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Fredericton chapter says New Brunswick water strategy process “a sham”

Photo: The Fredericton chapter held a media conference this week to raise concerns about New Brunswick’s water strategy process.

The Council of Canadians Fredericton chapter joined with the Wolastoq Grand Council and other allies to call on the New Brunswick government to halt their review process for a water strategy for the province.

The speakers at the media conference making this demand were Margo Sheppard (Council of Canadians Fredericton chapter), Sharlene Paul (Wolastoq Grand Council), Bill Ayer (former Director with New Brunswick Department of the Environment), David Coon (Member of the Legislative Assembly), and Lawrence Wuest (retired scientist).

CBC reports, “The Department of Environment and Local Government released a water strategy discussion paper on March 1. The document includes ‘draft goals’ which are based on the results of two private workshops, attended by government agencies and departments.”

The news article highlights, “A group of New Brunswick conservationists, led by The Council of Canadians, says the Liberal government’s new water strategy process is ‘a sham’. …Margo Sheppard from The Council of Canadians says the government is not engaging the public enough in the process.” Sheppard argues, “Less than two weeks [after the discussion paper was released], five open houses were scheduled in rapid succession, with the sixth and last one occurring tomorrow [March 23]. Think you blinked and missed the boat? You are not alone.”

In a media release, Kent County chapter activist Ann Pohl notes, “We endorse this call for an open, transparent, engaged and valid process to determine water protection policy and regulations.”

Concern has also been raised that the province’s watershed classification system still has not been fully implemented 14 years after being introduced.

Fredericton chapter activist Mark D’Arcy says, “The process is a sham. The Gallant government is proposing a new strategy to manage our drinking water and waterways with industry and to replace our current water classification regulation. The process is not democratic. The process would weaken, not strengthen, our protection of water. And the process ignores the reality of climate change, that peoples’ lives and communities are at stake.”

The CBC further explains, “The most contentious aspect of water protection in the province continues to be watershed classification. Since 2002, 19 watershed associations have submitted proposals for their watersheds to be officially classified and protected. As of today, none have been approved for classification. Successive governments have said legal issues prevent the implementation of the regulation. …New Brunswick Ombudsman Charles Murray has regularly criticized the government’s lack of action on water classification. Murray has called the regulation ‘the equivalent of having a smoke detector in your house without batteries’.”

And there is concern that the water strategy would undermine protection for the watersheds along the route of the proposed Energy East pipeline given the provincial government is a strong proponent of the controversial project. The proposed 1.1 million barrel per day pipeline would cross waterways in New Brunswick 281 times, including the Madawaska, Tobique, Canaan, and Kennebecasis rivers – all major tributaries of the St. John River.

The last open house meeting happened this evening in Fredericton.

In terms of next steps, CBC notes, “After that, members of the public have until April 29 to submit their comments via the Department of Environment website. The government says it will then prepare a ‘What We Heard’ document, which it will make public, before drafting a water strategy.”