Posts Tagged ‘boating’

Navigable waters in Canada – an update

Canoeing Algonquin Park two people sunset lake Canada Ontario. Photo: Acqumen Enterprises, Creative Commons.

Canoeing in Algonquin Park,  Ontario. Photo: Acqumen Enterprises, Creative Commons, some rights reserved.

Navigable waters” is an awkward mouthful. Not a very sexy topic to the average layperson. But for some landowners and paddlers, them’s fighting words.

Why? Because if a waterway is considered navigable, that comes with distinct rights to float, paddle or motor through, even if the surrounding land is privately owned.

Setting aside how that all works in law in the U.S., this post is meant to highlight a shift in Canadian policy on that issue.

According to a CBC exclusive of July 13, something called the Navigation Protection Act has replaced the older Navigable Waters Protection Act. (I know, they sound the same.)

CBC’s David McKie reports the newer measure (passed as part of an omnibus budget bill last year) will significantly reduce the number of waterways where development would be considered interference with navigation. According to the article, the change means…

The rest of the waterways, about 98 per cent of all rivers and lakes in Canada, now have no federal protection, which means an individual or group that depends on a waterway for recreation or livelihood would have to go to court to challenge a development it believes impedes navigation.

Environmental organizations consider this a step backwards.

“Before these changes, the federal government acted like a watchdog, guarding the public’s right to use all Canada’s navigable waterways and balancing the public’s interests against those of industry,” says Anna Johnston, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law.

“The changes effectively cut the public loose, leaving Canadians to stand up for their rights on their own in David-vs-Goliath fights against industry and, depending on the case, against the government itself. Not only do the changes bring more uncertainty, but they also skew the fight.”

According to Canadian Press coverage by Heather Scoffield from 2013, much of the pressure for those changes came from pipeline industry interests. As quoted by the CP, NDP environment critic Megan Leslie said “I never really knew where this call for change came from”. The changes did generate opposition at that time, but with a majority of votes, the Conservative budget containing those measures passed. In Leslie’s view:

“It was never in any documents, it was never an addendum to testimony or anything like that. And in some private meetings I’ve had with some industry reps, they too have expressed to me that they don’t know why the Navigable Waters Act changes were made.”

While Leslie said it’s perfectly acceptable for industry groups to present the government with lists of policy recommendations, “what’s not normal is that those changes are accepted holus-bolus, without any consultation.”

In some respects, this is old news in as much as the law in question passed last year. The current CBC article was prompted by briefing notes obtained by CBC news that say the changes will produce more court challenges ahead.

Border quarrel about towboat turf

Are U.S. towboats illegally taking Canadian work? Photo: Eric, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Are U.S. towboats illegally taking Canadian work? Photo: Eric, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

When boats break down on waterways between the U.S. and Canada, does it matter who comes out to tow them to shore?

According to a report from the CBC, that question is getting more attention after the owner of Canadian Coastal Services, has complained about U.S. owned towboats getting too much of the business he says rightfully belongs Canadian companies:

Company owner Glenn Swinton claims U.S. competitors are breaking the law when they do the same by entering Canadian waters and towing boats to Canadian ports.

Swinton says Canadian legislation is clear: it’s illegal for a foreign company to tow a boat found in Canadian waters to a Canadian port.

Swinton says U.S. companies working in Canadian waters are costing him upwards of $80,000 each year.

Swinton has raised the issue with Transport Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency. He alleges neither agency is doing anything to resolve the issue.

I have no idea how companies on both sides of the border work those issues out. According to the CBC story, the relevant legislation is found in the Coasting Trade Act and the United States Wreckers Act.

Boaters, what is your experience or opinion? Are there clear rules that are being followed?  Or is the tow business pretty much a free-for-all? Is this a sensitive issue in our region too? Do tell.

Need a tow? Who're you gonna call? photo: Lucy Martin

Need a tow? Who’re you gonna call? Photo: Lucy Martin


Possible lessons from low boat traffic on Rideau Canal

Parks Canada employees hand-cranking a gate at Upper Beveridge Lock, on the Tay Canal branch of the RIdeau Canal, July 2013. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Parks Canada employees hand-cranking a gate at Upper Beveridge Lock, on the Tay Canal branch of the Rideau Canal, July 2013. Photo: Lucy Martin

Here’s a specific instance of something that taxpayers and administrator everywhere may need to think about. Namely: once programs start cutting, is a self-fulfilling, downward spiral created?

Take Ontario’s Rideau Canal. It’s historic, picturesque and popular. Area residents love it. The canal draws visitors who bring much-needed revenue to diverse communities from Kingston to Ottawa. The canal is run by Parks Canada, which wrestles with the same rising costs and lower funding most agencies face these days.

As reported in previous posts, Parks Canada considered raising fees. But the proposed hikes seemed draconian. Public backlash lead to a freeze on fees, pending further study. The remaining cost-cutting option was to reduce hours of operation, which went into effect this season.

Well, the summer boat traffic statistics are in for 2013 and (big surprise) they’ve been down from the get-go.

As reported by Don Butler for the Ottawa Citizen, the over-all season is on track for a new modern low:

Through the end of August, 51,202 boats had passed through the locks since the 181-year-old canal — declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007 — opened for the season on May 17.

The canal remains open until Oct. 14. But with boat traffic typically low through the fall shoulder season, 2013 lockages are unlikely to reach the previous record seasonal low of 58,915 in 2004, when a strike by lockmasters disrupted operations.

Butler says those numbers peaked in 1982, at close to 100,000.

Some observers fault Parks Canada for generating fear and confusion about fee hikes and shorter hours, or for not properly promoting the canal. Parks Canada points to contributing factors totally beyond their control, including a cool spring, changing patterns of boat ownership and use, and high fuel costs – all of which afffect traffic as well.

Setting this one case aside, the broader management issues are worth pondering. If budgets are tight (and they are) and changes have to come (as they may) how can services and programs still look and feel robust enough to be of use?

Because if something looks ill and feels grumpy, that alone can lead to a downward spiral of reduced demand, which justifies lower funding, which further reduces demand. Failure to thrive can become death by neglect, a regrettable outcome.

Civil servants, business owners, taxpayers and civic groups, is this something you have lived through?

How would you suggest making cuts while keeping the service in question attractive enough to survive – and perhaps thrive – while getting through tough times?

What’s behind reduced boat traffic on Rideau Canal?

Locking from the Rideau Canal into the Tay Canal at Upper Beveridge near Parth, Ontario. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Locking from the Rideau Canal into the Tay Canal at Upper Beveridges near Perth, Ontario. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Long, hot summer days should herald the peak of boat activity. But some users of Ontario’s Rideau Canal are unhappy about shorter hours of operation and a sense of drifting neglect.

The Rideau Canal consists of 45 locks connecting natural rivers and lakes – a 125 mile waterway from Kingston to Ottawa. The historic UNESCO World Heritage site is managed by Parks Canada.

The Ottawa Citizen recently reported that figures from Parks Canada indicate boat use in May and June is down by more than 30 percent, as compared to the same months last year. While steep fee hikes were proposed earlier this year, sharply negative response lead to a freeze on fees for three years. So what’s behind the drop in boaters?

According to the Citizen article, Parks Canada theorizes that cold, wet weather at the start of the 2013 season is to blame. But many observers blame a shortened schedule.

Morale among the lock keepers has been in decline too, according to Frank Folts,described by the Citizen as “… the 79-year-old American who owns the iconic Hotel Kenney at Jones Falls”

Folts, who chats with lock workers at Jones Falls every day, has been impressed over the years by how dedicated and sincere they are. “They like to entertain people, and they’re proud of it,” he said.

“But that pride’s gone. There are guys who now look forward to retirement. I don’t think money’s really the issue. It’s how they are treated as partners in this whole thing (by Parks Canada). I don’t think they’re looked upon as partners.”

Some users are worried the canal is experiencing a downward spiral. Sean Horsfall owns Len’s Cove Marina on Big Rideau Lake. As recounted in the Citizen article:

“One thing that’s abundantly clear is that the status quo’s not working,” Horsfall said. “They’re not marketing well, not communicating well, they’re not appearing to have the best interests of all the stakeholders on the canal at heart.”

While I live near the Rideau Canal and have reported on it before, I don’t own a motor craft and have scant personal experience with that side of canal operations. As it happens, I did paddle from Last Duel Park to Upper Beveridges Lock last Saturday as part of a Rideau Trail Association outing. (One of two locks on the Tay Canal that connect the city of Perth to the Rideau Canal System.)

While our group ate lunch there, a lone boat arrived to lock through. Two Parks Canada employees drove up from (I presume) Lower Beveridges Lock and hand-cranked the massive wood gates to float that boat upward and onward.

The lockies were cheerful and friendly. The whole business was delightfully low-key in a beautiful setting – boating on an intimate, human scale. While numbers are not yet available for July traffic, it did seem to me that there should have been many more boats out enjoying the waterway.

Here’s a more cheerful item to add on the topic: a group of history students at Carleton University spent a year building a (free!) app that puts Canal history in your pocket. It’s called Rideau Timescapes. This past June the project won a public history prize from the Canadian Historical Association.

What’s your experience on the Rideau Canal and your take on current operations?

Fri news roundup: School district mergers, drugs, tall ships

Photo: Ollie Crafoord, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Photo: Ollie Crafoord, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Happy Friday! It seems to be sunny today, at least in Canton, and it looks like we may at least see sun for the next couple days to come. So hooray!

Lots in the news today: I blogged earlier this week about Canton and Potsdam’s tentative discussion of the possibility of merging districts, and as WWNY-TV reported this morning, Hueveltown, Morristown and Hermon-Dekalb are considering mergers as well. At the St. Lawrence and Lewis BOCES meeting last night in Canton, a consultant presented some possibilities for the struggling districts.

One of the options would combine all three at Huevelton Central School, which Philip Martin said would increase the number of electives for students, while costing as many as 12 teachers their jobs. School athletics would likely be more competitive, though.

Before the districts could merge, WWNY reports, each board of education would have to approve the idea. It would, again, ultimately be up to residents to vote yea or nay on any potential merger.

In Canton, an Amish couple from Oswegatchie is waiting to see if child neglect charges against them will be dropped, after they refused open-heart surgery for their newborn daughter last year on religious grounds. They released the baby for surgery after a family court judge ordered it in April; doctors performed the surgery in May.  That’s according to the Watertown Daily Times.

In Watertown five people have been indicted on charges of cooking methamphetamine, the Watertown Daily Times reports. Not a lot more to say about that, really. In a thematically- but not explicitly-related story, the neighboring Village of West Carthage voted at Monday night’s Board meeting to increase the size of its police force by hiring Peter R. Barnett, who’s retiring as of today from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department.

And if you’re looking for something to do this weekend, the Tall Ships 1812 Tour is on in Brockville today through Sunday. Here’s the schedule of events, including a beer garden, a performance by Great Lakes Swimmers, dinner cruises, sail outs, fireworks and a lot more. Should be a good time.


Rideau Canal will see reduced hours, but no fee hikes for now

Hartwells Lock #10, Rideau Canal. Photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Hartwells Lock #10, Rideau Canal. Photo: D. Gordon E. Robertson, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

As boaters get back in the water, here’s an update on proposed changes for the use of historic canal systems in Ontario, including the regionally-significant Rideau Canal.

According to statements from Environment Minister Peter Kent and this Parks Canada press release, there will be no fee hikes for at least three years, but lock services will be reduced.

Here’s more from a Canadian Press report, carried by the CBC.

“In order to support the government in its deficit reducing efforts, the hours of operation throughout the navigation season will be reduced, offering between seven and nine hours of service per day, aligned with demand,” Parks Canada said in response to a media inquiry Tuesday.

The government will now provide “upon arrival services” at locks, meaning a reduced canal staff will drive from lock to lock in an effort to keep up with boating traffic moving through the system.

Leeds-Grenville MP Gord Brown was one of the area politicians who worked to avert fee hikes. According to the Eastern Ontario Network, Brown had this to say in a press release dated 5/15:

“I and my colleagues have been working long and hard on this issue and I am happy to announce that our request for consultation on the future of the canal has been answered,” he says.

“This will give us all time to take a long look at what we can do to improve the canal.”

The problem, as usual, is money.

Parks Canada is charged with operating the historic canal systems, but that agency says they only recovers about 10% of actual costs from user fees.

One parliamentary proposal reportedly under consideration is to removed canal operation from Parks Canada into some new, independent agency.

Rideau Canal season update

The historic Rideau Canal: popular for tourism and recreational use. (photo by Lucy Martin)

Boaters and communities that benefit from Ontario’s Rideau Canal were alarmed earlier this year when cuts to the operational season came up for discussion.

According to media reports, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced on Thursday the length of the 2013 boating season for the Rideau Canal (and Parks Canada’s other historic canals) will remain unchanged.

Locks will operate from Victoria Day Weekend (the Monday before May 25) until Canadian Thanksgiving (2nd Monday in October). According to the Ottawa Citizen daily hours of operation are set to decrease (1 hour reduction in Spring and Fall; 2 hour reduction during summer) and fees may rise.

As reported by the Citizen, the news came as a huge relief to marina owner Peter Hurst:

Hurst wasn’t worried about the plan to shorten hours. “People can live with the shorter hours,” he said. “They just can’t live with them not being able to reopen at all.”

Nor was he concerned about higher lockage and dockage fees. “If you can afford a boat, you can afford a lock fee.”

Businesses and communities along the historic recreational corridor had protested possible reductions to the season. Minister Kent recognized those voices in his press release comments in the official press release of Oct 18.

“With this decision, the canals and the surrounding communities will continue flourishing as a vibrant centre of our regions,” added Minister Kent. “The government appreciated the constructive feedback we received from the public, and was pleased to work with the local Members of Parliament, Mayors, business leaders, and stakeholders, to determine a workable schedule going forward that is affordable while minimizing the impact on the local economies and visitors.”

Coming in mid-October when most boaters are packing things up for winter, this announcement may seem off-topic. But it’s important news for those involved in regional tourism and economic development. And, by next Spring, it’ll matter to boaters again too!



Boating news: possible schedule changes for Rideau Canal

Visiting steamboat at Smiths Falls locks, 2007

All manner of federal agencies are adjusting to tighter budgets across Canada. Of regional interest, the Rideau Canal National Historic Site and eight other canals operated by Parks Canada may shift operating schedules in response.

The Rideau Canal’s boating season is still set to open May 18. Carol Sheedy, Parks Canada’s vice-president of operations for Eastern Canada, told the Ottawa Citizen :

“…the canal could close earlier than its scheduled date of Oct. 10, depending on the results of Parks Canada’s monitoring and analysis over the summer.

Next year, though, both the opening and closing dates could be affected, Sheedy said. “There has really been no final decision made at this time. There are quite a few different scenarios.”

Asked about rumours that the boating season could be reduced by between one and three months, she replied: “No, that’s absolutely not correct.”

Hunter McGill, chairman of Friends of the Rideau, regrets any reductions in service:

“A lot of tourism in Eastern Ontario is keyed around the Rideau Canal,” McGill said. “If the season is shortened and that element of the attractiveness of the canal is reduced, gee whiz, I would feel sorry for those folks. I think it’s really a pity. It’s kind of short-sighted.”

According to Sheedy, canal use has declined by about one third over the past 25 years, making some adjustments logical.

Sheedy denied that Parks Canada’s moves will result in reduced access to the canal. “We’re simply aligning the season to meet the patterns of use in order to provide services when they’re most highly required. It’s a realignment that’s similar to what private sector attractions or even public sector attractions do based on changing patterns of use.”

This year will see many commemorative events surrounding the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. The canal was built as a sort of “never again” response to that conflict, a way to ensure vital waterways would be less vulnerable to conflict with Canada’s neighbors to the south.

The canal was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007, which coincided with the canal’s 175th anniversary. Between skating in Ottawa in winter, and boating all the way down to Kingston in summer and fall, the scenic canal continues to play a major role in recreational and tourist activities for the region.

Boaters, do you ply these waters? What, if anything, would make Canada’s canals more attractive to you?

While we’re at it, if you were faced with a mandate to reduce operational expenses on the Rideau Canal, how would you accomplish that? Are there good ideas, or efficiencies, that are being overlooked?