Posted on January 18, 2010 (updated: January 18, 2010)

Canada falls short on Great Lakes while U.S. leaps ahead

The White House announced its proposed budget for 2010 yesterday, which sees a 34 percent increase in funding for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and an extra $475 million in Great Lakes restoration. Canadian environmental organizations are applauding this this leadership on the U.S. side of the border, while harshly criticizing the Canadian federal government, whose last federal budget did not even mention the Great Lakes.

“What we need to see from Stephen Harper is a national investment in the Great Lakes, not the Manhattan theatrics that he is passing off as Canada-U.S. relations,” said Derek Stack, Executive Director of Great Lakes United, responding to Prime Minister Harper’s recent publicity blitz of New York City. “This is the same cycle we’ve seen for years – the U.S. commits hundreds of millions of dollars to the Great Lakes and Ottawa does nothing.”

During the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to create a $5 billion fund to jumpstart the recovery of the Great Lakes. The budget package signals a commitment to following through on this pledge. It also comes in the wake of Great Lakes Day, an annual event that brings environmental and conservation groups to Washington D.C. to press the need for renewal of the region.

“This is a serious budget commitment, and one that is in stark contrast to that of our own federal government, which has earmarked virtually nothing for Great Lakes clean up,” said Aaron Freeman, Policy Director of Environmental Defence. “It is clear that the Obama administration understands that environment and economy are two sides of the same coin. In Canada, our federal politicians seem mired in a totally outdated ‘environment versus economy’ mentality.”

A recent report by the Brookings Institute found that a $26 billion investment in the Great Lakes would reap $50 billion worth of benefits. With the combined economies of Ontario and the eight Great Lakes states exceeding that of the economic powerhouses of China, India, Germany and the United Kingdom, an investment in the Great Lakes would create jobs, address urgent health and environmental problems, and improve the quality of life in the region.

“While the president has made it clear that he remains committed to jumpstarting the recovery of the Great Lakes, the Harper government has simply demonstrated that it remains the lax laggard of the region,” said Dr. Elaine MacDonald, Senior Scientist with Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund). “The longer we wait the worse the problems get and the more costly the solutions become.”

Successive governments in Canada have given little regard to the health of the Great Lakes, cutting funding and scaling back resources.

“For years Environment Canada has been plagued by budget cuts and broken funding promises,” said Sarah Miller, Water Policy Researcher with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. “As a result we have lost the scientific capacity to understand the impacts of new stresses on this delicate ecosystem.”

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