Most Ontario environmental and conservation groups are breathing a sigh of relief since the provincial election of October 2, 2003. As Premier Dalton McGuinty, the new premier, has said, Ontarians “chose change.” What exactly that change will mean for Great Lakes aquatic habitats remains to be seen in the coming months and years, but the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and other non-governmental organizations are optimistic that the new government will make moves to undo the damage to Ontario’s natural heritage wrought over the past eight years, including massive cuts to the budgets and staff of key ministries such as the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Natural Resources.
One of the Liberals’ election promises was the creation of a permanently protected, 600,000-acre greenbelt of environmentally sensitive land and farmland from Niagara Falls all the way around the western end of Lake Ontario at Hamilton and through the Greater Toronto Area to Lake Scugog well east of Toronto. It would include the Niagara Escarpment, the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Duffin-Rouge Agricultural Preserve and two-thirds of the provincially-owned Seaton lands in Pickering (just east of Toronto).
Other Liberal party election promises of interest to Great Lakes aquatic habitat advocates included:
Amidst environmentalists’ optimism about the new provincial government are at least a couple of causes for concern. One is that before elected, Mr. McGuinty openly supported the proposed Red Hill Creek Expressway in the City of Hamilton. Many groups have called on the new premier to cancel provincial funding for this expressway, which would irreparably damage Red Hill Creek and the last large green space left in Hamilton. The previous government has promised to pay half – about $122 million, at least – of the cost of the expressway.
Furthermore, former premier Eves had campaigned on the basis of a balanced provincial budget for this year. When the Liberals took power in late October and examined the books, they found a budget deficit for the current year of $5.6 billion. This unexpectedly high deficit will likely mean that some of their environmental promises from the election campaign cannot be met nearly as quickly as they had anticipated, such as increasing the budgets of the environment and natural resources ministries. Still, most environmentalists expect the new Liberal government to accord more attention and sensitivity to environmental concerns than their predecessors did during the 1995-2003 period.