10/18/2012 05:00 EDT | Updated 12/18/2012 05:12 EST

Experimental Lakes allies say poll a wakeup call for Tories

Three-quarters of Canadians, including 60 per cent of those who say they intend to vote Conservative, oppose the cuts to the Experimental Lakes Area in northern Ontario, according to an Environics poll released Thursday.

"[Prime Minister Stephen] Harper is missing the mark, even with his own supporters," said Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians, the group that commissioned the poll.

The Experimental Lakes Area is a research facility run by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that encompasses 58 freshwater lakes and uses them as a whole-ecosystem laboratory. ELA research was instrumental in understanding the effects of acid rain.

Ottawa cut its funding to the facility in the spring budget to save $2 million a year. The ELA will lose its funding in March, 2013.

"While it's true that the Experimental Lakes Area requires the support of the government of Canada, the reverse is also indisputably true. The government of Canada needs the ELA," argued Diane Orihel, a water scientist and the director of Save ELA, at a news conference in Ottawa Thursday.

"The ELA is the most powerful tool the government of Canada has for understanding the impacts of human activities and industrial development on freshwater ecosystems," Orihel said.

Orihel was on Parliament Hill with the Council of Canadians, three opposition MPs and Rebecca Rooney, a wetlands biologist from the University of Waterloo to discuss the results of its poll. Orihel also suggested one possible way for Ottawa to save the facility was to switch the ELA's budget from Fisheries to Environment Canada.

The ELA is in a Conservative riding.

"The member of Kenora riding, Greg Rickford, the Conservative member, should be standing here saying something like: it appears that my government has made a mistake here," said Bruce Hyer, Independent MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, a neighbouring riding to Rickford's.

The government has said it hopes to find another institution to take over the ELA. If it can't, it will be on the hook for cleaning up the facility and its grounds. That could cost $50 million.

The Environics poll surveyed 1,001 Canadians over the phone Oct. 10-13.

Respondents were told, "Canada's Experimental Lakes Area is a unique, world-renowned research centre that has been studying the impacts of human activities on freshwater lakes for over 40 years. The federal government recently announced that it will cancel this science program in 2013 so it can save $2 million a year," and were then asked, "Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose this cancellation of federal funding for the Experimental Lakes Area research centre?"

Results are considered accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out 20.