Ontario first among Great Lakes states and provinces to propose a Great Lakes Protection Act
Toronto, ON—September 6, 2011. Yesterday, Ontario’s governing Liberal Party released its platform in the run up to the October 6th provincial election, promising to table a Great Lakes Protection Act, if elected. From the Great Lakes–St Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement signed by Premier McGuinty in 2005 to the Ontario Water Opportunities and Water Conservation Act of 2010, “Ontario has done a pretty good job of leading efforts that improve Great Lakes health” says Derek Stack, Executive Director of the bi-national environmental group Great Lakes United. “Now Ontario is poised to be the first among Great Lakes states and provinces to legislate a Great Lakes Protection Act.”
The platform details an investment of $16 million over four years through a Great Lakes Protection Act. “With promises to fund beach clean-up properly implemented, the province can seriously promote Great Lakes health. It’s simple,” says Stack, “the number one reason people work to protect the Great Lakes is that they use and appreciate the resource.” A fund to promote beach clean-up and recreation will help to foster a higher public profile for the Great Lakes in the provincial psyche. Stack was quick to caution that, “While this is a positive step forward, even if it is well-targeted, less than $1M a year per Great Lake is hardly a windfall.”
The Americans, despite having a much bleaker financial outlook at all levels, are investing hundreds of millions of dollars into “on the ground” actions that restore Great Lakes health, in addition to billions more for infrastructure upgrades. “In all fairness,” said Stack, “that’s primarily a federal contribution”. The Canada-Ontario Agreement details that kind of fiscal transfer from the federal government. “And that Agreement,” notes John Jackson, Director of Clean Production and Toxics at Great Lakes United, “will need to comply with the regulations set out in the Canada–US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement currently being renegotiated”.
Typically, in Canada, clean up of the Hotspots, known officially as Areas of Concern, requires a tri-lateral funding arrangement between municipal, provincial and federal governments. The Premier’s office says that provincial money for infrastructure upgrades that will reduce overflow “is already earmarked in government expenditures” so is not detailed in the Party Platform. It was not immediately clear how much is earmarked or how far that funding will go towards a clean-up, or how much money is budgeted to clean up toxic sediments.
“You can only do a limited amount with less than $1M per lake,” added Jackson, “that’s the cost of just one nice house or condo in Toronto or Chicago”.
Executive Director, Great Lakes United
Director, Clean Production and Toxics, Great Lakes United