Official Submission to the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR):
Sierra Club Ontario Chapter and the SCCF Great Lakes Committee support the GL Protection Act [GLPA] because the proposed legislation creates significant new legal and policy tools to protect Ontario’s portion of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin. This Act is timely because the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem shows signs of deterioration with particular reference to persistent chemicals, habitat and wetland loss and increasing nutrient load. The proposed Great Lakes Protection Act represents a positive step, but like all enabling legislation it requires adequate funding support and thorough, transparent evaluation of its effectiveness through regular review.
We are also part of the GLPA Alliance, a group of ENGOs. We have co-signed the EBR submission of the GLPA Alliance and particularly support its opposition to exemption powers from this enabling legislation [para 38(1)(l)]. On the other hand we believe that the provisions in Bill 66 regarding wetlands need important, significant changes. Wetlands have been significantly reduced in the GL Basin ecosystem to the detriment of fish spawning and nursery habitat, endangered species and flood protection. The first priority should be the protection and conservation of the much reduced remaining areas of healthy wetlands. There should be no trade-off of restored or created wetlands for existing natural wetlands because the former fall far short in providing the ecological functions and values that natural wetlands provide. The protection of the much reduced endowment of natural wetlands does not need a quantitative ‘target’ – the objective should be to prevent degradation by any means including filling in or contamination and or reduction in size. Once degraded or destroyed, wetlands and their ecological function are not replaceable.
The provision in section 9 needs to reflect the priority of protecting existing wetlands and we suggest the following amendment:
“Within two years after this section comes into force, the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry shall, after consulting with the other Great Lakes ministers, establish a list of significant coastal wetlands that will be protected in all of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin. This should include all wetlands and wetland complexes that meet current designation requirements as Provincially Significant Wetlands.”
We recommend the use of ground truthed high resolution satellite imagery to speed up this process especially for Georgian Bay and Lake Superior. This need not preclude wetlands restoration especially in areas where wetlands have been particularly degraded but the primary focus needs to be on protecting existing wetlands. Once degraded or destroyed, wetlands and their ecological function are not replaceable.
The GL Protection Act needs to include provisions for the protection and wise use of aquifers and groundwater which are an integral part of the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River Basin Ecosystem and should be specifically included in the GL Protection Act. We suggest that under “Interpretations” in section 3 the following be added:
“Hydrological functions include aquifers and groundwater in the Great Lakes-St Lawrence River Basin.”
In addition the protection of groundwater should be included in the purposes of the Act, particularly in paragraph 2:
2. To protect and restore watersheds, groundwater, wetlands, beaches, shorelines and other coastal areas of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.
Our suggestions would enhance the potential of the proposed Great Lakes Protection Act to make a difference in protecting the valuable resources of the Great Lakes.