Ottawa

Government collaboration questioned in dead fish investigation

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.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says collaboration with Quebec government is a priority

One of about 100 dead fish that washed up in eastern Gatineau July 31, which was the fourth such wave in recent weeks. (Lorian Bélanger/Radio-Canada)

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.

"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."

Patrick Nadeau, with the Ottawa Riverkeeper, is raising concerns about how the levels of government are working together to solve the problem. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says collaboration with Quebec government is a priority. 1:07

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."

Ottawa Riverkeeper executive director Patrick Nadeau stands in front of maps depicting the Ottawa River and its watershed on Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

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.

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."

A number of different species of fish have been found floating in the Ottawa River. (Carie McBain)

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.

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.

With files from Radio Canada's Laurie Trudel

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