2012/06/13 1 Comment
By: Robert C. Henry
The lifeblood of Muskoka’s fiscal survival is the environment and if Muskoka’s natural ecosystem degrades significantly the local economy, as we know it, will simply collapse.
With this stark reality in mind it is disheartening, indeed frightening, that the Federal government is pulling the plug on research that could very well help Muskoka avoid a future environmental disaster.
Omnibus Budget Bill C-38 calls for the closure of Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a world-renowned freshwater and fisheries research facility. The ELA, located in Northwestern Ontario, consists of 58 small lakes and their watersheds set aside for research. It is, up to now, been a permanent field station with a dedicated research team.
From a Muskoka perspective it provides key information, unattainable elsewhere, for objective, evidence based decision-making. Environmental issues studied include algal blooms, mercury pollution, greenhouse gases, acid rain and a host of other subjects. Not surprisingly, the multifaceted focus of this research ties directly to some of the problems already experienced in Muskoka.
However, thanks to Prime Minister Harper and his colleagues such as MP Tony Clement, the ELA’s important work ends in March 2013.
But that political decision, with its enormous negative ramifications for Muskoka, pales next to the silence from Muskoka’s 51 municipal politicians. Not so much as a whimper or a peep has been heard from this group yet now is obviously the time to set aside parochial politics join together and let the Federal government know that the ELA must continue its work.
Locally, we hear constant political pontificating about economic growth and environmental protection but here we are at a significant crossroad affecting both and the silence is deafening.
Let’s consider a “what if” scenario. What if all seven of Muskoka’s municipal governments passed strong resolutions demanding that the Harper government reverse its stance on the ELA?
What if all 51 of Muskoka’s municipal politicians signed a strongly worded letter to MP Tony Clement with a similar message?
What if District Chairman John Klinck convinced other municipalities such as Halliburton and Parry Sound to also pass resolutions and collect political signatures demanding the federal Tories re-think their position on this issue?
Of course, all of the above would require co-operation and political courage not just from Muskoka’s 51 but from others as well. As such, there’s not much light at the tunnel’s end.
In Muskoka we really don’t have a strong, across the board policies for environmental protection. It has been argued that Muskoka’s 60-plus municipal planners are the guardians of Muskoka’s environment but that 60-plus group works in seven separate planning departments that are subject to the whims of seven different political bodies. A cohesive approach to environmental issues is difficult, if not impossible, given these circumstances.
Further, although many Muskoka bylaws exist under the guise of environmental protection, enforcement in many cases is anemic or non-existent.
There is also the Muskoka Watershed Council (MWC). It’s composed of a partially political and partially non-political membership that truly does outstanding work. No one questions their motives or their sincerity. However, the organization’s primary focus is that of creating report cards on the current state of Muskoka’s environment health. If there’s an environmental train wreck in Muskoka we could expect a thorough report from the MWC after the fact. This is the exact opposite of a pro-active approach where stopping the train before the crash is more important.
Frankly, under these circumstances, throwing municipal stones at the Federal government is somewhat hypocritical except for the fact Canadians expect their most senior level of government to assume a leadership role in environmental protection.
But most unfortunately, from an environmental perspective, the ELA closure is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been many recent and proposed cuts to federal environmental planning. Scientists are deeply concerned that Canada’s capacity to protect and manage freshwater and marine resources has been seriously undermined.
There is a consensus of concern about proposed changes to the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act – all of which are rolled into 400-plus pages of the Omnibus Budget Bill C-38.
Muskoka’s permanent and seasonal residents must stand up and be heard as cottage country as we know it needs all the pro-active environmental research and protection it can get. Snipping away at those components does not bode well for Muskoka’s economic future.
The obvious conduit for passing this message on to Harper and Clement is our municipal leaders.
Question: Do these 51 have the foresight and gumption required to do what is right for Muskoka?