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NEWS: Ontario environmental commissioner criticizes lack of Great Lakes funding

Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller released his annual report today.

The Canadian Press says, “The report takes the province and federal government to task for allowing negotiations to clean up the Great Lakes drag on to the point where they ‘threaten to paralyze’ any more progress. ‘We’ve walked away, we’ve waned. Our commitment has been well short of their contribution, $2.2 billion on the American side,’ said Miller. ‘It’s very embarrassing for us because we’re not putting up anywhere near that kind of money.’ Miller also said it was no accident that the Ontario government is doing so little on the environment, calling it the goal of those who oppose environmental protections.”

In mid-September, during the last election, the Toronto Star reported that the provincial Liberals announced a $52 million plan to clean up the Great Lakes. In the June 2010 federal budget, the Harper government allocated $8 million a year to Environment Canada to “implement its action plan to protect the Great Lakes.” In Budget 2011, they announced an “additional $5 million over two years to improve near shore water and ecosystem health, and better address the presence of phosphorous in the Great Lakes.”

Lake Ontario Waterkeeper highlights these key excerpts from the Environment Commissioner’s report:

– “Chronic underfunding has been a key weakness of the Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem, with the dollars committed disproportionate to the scale of the challenges.” (p. 8 ) The ECO notes that Ontario gives $10-million per year towards a $3.5 billion restoration project while the U.S. has committed $2.2-billion over five year.

– The ECO also calls for “mandatory targets for protecting the great lakes as a drinking water source.” (p 10 – 11)

– The ECO calls for “A designated “champion” for the Great Lakes at a senior level within the Ministry of the Environment to improve both public outreach and knowledge brokering. In addition, such a facilitator might better integrate and leverage the Great Lakes work currently scattered among several divisions within MOE.” (p. 12)

– “The ECO has had longstanding concerns over the province’s oversight of cage aquaculture operations – the farming of fish in floating net cages in open water. Ontario is the only jurisdiction to permit cage aquaculture in the great lakes. There are nine cage aquaculture operations located on Crown land lake beds in Lake Huron and Georgian Bay … The ECO finds it unacceptable that MNR moved its resources away from policy development in order to renew cage aquaculture licences, resulting in Ontarians having to wait several more years for the policy to be released and implemented. ” (p. 32)

The Council of Canadians has argued that the federal government should commit at least $500 million this fiscal year to begin to implement a comprehensive action plan to protect and clean-up to the Great Lakes.