With a provincial election postponed until either fall 2003 or even spring 2004, aquatic habitat activists have additional time to build their case for making conservation issues a strong focus in the election campaign, whenever it may be.We report on two key issues here.
Watershed-Based Water Source Protection
As a result of the Walkerton water tragedy of May 2000, in which seven people died and over 2,000 became sick in the town of Walkerton because of municipal water contaminated with a virulent strain of the E. coli bacterium, the Ontario government ordered a public inquiry. The Walkerton Inquiry issued two lengthy and groundbreaking reports in 2002. It stated that the primary line of defence for safe drinking water is to protect water at its source through sound, watershed- based land use planning.
Stemming from the inquiry’s report, the Ontario government struck the Advisory Committee on Watershed-Based Source Protection Planning, which included representatives from environmental groups, conservation authorities, municipalities, developers, and the agricultural sector.The final report of the committee was issued in April 2003. You can access it at www.ene.gov.on.ca/envision/techdocs/4383.htm. The report contains over 50 practical recommendations on how to set up a watershed-based, drinking water protection system for all of Ontario.
Key among the report’s recommendations is the importance of grassroots, community involvement in implementing better watershed management and better drinking water source protection. The report recommends that each watershed in Ontario have a Source Protection Planning Committee (SPPC) to help the watershed’s conservation authority to develop a water source protection plan.The advisory committee recommends that the SPPC needs grassroots representatives from the local community, including First Nations. To keep in touch with progress on implementation of the committee’s recommendations, please visit the website of the Canadian Environmental Law Association (CELA) at www.cela.ca.
Highway Planning Gone Wild
Conservationists across south-central Ontario are up in arms about the number of new highways or highway extensions being planned at a time when the provincial government is talking a good line about “smart growth.” All research points to highways fuelling urban sprawl unless accompanied by tight laws and policies for urban planning to contain the footprint of cities and towns. The Federation of Ontario Naturalists, supported by grassroots community groups in the affected areas, has called for a moratorium on all planning for new provincial highways until the provincial government completes a comprehensive “smart” transportation strategy that puts a strong emphasis on public transit and fully integrates transportation planning with urban planning.
Among the proposed highways already in the planning process – which would destroy hundreds of wetlands and other important natural heritage features – are the Mid- Peninsula Highway from Fort Erie (near Niagara Falls) to the Greater Toronto Area; the northerly extension of Highway 427 to connect up with Highway 400 near Barrie (in the Lake Huron watershed); and the easterly extension of Highway 407 to connect up with Highways 35 and 115 leading to Peterborough (in the Lake Ontario watershed). Local citizens’ groups are active in challenging the need for these new highways and viable non-highway alternatives for moving people and goods. To get in touch with these groups, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Grassroots groups fighting these highway proposals were appalled when in May, the provincial government introduced for first reading in the legislature a bill called the Smart Transportation Act (Bill 25). You can read the bill on the Legislature’s website at http://www.ontla.on.ca.
While Bill 25 proposes legislative changes to facilitate high-occupancy vehicle lanes and carpooling, buried deep within it are provisions that would virtually eliminate requirements for any meaningful environmental assessment process in the planning of these highways, including any discussion of the need for the highways and alternatives to constructing the highway in question. For more information on and analysis of the bill, visit the website of the Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development at www.pembina.org. Bill 25 is unlikely to survive in its current form because of the public outcry over its treatment of environmental assessment and the inordinate number of new powers it gives the provincial Minister of Transportation, even usurping some previous roles for the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing in highway planning matters. Bill 25 may die after a provincial election this autumn or next spring.