Together with Sierra Club Ontario’s Chapter Coordinator, Yvonne Ho and Great Lakes Campaign Chair, Lino Grima, I had the pleasure of attending The People's Great Lakes Summit 2.0, hosted by the Canadian Environmental Law Association in Toronto. It was a two-day event where environmental professionals from a dozen ENGOs gathered with three goals in mind: planning, policy, and action geared toward protecting the Great Lakes.
We spent our first day exploring the current state of freshwater policy in Ontario, including nuanced discussion of how research findings on water quality are best reported to the general public. However, the primary focus of the conference was action – planning collective projects that work toward our shared goals of freshwater protection. Participants who attended the previous summit in May shared updates on their work. Topics included urban stormwater runoff, plastics pollution, and the effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Photo taken by Anastasia Lintner of CELA
On our second day, we focused on Action. We broke into groups based on interest and discussed an issue in-depth: what the problem was, how it impacted people, and what we could do to move forward in a positive direction. I joined the community engagement group, anchored by the exceedingly knowledgeable and passionate Alice Casselman of the Association for Canadian Educational Resources. We spoke broadly about what community engagement means: connecting people to where they live, fostering an all-important sense of place and belonging, and using that connection to bolster the desire to protect their homes and, by extension, local waterways. Other topics during this session were the role of First Nations people in water policy, watershed management, Ontario's budget, and urban runoff.
We ended the conference with a discussion of the coming Provincial election in 2018 and what part water could play in it. We set timelines for the actions we created together, drafted a clear set of next steps, and prepared for continued collaboration in order to achieve shared goals.
I came away from the conference feeling incredibly positive. The people in attendance were brilliant, inspiring, and kind-hearted. Knowing that these folks are working everyday to protect our Great Lakes ecosystem fills me with such hope for the future.
Having the opportunity to learn more about a wide variety of freshwater issues in Ontario was wonderful. I've struggled with developing my own sense of place since moving Toronto. But after two days of spirited discussion among environmental professionals, I feel more connected to this place than ever. That connection makes me all the more determined to protect one of the most extraordinary places in the world: our very own Great Lakes.
This article was written by Becky Bassick, Sierra Club Ontario's Green Energy & Great Lakes Campaign Volunteer.
Blog photo of Great Lakes Stress Index was obtained from Canadian Geographic website.