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Does Toronto Airport Plan Hijack Obama, Wynne Vision for the Great Lakes?

04/12/2013 05:18 EDT | Updated 06/12/2013 05:12 EDT

"To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage." - Confucius

Hear that sound? That's a collective murmur rippling across Toronto in the wake of airline executive Robert Deluce's announcement that he wants to fill in more of Lake Ontario and bring jets to the downtown core. Progress! Growth! Expansion! are the words on some lips. Betrayal! Outrage! are the words on others.

A Toronto Star poll currently has the "Yes" vote pulling ahead of the "No" vote (a relatively unscientific result considering you can hit refresh and vote again and again and again).

The poll should have included a "Good grief" option. This is 2013, the era of Ontario's call to action -- "We need to restore the lakes now" and the Harper Government's plea to "keep working together -- governments, community groups, researchers and citizens -- to ensure that we sustain these Great Lakes for future generations." The last thing the Great Lakes need is another past-century idea that treats the Great Lakes as dumping grounds, empty spaces to be filled in when it seems convenient.

Ironically, just as Mr. Deluce stands on the waterfront and dreams of lakefill, President Obama stands before Congress and asks for $300-million for Great Lakes restoration and members of Ontario parliament stand at Queen's Park debating a Great Lakes Protection Act.

The Great Lakes Protection Act's preamble says that "While many partners are working together to protect and restore the ecological health of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin to ensure that it provides Ontarians with a source of water that is drinkable, swimmable and fishable, more needs to be done."

More needs to be done.

We agree. Just to be clear, "more" doesn't include replacing a sand dune with a hardened shoreline. It doesn't include creating "more" barriers to separate urban residents from precious natural spaces. "More" doesn't include dumping rock and debris into the lake because it is "more" convenient than trucking it somewhere else. And "more" certainly doesn't include hiding our heads in the sand when people suggest dumping, filling, or generally despoiling our Great Lakes. Enough already.

Councillor Adam Vaughan was right to jump to the defence of Lake Ontario in the face of Deluce's announcement. "I'm here to say that this is our only lake and our only source of clean drinking water. It's the only place that thousands of families come to watch a sunset across the water or relax in the park. If we surrender Lake Ontario to one particular company, we're surrendering Lake Ontario forever. I think this is something people have to take into consideration."

That's the "more" that we need if we are truly going to restore and protect the Great Lakes. It is not okay to dump waste in the lake. Period. It is not okay to destroy what little coastal habitat remains because it is convenient. Period. People who suggest this should get the stink-eye, just as if they let their dog do its business on a busy sidewalk or lit up a cigarette in the middle of a family restaurant. Those actions were tolerated in the past, but not any longer.

If Toronto really wants to be a world-class city, then it needs to show world-class courage. Period.