Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lake Winnipeg and Bill C-45

Lake Winnipeg, one of the Canada's largest lakes, has been determined to be the most threatened lake in the world in 2013.
Canada’s own Lake Winnipeg has been named the “Threatened Lake of the Year 2013” by the Global Nature Fund (GNF). Previously named threatened lakes include the Dead Sea in the Middle East, Lake Titicaca which runs through Peru and Bolivia and Lake Victoria in Africa. In comparison to the developing regions listed above, the unfortunate title has caused an out pour of criticism aimed at Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Bill C-45.

Bill C-45, which has been made famous by Canada’s homegrown First Nation’s movement, Idle No More, eliminates government protection and responsibilities of thousands of lakes, rivers and water ways. Lakes like Lake Winnipeg would see no federal regulation to prevent further depletion of the aquatic life. Experts argue that Lake Winnipeg’s recovery will take a number of years, as the high levels phosphorous and E. Coli are difficult scenarios to reverse. The high levels of phosphorous, especially threatening can spawn into an increase in algae population, called an algae bloom. When there is an occurrence of algae bloom in a body of water, the process of decomposition of algae consumes oxygen which kills fish and produces extremely toxic water which was once drinkable. The worst kind of algae bloom is the blue-green algae, now the most dominant algae produced in Lake Winnipeg. Aside from the threatening algae production and E. Coli levels, Lake Winnipeg produces over $125 million in revenues annually economic development, tourism, fishery and agriculture

The importance of restoring Lake Winnipeg is unquestionably a difficult and costly undertaking; reportedly it will take years of commitment by the business, agricultural and government to restore the levels of algae. Recent federal cut backs to research centres like the world renowned Smithsonian Institute and Bill C-45 only reinforce the lack of care on behalf of the Harper government. While making an $18 million pledge to clean up Lake Winnipeg in August 2012, the Harper government is sending mixed messages to environmentalists actively involved in clean-up efforts. The money mentioned has been provided to the small projects to reduce nutrients in the lake, at the same time fewer dollars are given to research initiatives such as the aforementioned Smithsonian Institution and Lake Winnipeg Research Consortium. Yet, the most alarming set-back for clean-up efforts is the recent Bill C-45.

Bill C-45, makes vast changes to the Navigation Protection Act, of the changes, regulation of lakes, rivers and other bodies of waters will be transferred to the functions of the Minister of Health (dissolving the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission). Furthermore, the Fisheries Act will only concern fishing issues which are related to “commercial importance”. Most crucial is the expansion of Alberta Oil sands; Bill C-45 enhances the rights of private representatives of the Oil Sands and developers. This ultimately concerns the First Nation Population on and off reserve land. According to Devon Page the executive director of EcoJustice; "Simply put, lakes, rivers and streams often stand in the path of large industrial development, particularly pipelines. This bill, combined with last spring’s changes, hands oil, gas and other natural resource extraction industries a free pass to degrade Canada’s rich natural legacy."

This is where Idle No More makes its constant appearance as the grassroots Canadian initiative to enforce government compliance with environmental standards and First Nations treaty rights. Idle No More approaches its movement on a locally driven people’s movement, focused on transferring the knowledge of Indigenous sovereignty and environmental protection. A full interview of one of the founders of Idle No More by the FDA’s very own Stephen Garvey can be found here.

Ms. Mansharn Toor, Foundation for Democratic Advancement blogger and researcher with a background in international relations


Thank you for sharing your perspective.