Remarks to the Hon. Brian Kenny, the Most Important Cabinet Minister in New Brunswick Government

On March 2, 2016, 17 member groups in the New Brunswick Environment Network (NBEN) attended a 1.5 hours meeting with Brian Kenny, Minister of the Environment for New Brunswick, and three of his senior staff. Thank you to NBEN’s Mary Ann Coleman and Raissa Marks for organizing this opportunity for an exchange of information and issues.

Major items discussed included: how “regional planning” might help with environmental protection (eg. through increased mandates to the regional service district committees); water protection legislation – including wetlands, and enforcement of riparian buffer regulations; the Environmental Trust Fund; and, the urgency of climate action and moving on to renewables.

During this session, the Ministerial staff set out their current major priorities and here is what I recorded from their remarks in approximate order of urgency:

  • modernizing municipal legislation (now 50 years old apparently)
  • updating the regulations associated with this legislation
  • working with other departments to define priorities and capture these in “statements of interest”
  • a comprehensive water strategy
  • improvements to wetlands policies

Concurrent with all that is making the department’s work more transparent, and various digital information enhancements that are already underway.

While looking at this list, it is important to remember that Brian Kenny is Minister for the Environment AND Local Government (one department). On reflection, it appears that they are putting their eggs in the basket of local government as their approach to improving protection of the environment. An interesting idea – not adequate certainly, but might well help if done properly. A lot can be accomplished through land use planning tools if used properly. So folks, if you want to make a point on municipal or regional planning systems, policies, issues, concerns, etc. — now’s the time!

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I took this photo so am not in it. That’s the Minister at the head table, on the left in front of the screen. I attended on behalf of the Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians. As always, when I have the chance to speak truth to power, I think about which of my closest allies are not “At this Table,” and what they might like me to communicate that seems appropriate to the situation.

Here is a picture of me and my confrere Mark D’Arcy who attended on behalf of the Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians. image
Mark used his allotted time to speak about climate change issues and the need for the Government of New Brunswick to do its own EIA on the Pipeline proposal. Mark strongly emphasized the Minister’s Duty of Care in regards to the possibly serious, even lethal, risks related to both these issues. This photo was taken by Caroline Lubbedarcy, who represented Stop Spraying in New Brunswick, and used her alloted time to press for a full review of health and environmental hazards of herbicide spraying by forestry companies and NB Power, as well as an end to the spraying.

It is also important to mention Jim Emberger was present, speaking on behalf of the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance. He addressed many of the points included in NBASGA’s Statement on the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing Report, including the lack of social license, the science case against fracking, and the urgency of NB government undertaking nation-to-nation relationship-building with First Nations . Later in the meeting, Jim spoke about the importance of government recognizing that each region of the province is very different, something he has learned through NBASGA.

Unfortunately, none of our Indigenous environmental protection allies were present. For me, a smudge and a reading of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth would have been a welcome addition. Next time?

In the order of our NBEN agenda, I was given the opportunity to make the final presentation, before the wrap-up. Following are my remarks…


 

“The Final Report of the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing, released last week, speaks of the distrust, mistrust, and alienation of New Brunswickers regarding our provincial government. The Commission heard this loud and clear in Kent County.  In fact, Commission members seemed to stop in their tracks and feel overwhelmed by our perspectives here, about how government has betrayed us.  (∗ : in the footnote on this post are links to submissions that prove this sentiment.)

“Another example of that betrayal connects to something that was discussed at the outset of this meeting today. Our Kent Regional District Service Commission passed resolutions unanimously opposing the new Forestry Management Act, and opposing Shale Gas Fracking Exploration in Kent County (actual vote 15-1 abstention, I believe). But, Mr. Minister, as you know, there is no systemic pathway for resolutions from the Service Districts into the government here in Fredericton. The fact that the Government of New Brunswick totally ignored the only local body that represents our municipalities and local service districts contributed mightily to our sense that government deserted us to our fate of being a “Sacrifice Zone” for resource extraction industries.

“I am going to assume that you, Mr. Minister, and your three staff at the head table, have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, perhaps godchildren… When thinking about the future they will face, it is clear and evident that your Ministry is the most important department in the Government of New Brunswick.

“At the core of your mandate is ensuring environmental sustainability in this province we all love. You have the tools and responsibilities for all manner of impact assessment, regulatory powers, inspection and enforcement services, in order to protect our environment. There is a huge urgency to bring all these into active service due to the ecoapocolypse that is lurking over our shoulders due to our rapidly deteriorating, changing climate.

“For us in Kent County, your department certainly has the most urgent and important mandate in this government:

  • We love our Acadian Forest, and all its inhabitants.  We want our Forest Relations to survive and thrive. This means stopping the rapacious clear-cutting, the softwood plantations, and the spraying of poisonous herbicides.
  • We want water protection legislation for our fresh drinking water, our inland fisheries, and our precious wetlands.
  • We want shale gas mothballed for the long term by legislation. Your department’s mandate re: “impact” and “sustainability” strengthen your hand at arguing this in cabinet.
  • We are passionate about biodiversity. The diversity of wildlife in our region — the forests, the waters, and the soils — contributes directly to the livelihoods of virtually everyone in Kent County, all the way down in scale to the bees we rely on to pollinate our fruits and vegetables in our gardens — so take a look at the neonicotinoids as well, please.
  • We fully support implementation of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) process, proposed by the former Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eilish Cleary to the NB Fracking Commission. The Commission endorsed this approach but in an inappropriate and ineffectual manner. An HIA trumps an EIA, and as Dr. Cleary pointed out, the current EIA processes will and can be addressed and included within the broader scope of the HIA process she outlined. This is what we want to see. It will begin to restore our confidence that government is capable of looking after us over here in Kent County.

“On behalf of our group, the Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians, and all our united Mi’kmaq, Acadian and Anglo environmentalist allies in Kent County, I beg that you hear what I am saying. There is no time to lose on these matters. Please instruct your staff to walk into all interdepartmental meetings — and you, please,Minister Kenny, walk into all Cabinet meetings — with your heads held high, insisting on full implementation of the environmental protections your broad mandate offers.

“Yours is the most important Ministry in the New Brunswick government. Our future generations are depending on you.”

Ann Pohl, Chairperson, Council of Canadians – Kent County Chapter, March 2, 2016

 

 

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∗ See for example: “Powerless Citizen” and “Illusion of Certainty”,  Some of the Human Rights Issues Related to Fracking , Lise Johnson’s Story, No Shale…, Kent County Chapter Council of CanadiansNotre environnement, notre choix / Our Environment, Our ChoiceYvon Daigle’s Submission to the Commission, The Requirement to be InformedIt’s about Trust, To Make Critical Decisions, We Must Employ Critical Thinking, Personal Submission to the Shale Gas CommissionGroupe de développement durable du Pays de Cocagne Sustainable Development Groupe.

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