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!

Blog Archives

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.

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 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
  • 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,

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”.
L'étendue des actions menées au Nouveau-Brunswick pour protéger la santé des enfants des dangers environnementaux