Thank you and good afternoon.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee about Ontario's interest and work on the Great Lakes water quality.
I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Brian Nixon, director of our Land and Water Policy Branch.
The Great Lakes are of great importance to the province of Ontario. The Great Lakes are the source of drinking water for 80% of Ontarians, and the Great Lakes basin is where the great majority of Ontarians live and where most of our economic, agricultural, and social activities take place.
The Province of Ontario has long been actively protecting, monitoring and remediating the water quality of the Great Lakes. Ontario's work on the water quality of the Great Lakes is guided by a vision of the Great Lakes that are drinkable, swimmable, and fishable for generations to come.
Our current efforts in this regard are described in three main initiatives: Ontario's Great Lakes strategy, released in December 2012; Ontario's proposed Great Lakes protection act, Bill 6, currently before a committee of the Ontario legislature; and the Canada-Ontario agreement on the Great Lakes, currently in the final phases of its eighth renewal.
I will briefly outline some of the salient aspects of these three initiatives and I will leave copies of Ontario's Great Lakes strategy for the committee.
Ontario's Great Lakes strategy provides a road map to focus tools and resources across ministries as well as priorities for action and collaboration with the broader Great Lakes community. It has six goals.
The first one is to engage and empower communities. Because the health of the Great Lakes impacts almost everyone in Ontario, it is essential to engage Ontarians and their communities in the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes. This focus on engaging and empowering communities has led to new alliances; for example, with first nation communities, reflecting their unique relationship to the lakes, the importance of traditional ecological knowledge to protect them, and a commitment to ongoing collaboration.
Activities to date include Great Lakes Guardian Community Fund awards of $3 million to 158 community-based projects to protect habitat and species, clean up beaches and shorelines, reduce the impact of invasive species, and restore wetlands to help manage stormwater runoff. The Great Lakes as a context for learning involves the production of a conference for high school teachers designed to profile Great Lakes career opportunities.
The second goal is protecting water for human and ecological health. This goal includes a range of actions to address excess nutrients and related algae blooms as well as toxic chemicals and pharmaceuticals in the Great Lakes. This goal also addresses issues related to stormwater and waste-water discharges to the lakes.
Activities to date include: the $17-million showcasing water innovation program for innovative water management approaches, including, for example, a project designed to increase the recycling of nutrient water in Ontario's greenhouse sector, leading to a reduction in the use of water and in the discharge of nutrient-bearing water into the lakes; more than $660 million committed by the province for waste-water and stormwater infrastructure upgrades in the Great Lakes basin since March 2007; source protection initiatives undertaken under Ontario's Clean Water Act, including assessments of existing and potential threats to municipal drinking water sources and identification of implementation actions by local source protection committees to reduce or eliminate these threats. The province has invested approximately $240 million in source protection activities related to the Great Lakes since 2004.
The third goal is to improve wetlands, beaches, shorelines, and coastal areas to protect fish and wildlife habitats and address beach impairments. Ontario is identifying and mapping significant wetlands, conducting research to improve our understanding of sources of E. coli contamination and causes of other beach impairments, such as nuisance algae, in order to guide beach management actions and continue efforts to remediate designated areas of concern and other areas.
Activities include the release of a new provincial policy statement that includes policy direction to increase protection of Great Lakes coastal wetlands in southern areas of the province, enhance water policies to provide increased direction to municipalities to identify shoreline areas in their official plans and apply additional protection, and consider cumulative effects in the watershed. The provincial policy statement also includes policies directing municipalities to take a coordinated approach when addressing Great Lakes issues.
Provincial ministries have inventoried, evaluated, and mapped more than 125 wetlands totalling more than 10,000 hectares. As the Canada-Ontario agreement negotiations continue, Ontario has maintained its commitment to the shared lakes objectives with Canada, including through funding of $46.3 million to clean up contaminated sediment in Hamilton harbour's Randle Reef.
The fourth goal is to protect habitats and species. The Great Lakes basin ecosystem is home to more than 4,000 species of plants, fish, and wildlife. Recreational fishing in the Great Lakes contributes more than $600 million to Ontario's economy each year. In order to protect one of the most biologically rich ecosystems in Canada and to continue to protect recreational opportunities such as fishing, Ontario's Great Lakes strategy includes measures to prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species, which threaten biodiversity, and to restore the habitats the Great Lakes species call home.
Activities include the following:
On February 26, the Government of Ontario introduced new legislation to support the prevention, early detection, rapid response, and eradication of invasive species in the province. If it is passed, Ontario will become the first and only jurisdiction in Canada to have stand-alone invasive species legislation.
The province has strengthened regulations, increased monitoring efforts, and collaborated with researchers to increase understanding of Asian carp biology and behaviour.
The fifth goal is to enhance understanding of the Great Lakes ecosystem and adaptation. The changing climate has emerged as a significant threat to Great Lakes water quality. For example, severe weather events associated with climate change have increased runoff to the Great Lakes, and with it the flow of pollutants from urban, industrial, and agricultural sources.
In order to improve our understanding of stressors such as climate change and enhance our ability to adapt, Ontario is increasing public access to scientific information on the Great Lakes and enhancing monitoring and modelling to understand and predict the impacts of climate change and other cumulative impacts. Ontario and its partners are offering municipalities information on how to manage risks and adapt to climate change.
For example, Ontario has provided $145,000 to the Municipal Adaptation and Resiliency Service, or MARS, launched by mayors of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative to help municipalities accelerate local adaptation to climate change in the Great Lakes region.
The sixth goal is to ensure environmentally sustainable economic opportunities and innovation.
Ontario's Great Lakes region contains 40% of Canada's economic activity. Ontario recognizes that protecting the Great Lakes is necessary for numerous sectors of the economy. Water technology innovation and conservation practices provide tools to improve environmental sustainability while helping Ontario companies tap into the half-trillion-dollar global water technology market in order to promote sustainable economic opportunities that help Ontario protect the lakes.
Ontario's proposed Great Lakes protection act, Bill 6, is currently moving through the legislative process. It builds on what we have learned through existing agreements and would provide the Government of Ontario with a more comprehensive suite of tools to address the combined stresses on the Great Lakes at a multiple watershed scale. For example, if passed, the act would authorize the Minister of the Environment to use legally binding instruments, such as geographically focused initiatives and targets, to protect the Great Lakes.
Canada and Ontario have long collaborated on Great Lakes issues, and have achieved significant success in addressing algae blooms, reducing the levels of persistent toxic chemicals, such as PCBs and mercury, and working to remediate areas of concern. This strong relationship between Canada and Ontario continues with a negotiation of the eighth Canada-Ontario agreement on the Great Lakes, which concluded recently. The agreement is now in the approval phase.
We look forward to posting the new Canada-Ontario agreement for public consultation this spring. Under this new agreement, Ontario plans to work with Canada to complete cleanup actions in five of the remaining areas of concern.
To sum up, the Great Lakes are a natural heritage of key importance to Canada and Ontario. Its protection and preservation for future generations requires concerted action and significant investment. Ontario is committed to continued collaboration with Canada and other partners in the ongoing protection and restoration of the Great Lakes.
Together, we have improved the health of the Great Lakes in many respects. Much more remains to be done, however, and Ontario welcomes Canada's continued participation and investment in the future as a vital resource.
This concludes my remarks.
Thank you for your attention.