By Jon Thompson
With hours to go before federal funding was scheduled to cease flowing to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a small group of demonstrators led by a big-name non-governmental organization protested at the entrance to the site’s road.
The Council of Canadians took the symbolic measure of being on the land to bring the issue to wider audience.
“Partly, it’s a message to people that we’re all Canadian taxpayers. The investments that have been made her for 40 years, the data that has been collected, that belongs to all of us,” said Mark Calzavara, the left-leaning organization’s Ontario regional campaigner. “It’s symbolic in nature but being physically here is important to remind people of that.”
The Council has 25,000 members in this province alone, comprising a louder voice than that of the local movement to restore funding to ELA and wider grassroots than the scientists who have been vocal over the last 10 months over the importance of the world-renowned, full-ecosystem laboratory of 58 lakes, located 70 kilometres west of Dryden.
The protest even sparked Twitter postings from Margaret Atwood, who has a network of over 388,000 people.
Calzavara is hoping the exposure supports pressure his organization is now applying to Manitoba and Ontario to take on ELA’s management.
“We’re asking the premiers of both provinces to step in and take on the funding of ELA, even in the interim until we have a federal government in place that appreciates science and what a gem we really have here,” he explained. “We’re asking (members) to contact the premier. Premier Wynne is in a position here where she can say, ‘not on my watch. I’m going to keep this open.’ You can say it’s a federal responsibility and not a provincial responsibility but sometimes you have to do what’s right, even when it’s not your responsibility.”
Calzavara took on Kenora MP Greg Rickford and his governing Conservative Party, whose majority outvoted all other parties in a symbolic motion to support the ELA in the House of Commons on Mar. 20. A Council of Canadians survey found 60 per cent of Conservative voters supported continuing to fund ELA research and part of the Council’s message will be to use what it sees as a critical mass to ensure voters remember the decision in the 2015 election campaign.
“They’re voting in favour of doing this and they’re going to be called to account for doing it. Telling half-truths or making up imaginary stories about investing in science and how much they love science when everything they’re doing across the board is about putting science on the backburner. It’s all about the economy, the economy, the economy. Short-term gain. They’re not interested in anything getting in the way of that. We’re going to make local MPs wear the decisions of this government. They’re not backbenchers to us. They’re the government.”
Scientists met with Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) spokesperson Dave Gillis in an attempt to continue sampling METAALICUS, the mercury experiment at ELA’s Lake #658. According to the Coalition To Save ELA, the DFO informed scientists they would not be allowed to continue that experiment despite its inclusion in the agreement between the federal and provincial governments.