April 9, 2002

The Moncton Times and Transcript

Have politics been removed from river study?
by Victor McLaughlin

To The Editor: A Page One article in the Times & Transcript of April 3 reports an interview with the Hon. Claudette Bradshaw, MP for Moncton, Dieppe, Riverview. The article makes it abundantly clear that Ms. Bradshaw, presumably reflecting the federal government, thinks it is the provincial government that is delaying the causeway and river assessment of the Petitcodiac. She also places great faith in the work done by Mr. Eugene Niles. In his report Mr. Niles reviews the history of the causeway. The engineering design work was done by Maritime Marshland Rehabilitation Administration, a federal agency. At least four federal government departments were consulted and the project was approved by the federal government on June 3, 1964 (and with the blessing of the editors of the Moncton newspapers). We got ourselves into this mess with the full participation of the federal government.

Mr. Niles also notes that fish passage was noted to be a problem in 1969 and has remained so ever since. He notes that at the time of the ADI study in 1979 the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) favored the removal of the gates to permit free flow and even the removal of a portion of the causeway. There has been nothing since then to indicate a change in that position. It was DFO that contracted with Mr. Niles to carry out his study of what was known and unknown about the river. He did an excellent job ** and reported to the minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who in turn ** set in motion the recommendation that an environmental assessment be carried out to fill in the missing pieces of data. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has proposed that the causeway be opened and he supports the project. That makes him a “ proponent” (see Webster’s New World Dictionary). “ Proponent” is the term that triggers the environmental assessment process under both federal and New Brunswick statutes. It seems to me that this is the way it should be. DFO wants to make significant changes to a physical structure which belongs to the New Brunswick Department of Transportation. That department should now say to DFO “You do an assessment to show that the changes are needed and the risks are reasonable.” We, New Brunswick, will watch to see that you do it properly and that they don’t fudge the numbers. But that is not what is going to happen. There were public information meetings on two successive evenings last week to explain the process and obtain public opinion. I attended both and spent the day between the meetings studying the schematic of the process that was handed out and trying to reconcile it with the federal and provincial legislation. I regret the need to report that my aged and brittle neurons cannot understand what is happening. The proponent is not DFO, it is The New Brunswick Department of Supply and Services (NBDSS). NBDSS has never been involved, but it is the proponent because it is “neutral”. So we have one provincial government department doing a study to prove that the changes to another provincial department, requested by a third party, are needed and without significant risks. And during this DFO will just watch and make sure that it all goes the way it wants. I came away from the public information meetings without understanding the process. I have asked several others who attended the meetings and a couple of people who have experience with environmental assessments. No one has been able to explain this convoluted pattern. Nor has listening to and reading the news media helped me to me understand. Meanwhile, I read in the paper this morning that my Member of Parliament has “tried to get the politics out of it.” Much as I admire Ms. Bradshaw, I cannot feel any confidence that the politics has been removed from the process. And the self-satisfied smiles all seem to be in Ottawa.