Question Period: Water Classification – March 31, 2016

The following is the preliminary Hansard transcript of the Question Period on March 31, 2016 recorded in the language it was originally spoken.

Mr. Coon: This government has just wrapped up a series of public meetings with the intention of creating a new water strategy for New Brunswick. However, we have a robust water strategy written right into our Clean Water Act and its regulations. The shortfall, really, with our water strategy has been the failure, since 2005, of consecutive Ministers of Environment to actually implement the water classification regulation for our rivers and streams. To discuss a new water strategy today with the people of this province, we really need to know why minister after minister has not been able to implement the water classification regulation. Repeatedly, ministers, including the current one, have said that they have not been able to move forward because of legal advice they have had. Well, neither have they fixed the problem to address the legal concerns that apparently have been raised. My question for the Minister of Environment is this: Will he table in this House the legal advice that his department has received on the problems with the existing water classification regulation?

Hon. Mr. Kenny: Water strategy is partly about taking the best water quality we have here in New Brunswick and moving it forward, and it is partly about building a foundation. That is why we are out consulting with New Brunswickers to be able to fix this. We have had great consultation with many stakeholders throughout the province in the past couple of weeks. I can tell you that the people who were there speaking face to face with us were saying that they are glad that they can see that the government is going out to do the right thing to protect our water. Not only do we protect our water and our air, but we protect our environment in general. The strategy that we are working on is going to be able to fix this. We will continue to work with our stakeholders, gather the proper information, and make sure that we do the right thing in order for New Brunswick to have a good strategy and to protect our water moving forward into the future.

Mr. Coon: I will take that as a no. Our water classification system is based on a successful model that has been used in Maine for decades without concern and without any problems. For some reason, we have never been able to implement our version here in New Brunswick. As a result, we have this ridiculous situation where the American half of the St. Croix River and the American half of the Saint John River are classified and protected while the New Brunswick sides have no such protection. This is a bilateral concern for these great international rivers,
which we share between our country and the United States. Has the minister met with the International Joint Commission, which regulates these boundary waters, to explain his intention around the future of water classification in New Brunswick?

Hon. Mr. Kenny: Water classification is just one part of our overall strategy. I think we have to let New Brunswickers know that this is one part of the strategy. The strategy is to be able to put a proper plan in place. We are going to build on the foundations that are there now. There is some really good information there. We are going to work with our stakeholders. We are working with a lot of people who have a vested interest in protecting our water for generations to come. The challenge is that the Clean Water Act does not provide sufficient authority to support the classification of surface waters. The water quality standards in the regulations are vague and
open to interpretation, and the water quality standards present difficulties in terms of being entrusted with enforcement. There are a number of things we have to fix, not just one part of the overall water strategy. My
job as Minister of Environment and Local Government is to be able to move forward and make sure that we have good water quality for the future.

Mr. Coon: The water classification regulation, which was first adopted in 2002, actually automatically classified all the lakes in the province, and they received an A rating. The minister, once again, is holding up this issue of legal advice as a barrier to moving forward and finally permitting water classification for our rivers and streams. I will ask the minister again. Will he put before this House the legal advice his department has received concerning the ability of the department to implement the remainder of the water classification regulation system on our lakes, rivers, and streams—unless, of course, our lakes are no longer protected?

Hon. Mr. Kenny: It is our full intention to consult with New Brunswickers on this, in an open and transparent process. We are looking at all water in our province, to make sure that we protect our water moving forward and are able to improve on the regulations and on the information that we received when we met with our stakeholders—nonprofit groups. We have had very inclusive and comprehensive meetings with many people. We have invited many stakeholders throughout the province. I am sure that we can meet with more people. We are going to gather the information, bring it back, work with our department and stakeholders, and come together to present to New Brunswickers, in an open and transparent way, a true, good water strategy for the province that will protect our water for generations to come.