December 8, 2014 By

Without a Paddle

Documenting the failure—and the potential—of New Brunswick’s Water Classification Program. Posted on December 8, 2014 in Water Canada’s November/December 2014 issue.

During the height offishing season in New Brunswick, as anglers lured Atlantic salmon on the famous Miramichi River and kids navigated through thickets to seek out their favourite summer swimming holes, a report came forth casting a stark and sobering reality for the rivers so enjoyed in the province. On August 15, 2014, Charles Murray, the New Brunswick ombudsman, an independent authority of the provincial legislature, released the details of his investigation into the Department of Environment’s handling of its Water Classification Program. The program was the first in Canada to take a proactive, watershed-based approach to river protection when it was introduced in 2002. But the ombudsman determined the program was, in effect, nothing more than an illusion, giving New Brunswickers a woefully false impression about the safety of their rivers for more than a decade.

In the 12 years since it was established, not a single waterway has been protected under the classification system. The program was instead plagued by bureaucratic confusion, lacklustre political will, and misuse of power from the elected officials charged with overseeing it.

New Brunswick’s Department of Environment had all the required documentation to classify the Nashwaak River by no later than 2003—but classification never came. Credit: Paul McLaughlin, Nashwaak Watershed Association.
New Brunswick’s Department of Environment
had all the required documentation to classify
the Nashwaak River by no later than 2003—but
classification never came. Credit: Paul McLaughlin,
Nashwaak Watershed Association.

“Like a smoke detector without batteries,” Murray wrote in his report, “[the regulation] appears to address and remedy a problem when in reality it does nothing of the sort.” The classification program, he concluded, “exists primarily as a mirage, misleading observers to their detriment.”

That’s certainly a far cry from what was expected by conservationists and departmental officials alike when the program was first unveiled. The Water Classification Program was brought forth under Regulation 2002-13 as a progressive attempt to set water quality standards for New Brunswick rivers. The regulation allows community-based organizations to collect water samples, analyze water quality, and set goals to maintain or improve the water quality of rivers. It was the final piece of a progressive regulatory regime put in place by the provincial government, complementing the Wellfield Protected Areas Designation passed in 2000 and the Watershed Protected Areas Designation enacted in 2001.

Over time, the department received 19 separate proposals for classification from groups across the province. Among them was an application from the Nashwaak Watershed Association, which had been exceptionally proactive on the file, having secured funding from the government to conduct water quality tests before the regulation had even been passed.

In his report, the ombudsman noted the department had all the necessary documentation required to classify the Nashwaak by no later than 2003. What followed were years of correspondence between the department and the Nashwaak association, during which officials described the river and other provincial watercourses as being “provisionally” classified, giving the impression that full classification was just around the corner.

Frustrated by the lack of movement on the program, the Nashwaak Watershed Association and its supporters, including the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, filed a complaint to the office of the ombudsman in February 2013, spearheading Murray’s investigation.

“I think New Brunswickers were blindsided and even surprised to learn our rivers were not being protected,” said Stephanie Merrill, freshwater protection program coordinator for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. “And we should be. It’s a shame that in a province like New Brunswick, where so much of our culture, heritage, and recreation is based around our rivers, that we do not have fundamental protections for our waters. It’s so basic. New Brunswickers have assumed that’s covered.”

In an interview with the Conservation Council for this article, the ombudsman said the most troubling finding from his investigation was simply that government gave citizens a false impression for so many years that watercourses were being protected.

“That speaks to a really fundamental failure,” Murray said. “It can’t really be a larger failure than that.”

His report offered some explanations—citing confusion within the Department of Environment over the legal authority of the regulation and the troubling misuse of ministerial discretion by successive ministers to avoid approving the applications—but above all else, Murray said a lack of focused political will is primarily 
to blame.

But therein lies the hope for New Brunswick’s waterways moving forward.

A new provincial government, under the leadership of Liberal Premier Brian Gallant, was sworn into power on October 7. During the fall election campaign, the Liberal Party of New Brunswick pledged to “take steps to help ensure the health of our rivers and drinking water.” What better opportunity, Murray said, then moving swiftly to approve the 19 rivers submitted under the Water Classification Program?

“Why not be proactive and make yourself the champion of that change?” Murray said of the new government. “To me, this is an opportunity for the Minister of Environment to demonstrate competence, good faith, and to rebuild some bridges of trust between the department and the communities.”

With some focused attention and priority, by the time New Brunswickers set out with their fishing rods or swimming suits to indulge in our waterways next summer, they’ll hopefully do so with the full confidence that regulations are in effect to ensure rivers will remain safe and healthy for them to enjoy.  WC

Jon MacNeill is the communications officer for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick. This article appears in Water Canada’s November/December 2014 issue.

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Action Alerts

Call for nominations for the NBEN Awards - 2017

Monday, 31 July 2017
by Annika Chiasson
Every day people and environmental groups take action to protect and restore New Brunswick’s environment.  

Over this past year, who stands out in your mind? 

We invite you to nominate a group or individual deserving of one of the NBEN awards which will be presented in style at Eco-Confluence 2017.  Send an e-mail to nben@nben.ca describing your nominee’s work.  Nominees must be members or associates of the NBEN*.

Nomination deadline is September 13, 2017.

*Current NBEN Steering Committee members are not eligible for awards.

Resquest for letters of support: Proposed name restoration for the Wolastoq

Sunday, 30 April 2017
by Alma
 The Wolastoq Grand Council supports our YOUTH GROUPS on their proposal for changing the name of the Saint John River, back to it’s original and proper name; Wolastoq (the beautiful & bountiful river ). We see this as a good place to begin the process of implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; which was strongly recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  

Proposed Name Restoration: 
  • The name Saint John River back to it’s original indigenous name -  Wolastoq
Purpose: 
  • Wolastoq; (the beautiful river) is the original Indigenous name of the River.
  • Wolastoq is the name sake for the real identity and unique nationality of our People; the Wolastoqiyik.  Respecting the rights of Wolastoqiyik.
  • Scientific studies have now confirmed, what our people have always known; “that water has memory”.    This river will remember its original name.   
  • This deed would begin a process for reconciliation with a show of goodwill on the part of the Government of New Brunswick, and would;
  • Create opportunities for discussions and engagement around indigenous issues.
  • Wolastoqiyik have a right to retain their own names for communities, places and persons. 

The Wolastoq Grand Council is requesting support letters from our Allies; as individuals, organizations, and/or Groups.  For more information, contact Alma Brooks, 506-478-1256, almabrooks.26@outlook.com

Please send support letters to the following addresses:

The Wolastoq Grand Council,
Grand Chief; Ron Tremblay
50 Maliseet Drive
Fredericton, NB, E3A 2V9


David Coon
Office of the Green Party Leader
P.O. Box 6000
Fredericton, NB, E3B 5H1

Additional Information

  1. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada
Carolyn Bennett; Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada; has assured the Wolastoq Grand Council in writing that; - “Canada is committed to a renewed nation to nation relationship with indigenous peoples based on the recognition of rights, respect, cooperation and partnership.”   Carolyn Bennett also stated that ; - “Achieving full reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous people in Canada is at the heart of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada’s mandate, and that the government of “Canada will engage with Indigenous peoples, provinces, territories, and Canadians on how to implement the Declaration in accordance with Canada’s Constitution”.

  1. Andrea Bear-Nicholas
As described in a 2011 article by Andrea Bear-Nicholas, Maliseet historian:  
  1. The first step in the dispossession for the indigenous peoples in the Maritimes began in earnest immediately after the British capture of the French fort at Louisbourg in 1758.   Where place names and names of First Nations in the entire region had been inscribed on earlier maps; both would soon be erased by colonial cartographers in a process described by J. B. Harley as cartographic colonialism.  The justifications for these erasures was found in the doctrine of discovery.   
  2. The second step in the dispossession of indigenous peoples in Nova Scotia began immediately after signing of the Treaty of 1760 by Passamaquoddy and Maliseet Leaders, and later the signing of the Mascarene Treaty.   Although there was no surrender of any lands in either of these Treaties; 1.5 million acres of Maliseet land which outlawed the surveying and expropriation of lands not yet ceded by the indigenous inhabitants or purchased by the Crown.    


  3. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:   Articles 1, 2, 6, & 13   support and provide a guide for the implementation leading to reconciliation.

As a distinct ‘people,’ we have a right to our accurate identity and nationality.
  • Indigenous Peoples have the right to the full enjoyment as a collective or as individuals of all human rights and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and international human rights law. 
  • Indigenous peoples and individuals are free and equal to all other peoples and individuals and have the right to be free from any kind of discrimination, in the exercise of their rights, in particular that based on their indigenous origin and identity. 
  • Every indigenous individual has the right to their own nationality. 
  • Indigenous people have a right to retain their own names for communities, places and persons.  “States shall take effective measures to ensure that this right is protected”.