TORONTO (CP) – When the federal government pledged $12 million in its budget to help clean up Lake Simcoe, it barely registered with pundits, but went off like a bombshell in the offices of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
After all, unexpected millions aren’t the sort of thing environmental groups are used to seeing – least of all from a Conservative government.
So, defenders of Lake Simcoe and other environmental groups have fresh reason to hope that with policy makers in Canada newly focused on environmental issues, there could be greener things to come with Thursday’s release of the Ontario budget.
Others, however, know all too well that political attention to issues can be fleeting.
With so many groups vying for provincial dollars, it’s often hard to get the government’s attention unless the circumstances are dire, said Don Pearson, general manager of Conservation Ontario, which represents 36 conservation authorities across the province.
“It’s one of those cases where when you’re successful – and we’ve reduced (problems with) flood damages throughout Ontario with very good public policy – (your issue) tends to fall a bit below the radar screen,” Pearson said.
A coalition of 13 prominent environmental organizations has asked the Ontario government and opposition parties to consider six environmental priorities heading into the October election.
Investment in the issues of boreal forest protection, toxics, energy, Great Lakes protection, waste, and recycling – which the government has already done various levels of work on – would obviously be welcome in the budget as well, said Rick Smith of Environmental Defence.
“We’re looking for the government to align its fiscal priorities with the environmental policy priorities that it’s already been talking about,” he said.
But even the coalition’s single message branches out into a total of 30 priorities that fight for the government’s attention.
Because of all the big environmental issues that need attention, it came as a shock when the federal government found money for Lake Simcoe with its commitment of $12 million over two years, said Gayle Wood, chief administrative officer of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.
“We had not hoped for anything . . . we were not anticipating any money at all” in the budget, Wood said.
“The actual dollar amount was very much a surprise and very exciting.”
For years, the community had been petitioning the provincial and federal government for help in cleaning up the lake, which is the fourth-largest in the province.
“Our total budget is about $14 million so you can see that a $12-million injection into the lake is going to be a very welcome contribution,” she said.
Jack Gibbons of the Clean Air Alliance said he’s not expecting any funding for his wish list of projects but would welcome a similar surprise from the Ontario government.
He’d like the government to help the owners of buildings like shopping centres, schools, condos and office towers build small-scale power plants that would help phase out the province’s coal plants and avoid the need for new nuclear reactors.
Not that he’s expecting good news.
“Let’s say I’m hoping it will happen, but I’ve heard nothing from the minister that suggests he would do it.”