Stewardship Council lobbies successfully for reinstatement of healthy lakes meeting

LITTLE CURRENT—The Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council (MASC) has secured yet another Manitoulin meeting for the general public, this time in regards to the proposed provincial Great Lakes Protection Act.

Next Thursday, August 23 at the Northeast Town Recreation Centre in Little Current, representatives from the Ministry of Environment will be hosting a ‘stakeholder engagement session.’ Besides an earlier session held in Thunder Bay, this appears to be the MOE’s only stop in the North.

In an interview with Environment Minister Jim Bradley earlier this summer, he explained that the act, if passed, “would ensure cleaner Great Lakes that are protected for the future.”

“The act would give us the tools we need to deal with specific issues,” Minister Bradley told The Expositor. “The population is increasing around the Great Lakes and wherever the population is increasing, this means great stress on the environment.”

While the population may be increasing in southern parts of the Great Lakes, MASC is pushing for fair representation, as the majority of the Great Lakes shoreline is in the North. The council hopes that should the act be passed, they will be invited to sit as a member of the Great Lakes Guardian Council—part of the long-term plan.

While low water levels are one of MASC’s primary concerns in regards to the Great Lakes, it is unclear as to whether or not the MOE has any say at all in this regard. Jim Nies, a member of the MASC water committee, explained that MASC will be persuing answers to questions like this, and whether or not the act would mean enforcement for rules broken in regards to the Great Lakes Protection Act.

“We don’t see how the MOE can have much of an affect on water levels, but the province will have to kick in funds for structures, etcetera, along with the States, should the International Joint Commission (IJC) eventually find that such steps need to be taken to address low water levels,” Mr. Nies said. “Will they be able to contribute funds toward this, or will they spend it all on little fluffy things?”

The “little fluffy things” Mr. Nies referred to is the Communities Action Fund that will supply $1.5 million in small grants “to groups like Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, Lions Clubs and Fish and Game Clubs for projects with a positive impact on the Great Lakes,” the minister had told The Expositor, giving examples of planting trees for shade along the shoreline or conducting a beach clean-up.

While an article in the Friday, August 10 edition of the Manitoulin West Recorder noted that the Thursday MOE meeting had been cancelled, it is in fact back on again, thanks to a letter written to Minister Bradley by Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha, Mr. Nies explained.

“As you know, the Great Lakes border much of Northern Ontario; to host the majority of these stakeholder meetings in southern areas really excludes Northerners from participating,” Mr. Mantha wrote.

“There are already meetings planned in Toronto, Windsor, Cambridge and now instead of in Little Current they have chosen Goderich,” the letter continued. “Given the short distances between these locations, it’s more feasible for interested participants to attend one of these meetings. There was a meeting in Thunder Bay, quite a distance from Little Current and Manitoulin, however MASC was informed after the date in Thunder Bay had passed.”

“It is extremely unfortunate that the Ministry of Environment’s Great Lakes Office has done little to include much of Northern Ontario from having their voice heard at these meetings. They had planned the meeting in Little Current for August 23. I believe there is still time to reverse the decision to have yet another meeting in southern Ontario and proceed with the originally discussed Little Current location.”

“I am extremely disappointed in this decision and hope that you will reconsider as the MASC Water Committee would very much like to participate in these meetings and it is extremely important to have Northern Ontarians included in these discussions,” Mr. Mantha wrote.

Almost immediately, Therese Trainor, MASC secretary explained, the minister directed his staff to hold a meeting in Little Current.

“I’m impressed all around,” she said.

“This is a starting point,” she said of next week’s meeting. “We have to be in at the start to be in at the finish.”

All are encouraged to attend next week’s strategic planning session, with registration at 8:15 am at the recreation centre. The morning will include presentations by the MOE on the proposed act, protection strategy and funding program. After a light lunch, the afternoon will include breakout sessions followed by a plenary session on key themes of the day.