The Great Lakes Protection Act was recently introduced in Ontario (Bill 100, 1st Sess., 40th Leg.). The Act, administered by the Minister of the Environment, would help to identify areas of concern that may adversely affect the ecological health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, and establish and prioritize objectives. In that regard, the Act focuses on incorporating public involvement and collaboration with the Government of Ontario. These cooperative efforts would be accomplished primarily through the establishment of Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy and a Great Lakes Guardians’ Council.
As an initial plan of action, the Strategy would summarize the environmental conditions of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, identify and prioritize future actions to be taken to achieve the purposes of the Act, and set forth a summary of those actions. A draft of Ontario’s Great Lakes Strategy has already been proposed and made available for public comment and review. The Council would serve as a forum for ministries, municipalities, environmental organizations, and scientific communities to identify priorities for actions and projects, as well as potential funding measures to carry out the purposes of the Act. This network of collaboration would be critical in providing the Minister with input necessary in identifying specific geographic targets relating to the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin.
The Act also creates new regulatory authority in order to coordinate public bodies to develop and implement geographically focused initiatives to address those areas. First, the province may make regulations requiring persons to take actions to protect or restore the ecological health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, or prohibiting activities that may adversely affect the ecological health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin. Second, upon issuing a direction describing the geographic area the initiative would be aimed at and the issues the Minister intend to the initiative to address, the Minister may then order public bodies to develop a proposal for the initiative. That proposal must set forth the objectives of the initiative, the policies that would be set out to achieve those objectives, and consultation with affected communities that would be undertaken during the development of the initiative. After approval, the final initiative will describe the area to which the initiative applies, the objectives of the initiative, the issues the initiative would address, the priorities that should guide the implementation of the initiative, the methods that will be used to assess whether the objectives of the initiative are being achieved, a strategy for financing the implementation of the initiative, and the public bodies that would be ultimately responsible for its implementation.
Additionally, the Act prospectively resolves situations in which a conflict of law may arise. For instance, the Act expressly provides that in cases where the initiative conflicts with other policy, official plans of a municipality, or by-law, the initiative prevails. Also, if a regulation under the Act conflicts with another regulation issued or created under another Act, the provision that provides the greatest protection to the ecological health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin prevails. However, the Act carefully preserves the integrity of previous international agreements such as the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Sustainable Water Resources Agreement of 2005 and the Great Lakes Charter, by mandating the consideration thereof prior to establishing initiatives.
Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act has already gained support from environmental groups such as the Canadian Environmental Law Association, Sierra Club, and Great Lakes United. Along with the revised Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and implementation of the Great Lakes Compact, Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act could be an important policy tool Canadian freshwater protection and restoration.
Thanks to Kelsi Johnson, Wayne Law student and fellow with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, for this post.