MANITOULIN––Mike Wilton lives on Dominion Bay on Manitoulin’s Lake Huron shoreline, directly south of Gore Bay.
He’s inclined towards the preservation of the planet both by his thoughtful nature and as a result of his career working in Algonquin Park.
But when he looks at his shoreline in the property he and his wife Marge decided to make their retirement home, he sees the water of Lake Huron lapping the shores…but the “shore” is moving annually farther out into the lake as the lake’s level drops.
Mr. Wilton and his group Algonquin Eco Watch have been sounding the alarm on Manitoulin about the dropping water levels and he has been doing his best to raise public awareness on the issue for several years through interviews, public speaking and the organization of public meetings nearly two years ago where the lake level was the sole topic.
This year, in late February, Mr. Wilton set out a petition at 26 Manitoulin Island businesses. Between then and the end of Labour Day Weekend, his petition garnered 2,619 signatures and last Tuesday, October 23, the original copy of the petition was handed off by Mr. Wilton to a representative of MP Carol Hughes. Ms. Hughes will continue the process that will, hopefully, culminate in her presenting the document in the House of Commons. (Its next step is to be vetted by a formal committee in Ottawa that reviews petitions to determine correct wording in its opening statement and preamble.) Ms. Hughes’ representative, Glen Cyr, met Mr. and Mrs. Wilton at a planned constituency clinic event at the Northeast Town Recreation Centre.
“The first hurdle,” Mr. Wilton noted, “is that this committee has to accept the wording.”
The petition is titled “Petition to restore Great Lakes water levels” and those signing it are requesting that the Canadian Federal Ministers of Natural Resources, Environment, Fisheries and Transport “increase their efforts significantly to halt and reverse the ongoing loss of water from the Great Lakes Basin in general and the Lake Huron/Michigan/Georgian Bay/North Channel Basin in particular.”
The petition reminds these federal ministers that, “since 1999, the water level in lake Huron has dropped 4-5 feet (150 cm) with no sign of rebounding 13 years later.”
Its petitioning statement concludes that, “this is far greater than previous fluctuations and has caused immeasurable damage not only to significant aquatic wetlands and spawning areas along the shores of the North Channel, the Manitoulin Island and Georgian Bay, but is causing serious economic and safety concerns to communities in this area, many of which depend in large measure upon tourism, cottaging and boating during the navigation season.”
Glen Cyr, Ms. Hughes’ constituency assistant, accepted the petition on her behalf noting that, “we’re happy to have received this information. Carol wants to see the issue raised and appreciates all of the time and effort that has gone into it.”
Mr. Cyr formally receipted a letter indicating the document’s chain of possession, accepting it for Ms. Hughes.
Bound copies of the petition have been prepared by Mr. Wilton for public review. They are housed at The Manitoulin Expositor office in Little Current and at The Manitoulin West Recorder office in Gore Bay.
Mr. Wilton was one of the presenters at this summer’s Manitoulin meeting of the full board of the International Joint Commission (IJC) where responses to a recently-completed report on how water levels could be managed in the Upper Great Lakes were publicly presented at the Northeast Town Recreation Centre where he argued in favour of doing something quickly to begin the remediation of the situation.
Mr. Wilton’s petition contains the following statement that defines the rationale behind and the scope of the petition. It is titled ‘Manitoulin Island Petition, 2012’ with the sub-title ‘Everyone counts or no-one counts’ (attributed to Michal Connelly and excerpted from ‘The Drop’:
“Very often at ‘Town Hall’ meetings, strong opinions are expressed by articulate individuals. These opinions are often mistakenly interpreted as being representative of all those present. Generally, however, there is also a segment of the population present at these meetings who, even though they have strong feelings regarding certain issues, are very hesitant to express themselves publicly. The result of this may be that the sponsors of the meeting receive a biased picture of how the general population feels about the issues being discussed.
“Perhaps the main benefit of a properly worded petition lies in the fact that it allows all members of society to express their views ‘quietly’, without having to stand up and risk possible embarrassment in front of their friends and neighbours.
“Governments as well as government bodies such as the International Joint Commission would be well advised to seek the opinions of all average citizens since a majority of these are often the people who make up the so called ‘Silent Majority’.
“Between February 27 and September 6, 2012, the silent majority spoke when 3,619 Manitoulin Island residents, visitors and friends signed the following petition, stating clearly that they are unhappy with the ongoing water loss from the Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, North Channel and Georgian Bay Basin. 2,119 of these signatures represent Manitoulin Island residents. 1,396 signatures represent concerned “Off-Island” Canadians. 104 signatures represent non-Canadians, mostly United States citizens-many of whom live on Great Lakes shores and share our concern over this crisis. All these people speak with a united voice and are respectfully requesting that the Canadian government work closely with the United States government to move forward quickly toward restoring and sustainably maintaining the water levels that existed prior to 1999. Additional data are available.
“While it is acknowledged that large amounts of water are diverted out of the Great Lakes Basin via such engineering works as the Chicago Diversion, it is generally felt that restoration and stability can be achieved gradually through the placement of some form of permanent barriers, together with bottom stabilization, at the mouth of the St. Clair River. Water loss at the mouth of the St. Clair River as a result of dredging is roughly more than double that through the Chicago Diversion. The population clearly feels that to allow the ongoing drop in water levels is definitely not acceptable.”
“Please act now-for the sake of future generations.”
“All signatures on the following petition were affixed at 26 businesses and various gathering locations on the Manitoulin Island.”