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Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced this week that her government would reopen the northern Ontario research station controversially shuttered by Ottawa. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne announced this week that her government would reopen the northern Ontario research station controversially shuttered by Ottawa. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Analysis

Experimental lakes reopening should shore up left-leaning support for Wynne Add to ...

The bouquet of flowers arrived at the Ontario Premier’s office on Thursday, along with a note.

“Thank you for your courageous work on the Experimental Lakes Area with the IISD,” Elizabeth May had written to Kathleen Wynne. “Canada is so grateful!”

Although it is debatable how much the federal Green Party Leader speaks for Canada, the gesture was indicative of the goodwill Ms. Wynne managed to get at a very low price.

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To call less than $2-million per year a rounding error, for a government that spends well over $100-billion annually, would be an insult to rounding errors. Yet that expenditure, to which Ms. Wynne implicitly committed at a press conference this week, should be enough to reopen the northern Ontario research station controversially shuttered by Ottawa.

Provincial officials insist Ontario is serving as a facilitator, having reached out to both the federal and Manitoba governments to get the ball rolling to transfer the ELA to the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development. But Ms. Wynne seemed unable to resist a veiled shot at Stephen Harper’s Conservatives when she made her announcement, describing hers as a government that “believes in science, believes in evidence.”

It’s unlikely most Ontarians noticed, but for those who lament that Ottawa is at war with science – and hold up the abrupt closing of a facility world-renowned for its work examining the effects of freshwater contaminants – it undoubtedly resonated.

Although hardly addressing her biggest challenges in trying to hold onto power in the next election, the contrast struck by Ms. Wynne plays well to the environmentalist chunk of her Liberals’ governing coalition, helping prevent a percentage or two of the popular vote from bleeding to the provincial Greens.

Beyond that, with the Liberals’ best hope of seat gains in NDP-held ridings in downtown Toronto, it could also help lure a certain type of left-of-centre urbanite. That may not be entirely fair, given that New Democrat MPP Sarah Campbell, whose riding includes the ELA, called for Ms. Wynne to intervene. But with NDP Leader Andrea Horwath generally favouring a sort of pocketbook populism that plays better outside the city, Ms. Wynne’s environmentalism is a little more noticeable.

Not that saving experimental lakes attracted as much notice as, say, a debate about raising billions of dollars in new revenues to finance public transit. But at $2-million, with little risk, it offered pretty good political value for money.

Follow on Twitter: @aradwanski

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