navigable waters

Different levels of government felt that small or rural municipalities would find it challenging to pay the proposed fees, and that many governments already have tight budget positions. The rationale to charge fees was also questioned for works that don’t require changes to navigational aids. Governments also felt that the administrative burden of charging between governments was a reason not to pursue the new fees.

Participants from the mining and energy sectors felt that the proposed fee structure is appropriate and reasonable.

Suggestions about the proposed fees

Participants from the aquaculture sector suggested creating new lower-priced fee tiers to remove aquaculture works from Fee Category B and to charge lower fees for modifying existing works. They also urged Transport Canada to do a comprehensive review and jurisdictional analysis of fees being paid by aquaculture businesses, and wanted more information on the costing and pricing analysis that supported the fee proposal. Some shellfish producers suggested that the fees could be phased in over a few years to minimize the financial impact on their industry.

First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations felt that, when works are proposed in their territories, the proponent (project backer) must pay any costs for Indigenous Peoples to participate in consultations related to the Navigation Protection Program’s approval. One Indigenous group suggested Transport Canada increase the proposed fees for proponents and use the money to create a fund to support Indigenous groups’ review of works.

First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations also urged Transport Canada to closely examine how the proposed fees might affect Indigenous Peoples, and wanted more information to better understand the fees for fishing-related works. They suggested delaying the proposed fees until after the COVID-19 pandemic.

One level of government suggested that Transport Canada should allow them to pay a yearly service fee instead of fees for various individual approvals as this could be easier and more efficient to administer. One territorial and one provincial government suggested exempting Indigenous applicants from fees for projects that may be part of exercising their Indigenous or treaty rights. They also asked for more information to understand whether fees will differ between “temporary” and “permanent” types of works, and how the “related works” parts of the Canadian Navigable Waters Act would be applied.

Participants from the mining and energy sectors also provided suggestions about the proposed fees. They:

  • felt that a fee structure should be introduced alongside a review of the Navigation Protection Program’s services to make sure resources are used efficiently and reduce the administrative burden on regulated companies
  • urged Transport Canada and other government departments and agencies to:
    • work together on cost recovery initiatives to create a single federal regulatory fee per project
    • explore options to reduce duplication of oversight between federal departments, and between federal and provincial processes
  • expect that when a work includes several parts that could create economies of scale (like a dam with a spillway and water intakes), the project should be treated as one single work for the purpose of issuing an approval and levying (charging) a fee. They want to make sure the fees are closely matched to the level of effort required to process the application

Service standards

First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations provided comments about the proposed service standards. They:

  • suggested that the time required for initial screening of applications (for example to determine whether an application for approval is even needed), be factored into the timeframe for the Navigation Protection Program’s approval
  • felt that clear timelines should be available on the external submission site. For example, the length of time to process an application to exempt a navigable water from prohibited (banned) activities

Participants from the mining and energy sectors also commented on the proposed services standards. They called for:

  • more detailed service standards that include all steps included in the Navigation Protection Program’s approval process, from the filing of an application to the issuance of the final approval
  • stop-the-clock provisions to accommodate other regulatory requirements for an Navigation Protection Program approval, like when an application triggers a review under the Impact Assessment Act
  • time limits for issuing a final approval

Additional suggestions

Some participants would like Transport Canada to:

  • make sure the terms and definitions used in the proposed Navigation Protection Program fee structure are in line with those used in the Canadian Navigable Waters Act and related regulations
  • consider opportunities for more communication, engagement and consultation with First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations to better understand their concerns, governance structures and related processes
  • include formal Indigenous representation in the Navigation Protection Program approval process to evaluate concerns that may involve or impact Indigenous communities and support Nation to Nation relationships between Canada and Indigenous Peoples
  • consider working more closely with First Nations, Indigenous communities and organizations when gathering data for aquatic studies and water quality assessments
  • provide specific details to explain how individual works would fit into the proposed fee categories and present the list as a series of hyperlinks, so that readers may click on the work type in question and see a “pop-up” definition or photo that will clarify the meaning of the term
  • consider that works involving dewatering, as well as depositing and throwing certain materials into navigable waters, should not be permitted by exemption
  • reactivate the Federal Provincial Territorial Marine Working Group

Next steps

The comments received through this consultation have been recorded and will be considered as we develop the regulations.

There will be another chance for the public to provide comments once the proposed changes are pre-published in Canada Gazette, Part I.

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