Blog: Successfully Navigating Stormy Seas

Blog authored by April Weppler, CELA Engagement Coordinator, Healthy Great Lakes

Through our Healthy Great Lakes program — generously supported by the Mott Foundation located in Flint, Michigan, CELA has been working for five years now to engage a broad network of individuals and organizations in understanding, shaping, effectively implementing, and making use of the laws and policies that promote freshwater health in the Great Lakes – St Lawrence River Basin.

This past year, that work looked a little different. In-person workshops and strategy sessions were replaced by virtual meetings and webinars. And while the pandemic restrictions presented real challenges, water champions across Ontario stepped up.

In 2020, CELA hosted more than a dozen webinars on topics ranging from interpreting Ontario government proposals to working with Indigenous communities. From recognizing the value of investing in water quality after an Area of Concern has delisted to re-learning valuable lessons from Great Lakes advocacy of the 1980’s and 1990’s. From looking at the links between clean drinking water and human health to discussing the need for substantive amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

And these topics clearly resonated. Over the course of the year, over 5,000 of you registered for these sessions and more than 2,500 of you joined live. All the sessions are posted on CELA’s YouTube channel. Views are over 2,000 and counting.

In addition to our outreach efforts, through our Healthy Great Lakes program CELA responded to many government proposals, prepared submissions, and advanced law reform efforts. Following is a deeper dive into a couple of key areas of work for us last year. To learn more about all the work of the Healthy Great Lakes program, check out our website. Check back often, and follow CELA on social media, to learn about upcoming webinar opportunities, action alerts, and other resources.

We Need Our Conservation Authorities

We know that many people gained a greater appreciation this past year for nature and time spent outdoors – walks through neighbourhood ravines, on local greenspace trails, or longer ventures through conservation areas. At the same time that so many of us were calling for more trails, more parks, more nature in our cities, the provincial government was quietly rolling back the scope and role of conservation authorities – the very organizations whose purpose is to ensure healthy watersheds and resilient communities. Through land use planning and environmental assessment changes contained in Bill 197, to disempowering conservation authorities and expanding the use of Minister’s Zoning Orders in Bill 229, the government is unraveling the policy framework that ought to be focused on actively addressing the multiple crises we find ourselves in.

Through our “We Need Our CA’s” campaign, CELA demonstrated the value of conservation authorities and helped the public understand the critical role CA’s play in building climate resilience, ensuring land use planning decisions are science-based, and protecting watershed health. When the government introduced omnibus budget Bill 229, CELA was able to use our deep legal expertise and water policy knowledge to sift through hundreds of pages of amendments and tell you what you need to know. The public response was outstanding – in response to calls to action from NGO’s across the province, over 45,000 calls or emails were sent to Members of Provincial Parliament. And while the government chose to pass the amendments despite the outrage, CELA will be watching carefully as the newly created Conservation Authority Working Group develops the first phase of proposed regulations for Conservation Authorities.

Working with Indigenous Communities

The pandemic has starkly illustrated the ways in which vulnerable communities are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution. Working with, advocating for, and being of service to Indigenous communities has always been a priority for CELA. This past year, we’ve sought to engage more deeply in recognizing, listening to, and raising Indigenous voices. In early 2020, we hosted a 4-part webinar series with Gary Pritchard, talking about working with Indigenous communities. Including topics like an introduction to treaties, achieving effective and meaningful engagement, and municipal and Indigenous relationships, we explored how to work authentically, respectfully and meaningfully with Indigenous communities. These valuable conversations led to a second series in early 2021 where we delved more deeply into Indigenous ways of knowing in conservation, including conversations around ethical space and place making, Indigenous conservation strategies and practices, and decolonizing ecology. There has been such great interest and energy around these conversations! We’re working on future workshops or sessions with Gary – maybe even in person when we can all gather together again.

We outline these two areas as illustrations of the breadth and depth of the work that has taken place over the last year. In no way does the focus on these two campaigns downplay the many amazing projects that were undertaken in 2020. We are grateful for the dedicated and passionate clients, collaborators and partners we’ve worked with on all of our projects, and look forward to continuing our work together.

Despite the disruptions that 2020 brought, CELA has been impressed with the tenacity, resilience, and passion of the many water champions that we’ve been able to engage and collaborate with. This year we are looking forward to:

  • renewing our call to remove lead from Ontario’s drinking water,
  • building deeper relationships with our Indigenous partners,
  • ensuring protection of everyone’s drinking water sources across the province,
  • continuing the call for a green and just recovery that includes attention to healthy waters, and
  • engaging in numerous water conversations.

We’re hoping you’ll join us!