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Council of Canadians applauds the Ontario government's commitment to save the ELA

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Last month the Ontario Ministry of Environment released regulations to follow through on their commitment to fund the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). The Council of Canadians made a submission today in support of the regulations and the Ontario government's bold move while calling on the Ontario government to ensure that the research remains independent from industry influence and to continue to press the federal government to reinstate funding for the ELA.

The ELA is a unique federal research program that studies the long-term impacts of global threats to freshwater lakes. Operating for more than 40 years, the ELA consists of 58 small lakes in Northern Ontario where scientists study the effects of water pollution, climate change and other threats. On May 17, 2012, the Harper government announced they were cancelling the funding to the research program in order to save $2 million annually.

The Council of Canadians worked with the Coalition to Save the ELA and other allies to keep the ELA open. Some of our work included commissioning a poll that found that 60% of Conservative voters opposed the cuts to the ELA, delivering a $50-million invoice to then Environment Minister Peter Kent for closure of the ELA and occupying the ELA.

Despite the strong and sustained public opposition to the announcement, the Harper government refused to bend and the ELA was only saved because the Ontario and Manitoba government stepped in to fund the ELA to enable the critical research to continue.

The regulations entitled Experimental Lakes Area – Enabling Continued Research were posted on the Environmental Registry for comment from January 16 to February 15, 2014.The noticed stated that "the purpose of this posting is to set out regulations being proposed by the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) to create a mechanism to authorize experiments at the ELA under provincial environmental legislation. A proposed ELA research board, made up of IISD, provincial representatives, and other qualified members, would oversee the broader scientific process of approving and facilitating experiments. Neither the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) nor the Ontario Water Resources Act (OWRA) currently provides a mechanism to authorize the types of research experiments traditionally undertaken at the ELA, so the regulations would provide for experimental activity to proceed within the geographic area of the ELA in compliance with legislation."

The Council of Canadians submitted the following comments to the Ministry of the Environment in support of the regulations:

On behalf of the Council of Canadians, I am writing to express support for the Ontario government’s proposed regulations that would create a mechanism enabling funding to be allocated to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) and allowing scientists to continue conducting experiments at the ELA.

The ELA is a world renowned research centre with long term studies on the cumulative impacts of climate change, mercury contamination, and other current challenges to water protection. The research facility, with an annual budget of $2 million, has the capacity to conduct research unlike anywhere else in the world and has put Canada at the forefront of freshwater science globally.

At a time when the federal government is abdicating its federal responsibility for water protection and gutting federal spending and environmental regulations, the Ontario and Manitoba governments’ bold step to take leadership for water protection in Canada and globally is a welcomed move.

We understand that the regulations establish "criteria that must be met for an experiment to be carried out, such as an appropriate monitoring and remediation plan, appropriate notification to the public and First Nations and controls to minimize adverse effects and prevent offsite impacts." We support these criteria and advocate for First Nations in the region to be part of the decision making process alongside the Ministry of Environment.

We urge the government to ensure that the research remains independent from industry influence and to continue to press the federal government to reinstate funding for the Experimental Lakes Area.

Again we commend the Ontario government's action to develop these regulations and follow through on its funding commitments.

Emma Lui
Water Campaigner
Council of Canadians

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