New Brunswick

Ombudsman slams watershed law that 'was never alive'

Ombudsman Charles Murray is continuing to criticize the provincial government for failing to enforce watershed classification rules, saying it may be time to bury the regulation and move on.

Watershed classification regulation approved in 2002, but governments have never enforced the rule

Ombudsman Charles Murray first raised concerns in August 2014 over the Department of Environment's refusal to enforce a regulation that allows for watersheds to be classified. (CBC)

Ombudsman Charles Murray is continuing to criticize the provincial government for failing to enforce watershed classification rules, saying it may be time to bury the regulation and move on.

Murray first raised concerns over the Department of Environment's refusal to enforce a regulation that allows for watersheds to be classified in August 2014, prior to the provincial election.

The independent watchdog said the water classification regulation has not been used since it was introduced in 2002.

"This regulation, and this act, was touted as a substantial step forward in protecting New Brunswick's watersheds," Murray said on Information Morning Fredericton.

'I wouldn't say I am the assassin of the act, but I am probably the undertaker.' - Ombudsman Charles Murray

"But that only does that to the degree to which it actually goes into effect. To this point, it is a "for display purposes only" act. It never actually does anything."

Murray met the Nashwaak Watershed Association on Wednesday night to discuss his report. The Nashwaak group is one of the provincial groups that have sought to have certain rivers, streams and lakes officially protected under the regulation.

The ombudsman said he was hoping to put it on the political radar, because he admits he is powerless to compel government changes. He said he must appeal to the "better angels" of the government

NB's Ombudsman Charles Murray is still trying to find out why the province isn't applying its own clean water regulations to waterways. 13:57
The former Bernard Lord government brought in the regulation in 2002. At the time, former environment minister Kim Jardine called the change an "important" step in a news release.

"The purpose of the regulation is to classify watercourses according to their water quality, and also to protect or enhance the quality of water we have in New Brunswick," Jardine said in a Feb. 28, 2002 statement.

In 2000, the environment minister told the legislature how the regulations were forthcoming, and had pointed to previous public meetings that were held to discuss the proposal.

'It was never alive'

If the provincial government had no intention of following the regulation, Murray said he wonders why all of the department and legislature's time was taken up in passing the changes.

"I would say the thing is dead, but the fact is, it was never alive," he said.
Nashwaak Watershed Association has sought to have certain rivers, streams and lakes officially protected under the watershed law.

"So we have an act and a regulation, which is basically a nullity. It doesn't do anything."

Murray said politicians need to figure out how to move forward with classifying watersheds, whether it is with the existing act and regulation, or finding an alternative way to achieve the goal.

"I wouldn't say I am the assassin of the act, but I am probably the undertaker," the ombudsman said.

"I'm the guy that came along and said, 'Look I`ve come here not to praise the act, but to bury it.' Now can we please move on? Can we either get to the business of fixing this act and bring it into effect, or turn the page and get to something else."

The independent watchdog is pointing to Environment Minister Brian Kenny as the person who could turn around more than a decade of inaction.

He said Kenny was not the author of the act, and he could have the freedom to begin changing how the department has handled the implementation regulation. But, Murray said, he has to do it soon.

"If he doesn't do it soon, he will become another chapter in this same story, another minister who was unable to move the file," Murray said.

In a statement, the environment minister agreed that successive governments and the Department of Environment and Local Government "have faced many challenges in their efforts to implement a system of watershed-based management.

"Our government began evaluating the recommendations of the Ombudsman upon taking office and we are nearing the completion of that work. We look forward to announcing our approach to addressing this long-standing concern."

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