Great Lakes United’s John Jackson on Ontario’s proposed Great Lakes Protection Act, by Meirav Even-Har of Water Canada November/December 2012 issue ~ excerpts ~

With the amended Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) recently signed between Canada and the United States …Ontario’s proposed Great Lakes Protection Act (Bill 100) comes at a crucial time… The ambitious goal to restore and protect the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin is no easy task. This proposed legislation is meant to enable the revision and implementation of the now expired Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem to execute the Province’s obligations under the GLWQA. It’s also meant to build on current work and existing laws and regulations to create a new set of tools that will be driven, to some extent, by a local, community based approach to protection.
As an enabling act, the GLPA will allow for the creation of regulations and specific actions based on consultation with stakeholders, government bodies, First Nations and Métis, as well as the public. According to the draft Great Lakes Strategy—a guiding document to accompany the Act—the key elements
to the proposed legislation include setting a direction on Great Lakes, establishing a Great Lakes Guardians’ Council, identifying priorities for action in a strategy, building on existing tools by establishing clear targets, and taking phased, targeted action with geographically focused initiatives… Water Canada: Is this the right time for a Great Lakes Protection Act? John Jackson: The value of a piece of legislation is to draw attention to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River as needing broad serious attention,  not just as part of the overall environmental programs. It recognizes the special importance of the Great Lakes and helps draw attention to them. This legislation should not, however, be seen as the answer to all of the problems in the Great Lakes. The government must still focus on making sure it  implements the already existing legislation and Agreements such as the Water Conservation Act and the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River Water Sustainability Agreement with the U.S. Great Lakes states. How will the proposed Act work with current binational management of the Lakes? The Bill commits Ontario to participate in the binational activities and to play a leadership role. This is a very important step forward, since, with the  exception of the Water Sustainability Agreement, the provincial attendees at binational meetings tend to take more of an observer role rather than being active participants. This is a problem that I hope this will help us overcome. What lessons, if any, have we learned? What needs to happen to protect and restore the Great Lakes? We need new long-term  financial commitments by the federal and provincial and state governments to implementing Great Lakes programs and to monitoring and assessing progress. Instead we are confronted by all governments making promises while reducing the amount of staff and scientists working on the issue, et cetera. The new Ontario bill makes no financial commitments. This is a  serious problem. We need commitments by all governments to strengthen legislation and regulations if needed. Unfortunately, all levels of government are now stepping back from strengthening anything that is a non-voluntary program. We need more serious engagement by the government of stakeholders and the public in decision-making on Great Lakes matters. This bill includes components that, if properly implemented, could be important steps forward on this matter.

Meirav Even-Har is a sustainability consultant and writer. She is also 3RCertified program manager at the recycling Council of Ontario.

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