The Lake Superior Binational Forum: On the Harper Government chopping block

By Elysia Petrone-Reitberger, board member of Environment North.

The 1909 “Boundary Water’s” Treaty established the International Joint Commission (IJC). The Commission has six members, three from Canada and three from the USA. Former Thunder Bay- Superior North MP Joe Comuzzi is presently one of the Canadian members. The IJC was established to prevent and resolve disputes between the two countries and pursue the common good as an independent and objective advisor to the Canadian and US governments. The IJC has set up various boards and task forces to help carry out its responsibilities over the decades.

The Lake Superior Binational Forum was established in 1991 “to further consultation and participation among government, industry and environmental stakeholders on the restoration and protection of Lake Superior”. The Forum has equal Canadian and US representation, with12 Canadian and 12 US members that represent environmental, Tribal/First Nation, industrial, business, health and academic interests. The core funding has been $50,000 per annum from Environment Canada and about $75, 000 per annum from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Forum is the principle body that has worked with governments to implement the Lake Superior Binational Program and its Lakewide Management Plan. The Forum holds workshops and public input sessions. They meet four times each year at various locations around Lake Superior (two in the US and two in Canada) and is actively engaged with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and other federal and state agencies.

The Forum’s accomplishments over the years include the Zero Discharge Demonstration Program and significant progress toward the control of in-basin sources for mercury and dioxin. The 2010 milestone review saw an 80% reduction of mercury discharge compared to the 1990 baseline.

They were involved in mobilizing the efforts to stop the raw sewage that was empting directly in to the lake in Nipigon. They also assisted in the action to correct the black liquor spills in Marathon from the pulp and paper industry.

Now, after years of progress and success, the Canadian contingent’s funding for 2011 has not come through and they are having difficulty upholding their end of the partnership.

The Conservative government and Environment Canada, directly responsible for funding, have provided no explanation. Member and Canadian Chair of the Lake Superior Binational Forum, Glen Dale, said the Forum is struggling. At the last Committee meeting held in Grand Marias the Canadian members attended at own expense.

The silent treatment seems to be the method of choice for dealing with environmental and scientific cutbacks for the Harper government since the election early in the year. It has been used in the dismantling of the national ozone measuring network, monitoring of mercury and other toxins, dismissal of staff and scientists and groups that monitor changes in the environment.

Lake Superior seems to be a preferred target. There are no longer any Environment Canada staff that deal directly with the Greatest Lake. If you want information, try contacting someone in Toronto or Burlington.

It is the 20th anniversary for the Lake Superior Binational Forum. In theory, it is a year to celebrate ideas. For the Harper government it seems to be a year to stifle ideas and information.