Thank you, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen of the committee. On behalf of the board, the staff, and the volunteers of the Bay Area Restoration Council, commonly called BARC, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to address this important issue.
I'm going to speak for less than 10 minutes and focus on part (c) of this committee's motion regarding best practices to facilitate further local environmental remediation efforts across the Great Lakes.
First l'll speak specifically about Hamilton Harbour and the remedial action plan, or RAP, there. I know you have had a number of people speak to that already in previous meetings. I'll just give a brief overview, a little bit about what BARC does, and the conditions there. I'll also make some remarks about the Great Lakes AOC program in general.
In both cases, my remarks have relevance to the federal role in local remediation efforts. My particular interest is in characteristics of stakeholder engagement processes that lead to success or failure.
BARC represents the public interest in the restoration of Hamilton Harbour and its watershed. BARC evolved from the very first citizens group to be established in 1971 in Hamilton's north end neighbourhood, literally at Gil Simmons' kitchen table, which overlooked the harbour. They were the first group of people to say that this was enough.
During the development of the Hamilton Harbour RAP in the 1980s, that initial citizens group turned into the public advisory committee, which was formally established as a non-profit charitable organization in 1991 once the RAP was under way. We have remained so in continuous operation since 1991.
BARC is a member of the official governmental-led implementation team of agencies responsible for actions that implement the remedial action plan in Hamilton, and interestingly enough also responsible for actions or activities to evaluate progress of that remedial action plan. We do so through a broad stakeholder process of gathering information and forming consensus decisions to chart that progress.
BARC encourages community activity and action by offering school programs, volunteer programs and events, community workshops, evaluative reporting on current issues, and opportunities for digital engagement and promotion. I will return to that last point in just a second.
BARC recently relaunched a new website at hamiltonharbour.ca, a project we call the digital community forum, because most of the content will be created by the community. The project aims to do more than simply provide information. We will give voice to those who want to contribute their ideas, who want to share their experiences, and who want to lead by example. The project is just beginning, but it has already attracted significant support from the Ontario government and from other institutions who recognize this as an opportunity to initiate more meaningful engagement with the community, community groups, and individuals with knowledge and initiative to undertake the kinds of changes in the community at the individual level and at the institutional and commercial levels that will be required to make the further advances in the RAP that will be necessary to meet delisting targets in the end.
With support from the federal government, BARC is also creating randlereef.ca. Randle Reef, as you probably know, is the worst remaining coal tar deposit in the country. This website celebrates this most successful milestone in the harbour's fledgling renaissance—that is, the environmental containment facility to contain and gather up all of the toxic material, including PAHs and other toxins in the sediment at Randle Reef and elsewhere in the harbour.
Third, BARC's most recent report card on the Hamilton Harbour RAP was produced in 2012 using a consensus process, as I mentioned, involving a broad stakeholder group from across the watershed. Overall, progress has been significant, but so too are the remaining challenges.
Arguably, we have passed the halfway point to delisting Hamilton Harbour AOC, which involves a record of many small victories. Although several major projects to improve waste water treatment and remediate toxic sediment are under way, the future of the RAP is somewhat uncertain. The biggest question asks whether in the end the environment will respond to the many projects currently imagined to one day improve water quality and other environmental conditions in the Hamilton Harbour watershed.
The only grade to go down in our most recent report card involved a lack of progress on controlling erosion and implementing better, more sustainable, stormwater management.
Erosion produces sediment that clogs stormwater management facilities, ruins aquatic habitats, and carries phosphorus off the landscape into receiving waters. This is an urban problem. This is a rural problem. It involves construction sites as well as farms, and it involves thousands of individual yards and driveways. This is not the low-hanging fruit.
Sediment and phosphorous must be reduced before our water quality goals can be reached. Our efforts to date have made a difference, a significant difference, but it hasn’t been enough yet. This represents what policy studies call an “implementation deficit”: the difference between the goals that we set and the results that we achieve.
The federal role can influence implementation deficits in some positive ways. Reducing external constraints on implementers, providing adequate time and resources to problem-solving, improving the coordination and collaboration of shared local experiences—all of these are roles that can be played by the federal government and influence by reducing implementation deficits in processes like remedial action plans.
Recent research into the ongoing history of the Great Lakes RAP program has provided some insights into characteristics of RAPs. The research involved the anonymous feedback of many dozens of stakeholders with direct experience in developing and implementing remedial action plans across the Great Lakes. People from Canada, from the United States, from first nations to federal employees—all of these people across this spectrum were involved.
The research collected and aggregated the following things, in three stages. It collected direct knowledge of the strengths and limitations of RAPs. Through the researchers, this led to further knowledge of what worked and what did not work in the RAP program. That in turn facilitated the emergence of actionable policy options to improve RAP processes; I should say, really, to improve environmental problem-solving, collaborative local decision-making, and action-taking processes, but the RAPs were my point of study.
Participants from across Canada and the United States, from first nations to federal employees and everyone in between involved in developing remedial action plans, ranked those options for their desirability, their feasibility, and their likelihood to succeed. I'll give you a sample of some of those actionable policy options that I think are most applicable to the federal role.
One would be to ensure government coordination involves senior personnel trained and experienced in the mediation of group processes and able to navigate political arenas.
Two, ensure continuity of government coordination, meaning that coordination roles do not go unfilled for long periods of time, and that those roles are assigned adequate and dedicated time.
Third, create stakeholder agreements and implementation work plans with assigned responsibilities, timetables, deliverables, and explicit criteria for engaging new stakeholders and new ideas.
Four, directly link science and monitoring to policy needs regarding the restoration of beneficial uses.
Five, provide an overarching strategic RAP development and implementation framework that enables local flexibility.
Importantly, the results establish that not only the structure of problem solving, but also the characteristics of problem solving, were equally significant to RAP outcomes. This has significant implications for the federal role in fixing the nearshore right across the Great Lakes.
Most impactfully, the federal role should be defined at least in part by principles such as authority can be shared without being relinquished, so collaboration needs your support. We can choose our actions but not their consequences, so flexibility needs your support. Desired outcomes benefit from incentives and champions, so locals need your support. Senior government cannot command and control problems with those involved at the local level and expect positive outcomes, but an impactful federal role can provide or ensure capacity, adaptability, and moral authority in local problem-solving processes involving diverse stakeholders.
This is the path to meaningful and successful problem-solving.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.