How does a province move from intractable inertia on environmental issues that threaten citizens’ health to a proactive approach that protects citizens’ health from environmental hazards?

In New Brunswick, that transformation is taking shape in the NB Children’s Environmental Health Collaborative.

In the 1990s, worrisome environmental health issues included decades of spraying forests with insecticides and herbicides; leaking gas tanks and contaminated groundwater; air pollution from power plants and the largest oil refinery in Canada (coupled with high rates of asthma); and lead contamination from a smelter polluting people’s gardens and causing illnesses in surrounding communities. Public health officials had not stepped forward to warn citizens regarding these hazards. Public discourse on environmental health issues was polarized, divided and not even on government radar. And there was certainly no unified voice calling for government action.

Some groups were interested in looking at the overarching problem of health impacts, particularly on children. But there were many hurdles:
• No one in the province was working directly on them
• No single government department “owned” them
• There was little communication within sectors on these issues, and no communication across sectors
Too complex a problem for any one organization or sector to address on its own, the only possible solution was to move many sectors forward together.

Gaining government confidence started with one person: the Department of Health director of public health, who initially avoided meeting requests because of history between his department and environmental groups. A small group of health and environmental NGOs met with him only through sheer persistence. He ultimately became a key ally.

In 2005, a first province-wide meeting was held, bringing together many sectors. Once in the same room, it was easy for representatives of disparate groups to align with the goal of protecting children’s health.

Conferences were held and speakers were brought in to shed light on research and experience in other jurisdictions. Over time, participants made connections between children’s exposures to contaminants and their issues. Gradually, unlikely allies came together to focus on solutions and create a province-wide strategy to reduce children’s exposure to environmental hazards.

Today the Collaborative Effort is a diverse group linking more than 300 people from more than 100 agencies representing more than 20 sectors. Participants come from health, environment and children’s and family groups, First Nations, academics, researchers, health professionals, people working with mothers and children, and government at all levels — a “web of action”.

Our official champion is Raffi Cavoukian (Raffi, the children`s singer), who founded the Center for Chil Honouring. Supporters include the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, the East Coast Environmental Law Association, Canadian researchers Donald Spady and Colin Soskolne, Canadian pediatrician Robin Walker, and American pediatrician and champion of children’s environmental health, Philip Landrigan.

Since 2008, New Brunswick’s policy landscape on children’s environmental health issues has changed — something not possible without the ethic that emerged among NBCEHC stakeholders.

• The Healthy Environments Branch was established in 2010 with a dedicated staff person; professional development in environmental health is now a “given”, with more than 150 public health professionals, trainers and front-line workers educated on reducing children’s exposures to contaminants and providing information to clients
• NBCEHC participants, who made inroads with government departments through meetings and presentations, were invited back to help develop a provincial, multi-sectoral work plan on children’s environmental health
• Nurses, who used to provide parent and teacher education on children’s environmental health “under the radar”, are now often recognized by management as change agents — some have become management!
• A team of NBCEHC researchers hosted a two-day workshop resulting in a proposal to map provincial environmental hotspots
• NBCEHC participants contributed to the new early childhood education curriculum, adding focus on healthy environments, getting children outside and reducing exposures to contaminants
But there is more to do!

With the help of the provincial Office of the Child and Youth Advocate, Ecojustice and East Coast Environmental Law Association, a draft of a New Brunswick Bill of Rights to Protect Children’s Health from Environmental Hazards has been completed for all provincial political parties’ consideration. After the September 22 election, it will be submitted to the ruling party in preparation for enactment. To date, two political parties have included children’s environmental health in their election platforms.

We’re optimistic that child honouring will become a generally accepted approach to policymaking in New Brunswick. Much has been accomplished, but the well-being and healthy development of our children will require constant vigilance and action. With the help of NBCEHC and its many participants, the future looks bright.

This blog was also published on David's Suzuki Blue Dot Tour website, click here to see it!

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This blog is for news and opinion pieces by staff.
The views expressed in these articles are the author’s personal opinion and not those of the NBEN or its member or associate groups.

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Action Alerts

ACTION ALERT: Reinstate funding to the Canadian Environmental Network

Friday, 03 February 2017
by Raissa Marks
The Canadian Environmental Network and its provincial affiliate networks need your help!

Historically, the Canadian Environmental Network and its provincial affiliate networks including the NBEN received annual core funding from the Government of Canada. This was used to facilitate networking on environmental issues across the country, coordinate national and provincial issue-based caucuses, coordinate ENGO participation in federal public consultation processes, and maintain open lines of communication between ENGOs and the federal government.

In 2011, as part of the across-the-board cuts to civil society organizations by the previous federal government, all federal funding to the RCEN and its provincial affiliate networks was cut. This left the national network and most of the affiliates with functioning primarily on a voluntary basis with limited capacity to do their work.

There is hope that the current government will provide for renewed funding in its upcoming budget. This funding is crucial for the survival of the national network and many of the provincial affiliate networks. A proposal has been submitted. It now needs strong and immediate support from environmental groups and individuals across the country.

This is where you come in!

Please take a few minutes to write to Prime Minister Trudeau and your MP telling them why you value the RCEN, your provincial affiliate network, or environmental networking at the national level in general. Feel free to use the template letter provided below. You can personalize it based on your experience or simply copy and paste.

Trudeau’s email is justin.trudeau@parl.gc.ca and you can find your MP’s email here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parliamentarians/en/members

Let’s show our federal politicians that a strong, well-connected grassroots environmental community is essential to a strong Canada!

Draft Template Letter:

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

I am writing to ask that annual core funding to the Canadian Environmental Network (RCEN) be reinstated.

Historically, the RCEN provided a crucial link between environmental groups across the country, both large and small. This link was vital in helping communities address environmental issues right across the country and ensuring a robust approach to the development of environmental policy in Canada.

Since funding was cut in 2011, the RCEN and most of its provincial affiliate networks have been functioning primarily on a voluntary basis with limited capacity to do their work. This is not acceptable. A strong, well-connected grassroots environmental community is essential to a strong Canada. I urge you to reinstate core funding for this crucial work immediately.

Sincerely,

Still Time to Submit Comments - Snowmobile Trail Development up Mount Carleton

Monday, 21 November 2016
by Roberta Clowater, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society - New Brunswick Chapter
You can still send in your comments until end of day Nov 21 (Monday) on the environmental assessment report about the proposed snowmobile trail at Mount Carleton Provincial Park. If you're not sure what to say, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society - NB Chapter has summarized some of our key messages here: http://cpawsnb.org/images/upload/key_messages_EIA.pdf

Please send comments or questions to: lynn.white@gnb.ca or mail to: Lynn White, Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture, P.O. Box 6000, Fredericton, NB E3B 5H1.
L'étendue des actions menées au Nouveau-Brunswick pour protéger la santé des enfants des dangers environnementaux