News / Canada

Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area to go private, says coalition

A coalition of prominent scientists and a group representing thousands of public service professionals are denouncing what they say is the privatization of the Experimental Lakes Area.

Winnipeg's Diane Orihel, director of the Coalition to Save the ELA, said on Friday her organization has been informed that Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans is on the verge of transferring the ELA to a private sector operator.

“Unless ELA remains funded by the federal government and staffed by public service scientists, the ELA will cease to serve the interests of the people of Canada, and our ability to protect our lakes and rivers will be diminished,” said Orihel in a press release.

“The ELA is the only freshwater research facility capable of providing the necessary science to address the serious environmental challenges we face in Canada, now and in the future.”

The Coalition has publicly called on Canada’s Minister of the Environment Peter Kent “to take immediate action to stop his government from committing a grave error.”

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents about 60,000 public sector professionals, joined the Coalition in its opposition to the privatization of the ELA.

“The ELA is an invaluable scientific asset that is a perfect fit with the core mandate of Environment Canada,” said Gary Corbett, president of the PIPSC.

“Frankly, having the ELA on his team to contribute to his obligations to ensure a sustainable and safe environment for Canadians should be a no-brainer for Minister Kent.”

Gail Shea, acting Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, alleges the claim of a deal is “absolutely false.”

“The News Release from the Save the ELA coalition is misleading and their claim that a deal is imminent is absolutely false,” said Shea in a statement sent to Metro.

“Our Government understands the importance of science to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and other Government departments, that’s why we have boosted investments in science in a way that will get results.”

Shea said that over the past five years, the feds have spent $8 billion on new investments in research and science “across government” and that at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, science investments “have remained steady over the past six years.”

In May, staff at the ELA received layoff notices from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, reportedly due to federal budget cuts.

Located in Northwestern Ontario, the ELA, which has a $2-million operating budget, is made up of 58 small lakes and their watersheds that have been set aside for research since 1968.

The ELA has provided advice to policy-makers and industry on such issues as: harmful algal blooms, acid rain, the impact of hormones in sewage effluent on fish health, evidence that flame retardants degrade into banned toxic chemicals and measures to lower mercury contamination in fish.

It is operated out of the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg.

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