Question Period: Water Classification Regulation – Tuesday, March 10, 2015
Mr. Coon: My question is for the Minister of Environment and Local Government. Last week marked the 13th anniversary of the introduction into law of the Water Classification Regulation, which is designed to protect our freshwater resources, in theory, by establishing legally binding water quality standards for our rivers and streams. It was amended in 2008 to address some matters around enforceability, but, 13 years later, we still do not have water quality standards for a single New Brunswick watershed.
My question is this: Has the minister directed his officials to act immediately to classify the rivers and streams in this province?
Hon. Mr. Kenny: Thank you for my first question of the session. I want to say that, as Minister of Environment and Local Government, my job is to make sure that we protect our environment, including our watercourses. I am working with my department to move forward to look at all classifications in the province. I have talked about this with the member opposite, and I have talked to many other stakeholders. We will work with our stakeholders. We will consult, and we will move forward. Thank you.
Mr. Coon: On August 14 of last year, the Ombudsman released a report on the Department of Environment and Local Government’s management of the water classification program. In his report, the Ombudsman wrote this about the Water Classification Regulation. Regulation 2002-13 exists primarily as a mirage, misleading observers to their detriment. The history of this file leads us to conclude that the Legislative Assembly must take a more direct interest if it wishes the province of New Brunswick to have an effective Water Classification Program rather than an illusory one. Today is the day when this Legislative Assembly is taking a more direct interest. The minister has the chance to demonstrate good faith and to rebuild some bridges between his department and the communities affected. Will the minister commit to a timeline for establishing water quality standards in our watersheds?
Hon. Mr. Kenny: As the minister, I will also be working with all the stakeholders. I have had the chance to meet and speak with the Ombudsman and many other people about this file. When our department has the proper information, we will provide an update to the Legislative Assembly and make sure that we work with our stakeholders moving forward. Thank you.
Mr. Coon: As the Ombudsman pointed out in his report, “Despite its best intentions, the Department of Environment has been unable to . . . make any measurable progress” to set water quality standards for our rivers and streams. Despite the best efforts of many volunteers from around this province and watershed protection groups from the Nashwaak River to Jacquet River, the problem at its root seems to be what the Ombudsman called the “pernicious and counter-productive” use of ministerial discretion provided for in this regulation.
Will the minister commit to removing that ministerial discretion from section 3 of the water classification regulation so that the department can do its job to safeguard our watersheds?
Hon. Mr. Kenny: As I said, I will continue to work with the Ombudsman, the members opposite, and all stakeholders on this important file. As the Minister of Environment, my number one job is to look at protecting our environment in a sustainable manner and, at the same time, to look at all our opportunities for job growth in the province.
That said, again, I will take a look at working with all stakeholders in looking at the rules that are currently in place to see what we can do in the future. When I have some more advice to give to the Legislature, I will provide it. Thank you.