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Majority of Canadians want to see government step up for Great Lakes

Great Lakes conservation faces massive funding cuts in the U.S.

Kayakers paddle in Lake Ontario in June 2016.

Irvin Mintz/Metroland

Kayakers paddle in Lake Ontario in June 2016.

The majority of Canadians want to see an increase in Great Lakes funding if the U.S. guts a $300 million conservation program.

A new Forum Research poll of 1,479 Canadians shows 57 per cent would back the initiative, with support particularly strong among Canadians under 34, the least wealthy, and those in Ontario and B.C.

It makes sense, said Elizabeth Hendriks, vice-president of Freshwater Program at World Wildlife Fund Canada, as younger people are the ones who will have to live with the consequences of not acting to protect fresh water resources.

“The impacts of climate change are today being felt through water and we need to be ready for that,” she said.

“Canadians are demanding it.”

But Great Lakes funding faces significant obstacles in the U.S.

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would wipe out the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, cutting its $300 million budget by 97 per cent.

The program, which started under president George W. Bush, funds crucial activities like cleaning toxic areas and restoring natural habitats, said Nancy Goucher, manager of partnerships at Freshwater Future. She told Metro that Canada needs to put money towards domestic initiatives, like addressing algal blooms in Lake Erie that are already affecting water quality.

Canada does not have a program like the one in the U.S., and Great Lakes conservationists have long advocated for one.

Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeepers, warns U.S. cuts would have disastrous consequences for the interconnected Great Lakes ecosystem, and hopes for political pushback.

“To make cutbacks now and to go from an era of restoration, which is really what we’ve been seeing for the last 10 years, and go back to an era of destruction is just not going to fly with the Americans,” he said.

“I think the poll proves it’s not going to fly with Canadians either, and we’re prepared to step up and take a leadership role.”

By the numbers:

57 per cent of Canadians believe that if the U.S. cuts its budget to protect the Great Lakes, Canada has a responsibility to increase funding in response.

23 per cent disagree

20 per cent said they don’t know

The poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 per cent, 19 times out of 20, polled 1,479 randomly selected Canadians across the country.

With files from Sarah-Joyce Battersby

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