Government collaboration questioned in dead fish investigation
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says collaboration with Quebec government is a priority
The Ottawa Riverkeeper is raising concerns about the level of communication and collaboration between the Quebec and federal governments in the investigation into thousands of dead fish.
Over the last month, more than 2,000 fish carcasses have been found in and along the Lièvre and Ottawa rivers.
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"One thing we're noticing is that there's not optimal collaboration between the Quebec government, that's now leading a formal investigation, and the federal government," said Patrick Nadeau, executive director of the Ottawa Riverkeeper.
"An example of that is that the Quebec government is refusing to say whether or not it took sediment samples in the Lièvre River, but we know that the federal government has. So are they sharing those results? Are they collaborating on these investigations? It's hard to say."
Nadeau also said when the federal government is looking for lab results from the Quebec government, it has to do an official access to information request.
"That takes time. That's a formal process. They should have a collaborative relationship," said Nadeau. "It's unusual and we think that should improve.
"The information is not flowing freely and we've been saying that this needs to improve on the Ottawa River for years now. That's why we're asking for a watershed council."
Access to information requests
The Quebec government confirmed in an email that access to information requests may be required as the federal government and Quebec's Ministry of Forests, Wildlife and Parks investigate.
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The Ottawa Riverkeeper said it's concerned another fish kill could happen and believes information should be flowing between authorities.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Friday she's concerned about the fish kills and that enforcement officers have been working around the clock with stakeholders and other levels of government to understand what's happening.
"Co-ordination between levels of government is absolutely critical. We do need to be working better together. That's a priority for me," said McKenna.
"When I talk to folks — whether they're on the Ottawa side, Gatineau side — they're looking for the solution. They want to know what happened. They're worried. That's reasonable concern."
Steven Cooke, an environmental science and biology professor at Carleton University, said investigations that involve multiple levels of government can be a challenge, but it's not an uncommon problem in North America.
"Where we deal with issues related to fish and wildlife, water quality, it's all intertwined," said Cooke.
"... There's lots of governance levels involved because we're right on the border between two provinces. There's additional complexity. We've got a number of large cities located on the river as well as a bunch of rural communities.
"I think we need to get everybody together in the same room much more regularly and be prepared for these kinds of things as opposed to surprised," he added.
With files from Radio Canada's Laurie Trudel