Provincial Election Has Aquatic Habitat Activists Concerned
It is clear that Ontario is headed into a provincial election, likely by or before the end of May. The actual election date is the decision of Premier Ernie Eves. After the election writ is dropped, the 28-day campaign period will allow both the political parties and civil society groups to make their voices heard on urgent matters of public policy. The current government’s record on aquatic habitat protection has been somewhat underwhelming.
Whether you are reading this during the election campaign or after it, the issues of greatest concern remain the same. The most likely election outcomes are a majority Progressive Conservative (PC) government under Ernie Eves (as exists at the time of writing), a minority PC government, or a minority Liberal Party government. If there is a minority Liberal Party government, it would likely be the New Democratic Party that would hold the balance of power. The Green Party is making inroads on the Ontario political scene, although it has yet to hold a seat in the Ontario Legislature.
Ontario environmental activists working to protect aquatic habitats are concerned that the next government, of whatever political stripe, take action in the following areas:
- Fully and expeditiously implement all the recommendations of the Walkerton Inquiry, which examined the failure of provincial and municipal authorities to prevent drinking water contamination by a virulent E. coli strain that killed seven people and sickened over 2,000 others in the town of Walkerton, in the Lake Huron watershed, during May 2000. The inquiry report called for watershed-based planning as the first line of defense for protection of drinking water sources.
- Develop policy and legislation for tighter control by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE) over the extraction of both surface water and groundwater for water-bottling and other commercial purposes. Two recent cases have shown that current controls are sorely wanting – Artemesia Waters Ltd.’s plans to suck dry a Grey County wetland (in the Lake Huron watershed) in the process of pumping groundwater for water bottling; and the recent success of OMYA Canada Inc. in persuading MOE Minister Chris Stockwell to allow the company to massively increase their bulk water-taking from the Tay River at Perth (in the Ottawa River watershed) to combine it with calcium carbonate and sell the resulting slurry for use in toothpaste and other products.
- Provide stronger protection for wetlands – both those confirmed as Provincially Significant Wetlands by the Ministry of Natural Resources and those identified as regionally or locally significant in municipal official plans – through the Provincial Policy Statement (PPS) under the Planning Act.Wetlands on the Canadian Shield should be accorded the same protections as those that are south and east of the Shield (a current, artificial distinction in the PPS).
- Embrace the full suite of legislation, policies and incentives that are needed to create a smart, nature-first future for Ontario. The needed measures have been documented in the Federation of Ontario Naturalists’ book A Smart Future for Ontario: How to Protect Nature and Curb Urban Sprawl in Your Community (see Ontario Update, GLAHNews, Early Spring 2003), available on-line a www.ontarionature.org (click on Urban Sprawl / Smart Growth).