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Open letter to WCEL

Dear Andrew Gage and West Coast Environmental Law,

Re: An open letter to FactsCan on Navigable Waters and Environmental Protection

Thank you for your recent letter. We take criticism of inaccuracy very seriously, and wanted to make sure your letter received a fair and thorough assessment.

To that end, we had two editors who were not involved in the fact check review your letter, review the original work, and come to their own conclusions. The team that worked on the check did this too. From this process, I’d like to highlight specific issues you had with our fact-check, and our responses.

1. Is the NDP’s petition about the NWPA and NPA?

Your letter states that we are wrongly focused on the NWPA and NPA. We still believe it is justified to look at these pieces of legislation as a starting point for the check, and that it is reasonable to assume that this is what the NDP petition refers to. The petition’s numbers (2.5 million and 159) are the reason why we made this link – why it’s clear the petition is about these laws. We did err in making this an unstated assumption, and will highlight that in an editor’s note.

You are correct in that the NWPA and NPA are the not the exclusive elements concerned here, which is why we also wrote about the CEAA and CEAA 2012.

2. Misquoting expert sources

You point out that a quote from Winegardner et. al’s paper omits context in such a way as it could be misconstrued. We will lengthen the quote to add the appropriate context, and note this change in an editor’s note.

Your letter criticizes our use of expert sources, but leaves out that we relied on direct quotes from emails we had with Winegardner et. al, as well as Van Den Heuvel. We aren’t experts in the fields we cover, which is why we rely on information provided directly from those who are. When our article states that it’s too early to tell what effect these changes will have on the number of assessments, we aren’t applying our own analysis. Same thing when we say that the number of assessments does not equal degree of environmental protection.

3. Do changes to the NPA automatically mean changes to environmental protection

Your letter questions the logic of our assessment by making a case that changes from the NWPA to NPA, regardless of the CEAA uncoupling, necessarily entail changes to environmental protection. Even if this is true (as we note in the check), our assessment still does not change.

The NDP petition leads one to believe that there are now 2,499,841 rivers and lakes that lack environmental protection. While it’s true that the nature of this protection has changed, this is a claim that simply cannot be supported when these rivers and lakes are still protected by different criteria. There is an element of truth to the claim, but the conclusion it leads the average reader to make is misleading.

Concluding thoughts

Your letter has added depth and important analysis to this topic. That said, we still find the NDP’s petition misleading because it leads the average reader to conclusions that are incorrect.

Reading your letter, I believe you are criticizing a different conclusion than the one we reached. This check does not argue one way or the other that environmental protection of waterways has decreased under the Conservative Government. It is much narrower than that. Our checks often are quite narrow in focus, and we will not make arguments about broader albeit related issues (in this case overall environmental protection) unless it’s central to the check. That’s not our role. If the NDP wants to make these arguments, they could look to your letter for ways to do so that aren’t sensational and misleading.

I’d like to again emphasize that conversations with experts about this petition informed this fact check. We are not experts in environmental policy and don’t pretend to be. But we should not need to be in order to fact-check a political statement.

So what now? As mentioned in this letter, there are two areas that did not meet our editorial standards (an unstated assumption and a quote that might be read out of context). They will be noted and corrected. Additionally, we will include a link to your letter in our editor’s note for our readers’ information.

Again, thank you. We are grateful for the time you took to engage on this issue, and are happy that your engagement enhanced the quality of our check.

Sincerely,

Jacob Schroeder, Co-Founder