Doctors, lawyers, city councillors, teachers, scientists, reverends, elders, and concerned citizens showed tremendous support for the Experimental Lakes Area yesterday at the ‘Save our Fish! Save our ELA’ Rally in Kenora, Ontario. The ELA, a federal science program dedicated to understanding the impacts of human activity on freshwater lakes and fish populations, was recently cancelled by the Canadian government. In front of the ‘Husky the Muskie’ sculpture on the Kenora waterfront, ten speakers addressed a crowd of about 70 people to express their views on why the ELA is important and needs to be saved.
Reverend Henry Hildebrandt, Director of the Kenora Fellowship Centre, shared his wisdom about our role and responsibility to be good stewards of water. Another leader of the local faith community – Eric Matheson, Minister of Knox United Church – was also in attendance.
Sharon Smith, Kenora City Councillor, referred to the economic benefits of ELA to Kenora, and the local revenues and jobs that will be lost next year if ELA is closed. She made the case that ELA is “Kenora’s international gem” and is an important source of pride for the city.
Dr. Bill Cameron, a retired physician who resides in Kenora, pointed out that “the $2 million dollars needed to keep the ELA open to continue facilitating excellent, world renowned, science is equivalent to much less than a penny when compared to the Canadian Government’s budget. The benefits of this science is multiplied many fold when protecting our environment”.
“The ELA is the one and only place in Canada, and in the world, where research is done on the whole lake ecosystems”, explained Sallie Hunt, a local lawyer and Kenora resident. She added that ELA is recognized internationally as “the best-known freshwater research facility on the planet”.
A concerned citizen of Kenora, Dave Schwartz, stated emphatically that “shutting down this unique, cost effective, and highly respected freshwater ecosystem research is a foolish and tragic step backwards for Canada and Canadian science.”
Faith-Ellen Anderson, a local resident of Kenora, spoke passionately about the formative experience of visiting the ELA as a high school student, and about the wonderful experiences and opportunities that were afforded to her as an employee at the ELA later in life.
Scientist and local community leader Jim Johnson spoke eloquently about the closure of the ELA as merely one example of the Harper government’s broader agenda to dismantle our scientific capacity to understand the impacts of industrial development on the environment. He also spoke about the undemocratic process by which Conservatives are weakening federal environmental legislation.
Erika Olsen, who spoke on behalf of the City of Kenora’s Environmental Advisory Committee, informed the crowd that the City of Kenora passed a resolution calling on the federal government to reinstate funding to the ELA and requesting that MP Greg Rickford advocate on behalf of the City for restoration of federal funding to the ELA.
Peter Kirby, the local lawyer who skillfully served as the Master of Ceremonies, closed the event with a clear message to the local Member of Parliament: “Responsible, respectful citizens, from all walks of life – ministers, doctors, scientists, lawyers, teachers, retired persons – and of every political persuasion, call on Greg Rickford to meet with us in the hope that we can persuade the government to change its mind”.
Conservative Greg Rickford, MP for Kenora, was invited to speak at the event and listen to the views of his constituents, but he did not respond to the invitation or attend the event. He has also declined invitations to attend a public forum on ELA held last June at Knox United Church, and to participate in a public debate this month to explain and defend his party’s decision to terminate the ELA program and its team of scientists.
Event organizers appreciated the generous in-kind support of local businesses and organizations. Thanks were extended to solar company RAYSOLAR for providing a power system, photographer Ihor Kor for his inspiring photos of the event (available at http://kenoraphotos.com/ela-rally/), and Lake of the Woods District Property Owners Association for promoting this event to their members.
The ‘Save ELA’ rally was covered by local television, radio, and newspaper outlets.