Guest Blog: Time for Ontario to pass the Great Lakes Protection Act
Guest Post: Nancy Goucher
The protection and restoration of the Great Lakes needs to be a top priority for the province. That’s why a group of forty tourist, health, faith-based and environmental organizations (including Enviornmental Defence) sent a joint submission to the province asking for quick passage of the Great Lakes Protection Act. Whether you are concerned about safeguarding Ontario’s tourism economy, ensuring healthy fishing stocks, or defending your favourite beach, all agree that protecting the Great Lakes is paramount.
Urgent action is needed to protect and restore these bodies of water, which support at $4.4 trillion economy and provide drinking water for millions of people.
Last year, almost 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio couldn’t drink from their taps because of toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. Almost three quarters of the largest wetlands in southern Ontario, which play a critical role in water filtration, have already been bulldozed or plowed. Climate change and the extreme weather it causes will make matters worse. More frequent, intense storms will wash more pollutants into streams and lakes.
The Act, if passed, would help set targets and develop action plans for restoring habitats, protecting wetlands, reducing toxic pollution, and enabling more community involvement in activities that will protect not only the Great Lakes, but also the beaches, lakes, and rivers in the whole watershed.
In their submission, the groups also requested amendments to the Act to strengthen it even more. The amendments would:
- Eliminate the ability of government to excuse anyone from requirements in the act;
- Include more specifics about how the province will respond to climate change and address biodiversity;
- Ensure greater cooperation across provincial ministries by requiring that decisions align with Ontario’s vision for a drinkable, swimmable, and fishable Great Lakes;
- Require government to set targets and create action plans to achieve the act’s goals, such as protecting wetlands and other habitats and reducing algal blooms; and
- When making decisions, require that government considers the commitments made in agreements with other countries, such as the Ramsar Convention to conserve all wetlands.
The amendments, together, would help ensure the bill reaches its full potential to make a significant difference in the protection of many of Ontario’s lakes, rivers, and beaches.
About the Author: Nancy Goucher is currently a water program manager at Environmental Defence. Nancy has substantial expertise working to strengthen protections for the Great Lakes. In past, Nancy worked for four years as the Program Manager for the Forum for Leadership on Water (FLOW), a non-profit organization working to inspire more collaborative and strategic approaches to water management in Canada.