Despite an austerity budget expected this week from the province, regional mayors are convinced Ontario is sincere in its commitment to protect the Great Lakes.
But more importantly, Mayor Keith Hobbs said he was assured by Environment Minister Jim Bradley that the communities surrounding the international waterway will have plenty of impact during the forthcoming consultation process ahead of the planned Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which is designed to protect the freshwater lakes.
The timing of the planned legislation is key, Hobbs said, adding that the fiscal weight of the plan can’t be left on the shoulders of the municipalities.
“We have to protect our water source. Fifty-million people rely on the Great Lakes for water,” he said, acknowledging that communities on both sides of the border have to get on board with the plan – or be forced by higher levels of government to do so.
“That’s part of the governance that we spoke about as well. We have to get not only Ontario and Canada on board, but we have to get the United States on board. And that’s where the Great Lakes Seaway Initiative comes into play.
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“We have to make sure everyone is at the table, and that’s why the consultation process is so important.”
Bradley, who planned to meet with First Nations leaders on Monday afternoon, said it looks as if both Ottawa and Queen’s Park will have a financial role to play, but they won’t be the only ones asked to come to the table with their purses open.
“Where we’re able to do so, those responsible for the contamination in the first place (will be asked). I know various people don’t think it’s the responsibility of those who cause the pollution, however where we’re unable to extract that money, we have federal and provincial money coming into assist, because you can’t simply have the contamination continue to exist,” said Bradley, who gathered with local mayors on the shores of Lake Superior Monday at Marina Park.
“I thought it was an excellent session this morning. You never know what the level of engagement of the municipalities or things like that (is going to be), and I was really pleased with the level of engagement with the communities in and around Thunder Bay today.”
Hobbs said he has plenty of concerns about the Great Lakes, Lake Superior in particular. Preventing the proliferation of invasive species, New York’s controversial ballast water act and fracking are all issues that the mayor believes need to be addressed by all levels of government.
“Storm water is a huge one. Just a few weeks ago we cleaned a thousand needles off a river in Thunder Bay, which would have been destined for the Great Lakes,” Hobbs said.
“Pharmaceuticals being flushed down toilets and things like that are huge issues. So the education piece that’s going to come with this bill is something we put some input on. I have a huge concern as mayor this city that some cities on the Great Lakes, especially on Lake Superior, are vying for the nuclear waste disposal site.”
Nipigon Mayor Richard Harvey said Lake Superior is the lifeblood of his community, something they can’t afford to destroy.
“That’s where we play, that’s where we fish, that’s where we have so much activity,” Harvey said. “And economically, there’s so much tied into that,” said Harvey, also on the board of the region’s national marine conservation area.
“It’s so important that we work together to bring these things to the federal, provincial and municipal governments all working together, bringing our own expertise to the table, and rather than duplicating the efforts, to work together to make sure that we’re accomplishing as much as we can, as quickly as we can and as cost-effectively as we can.”
The reality, he added, is that no level of government is putting in the money in that’s needed to sustain the health of the lakes.
Bradley has been conducting consultations around the province for several weeks and expects to table a bill by the end of the legislature’s summer session.