Working to protect and promote our Great Lakes

By MPP Toby Barrett

Recently I have been publicizing my Private Member’s Bill, the Great Lakes Protection and Promotion Act, 2019, which, as the title implies, is constructed to enhance the promotion and protection of our Great Lakes.

As previously written, my goal is to develop a collaborative framework and action plan to serve as model for all interested Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin/Ecosystem agencies, jurisdictions, communities, and governments.

The aim is to promote tourism, recreational activities and sustainable economic growth and development while protecting the pristine environment, ecological diversity, and the scenic, cultural, and historical beauty of North America’s Great Lakes.

Since December 11, 2019, when I introduced my Private Member’s Bill, I’ve been spreading the word.  Emails have been sent to municipal councils around the Great Lakes both in Canada and Stateside, as well as environmental organizations and stakeholders.  Meetings and phone calls have happened; hands have been shaken; feedback has been positive.

It’s heartening to hear from those who understand the untapped potential and possibility offered for the protection and promotion of our Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin/Ecosystem.

Many lakeside communities have lost the mining, forestry, industry, and commercial base that put them on the map.   What they still have is their scenic topography that provides superb recreational and tourism opportunities that have the potential to be enhanced commercially.

More than 30 million people live within the Great Lakes Ecosystem, but I’ve often wondered how many of them are aware of the riches that surround them-not to mention potential global visitors.

To recap: Our Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin/Ecosystem encompasses Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, and Erie-comprising the largest body of fresh water on Earth’s surface.  It is shared by Ontario and Quebec in Canada and the U.S. states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont.  The State of Michigan touches four of five Great Lakes and possesses the longest freshwater shoreline in the world.   

North America’s Great Lakes boast incredible panoramas, unique and sensitive coastal wetlands, breathtaking rock shorelines, natural inlets, islands, beaches, wilderness rivers and waterfalls.

In addition to commercial fishing and marine industrial, a recreational paradise in an ecological wonderland is on offer – trails, scenic lookouts, safe harbours, access points, roads, marinas, campsites. And throw in a wide range of activities like camping, angling, hunting, canoeing, sailing, cruising, hiking, snowmobiling, off-roading, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, rock climbing, golfing, cross-country skiing…you name it.

As a lover of history, I’d be remiss not to reiterate the rich and varied cultural and economic heritage of our Lakes. The intrigue of ghost towns, Aboriginal spiritual sites, trading posts, marine museums, logging camps, old docking areas, shipwrecks and lighthouses are plentiful. As are the well-established parks and protected areas.

And many visitors already take advantage of the allure of large cities such as Chicago, Toronto, Detroit, Buffalo, Erie, Cleveland and Thunder Bay.

In short, my goal is to enhance tourism and the area’s natural attributes to further protect and promote communities where economic stability and growth have tapered off over the years.

Second Reading and debate on the Great Lakes Protection and Promotion Act is scheduled for March 5th.  If you have questions, comments, or letters of support, please contact me at [email protected]

Toby Barrett is MPP for Haldimand-Norfolk