The province of Ontario says it will pay to keep the Experimental Lakes Area operating in the long term after the federal Conservative government walks away from the world-class freshwater research station at the end of August.
That is good news to the scientists who perform experiments at the facility. They were concerned that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s commitment of support for the ELA last April may have meant a one-time-only injection of cash.
But as the province and the federal government negotiate the transfer of the research station to the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources will still not say exactly how much money he is prepared to put toward the ELA each year.
“It will be below $2-million, without putting a specific number to it,” David Orazietti told The Globe and Mail on Tuesday. The actual dollar amount is part of the ongoing discussions, he said.
It has cost the federal government about $2-million annually to operate the ELA, a 40-year-old outdoor laboratory in Northwestern Ontario near the Manitoba border. It consists of 58 lakes and their watersheds and has produced groundbreaking research on the effects of pollutants such as acid rain and phosphates.
But Mr. Orazietti said there would be other sources of funding in addition to the amount contributed by Ontario. Some of the money would presumably be raised by the IISD. Manitoba has also indicated a willingness to chip in.
Even though the exact funding formula has yet to be decided, “we are prepared to make a financial commitment to see this go forward,” Mr. Orazietti said. “It’s unfortunate that the federal government has backed away from this commitment and is abandoning the research that’s being done here.”
Scientists expressed concern last week that the memorandum of understanding between the federal government and Ontario that allows the ELA to operate is set to expire at the end of August with no transfer agreement in sight. One of the sticking points in the negotiations has been determining who will ultimately be responsible for returning the lakes to their original pristine condition when work at the station eventually comes to an end.
Federal officials have been talking about the possibility of a “gap” between the expiry of the memorandum and the takeover by the IISD in which scientists will be unable to carry on their work at the ELA.
Mr. Orazietti would not discount that possibility. “We will continue to reach an agreement, whether it is in advance of that date or it goes beyond that date,” he said. “The important thing to keep in mind is that IISD and the federal government and the province are actively engaged in working out an arrangement to see this world-renowned experimental area continuing to operate.”
Diane Orihel, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta who has been leading the fight to keep the ELA running, said Tuesday that she is glad to hear Ontario is talking about multiyear funding. The Ontario government “are the good guys in this story, they are the Good Samaritans,” she said. “They are the ones who are picking up the slack where the federal government dropped the ball.”Funding
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger told his province’s legislature that he and Ms. Wynne discussed the ELA at a premiers’ meeting last week in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
Like Ontario and the IISD, Mr. Selinger said, Manitoba is committed to finding a way for the research to continue. But “there is an environmental liability there that has to be resolved,” he said. “The federal government cannot expect other organizations to pick up that liability and they can walk away from it.”