02/18/2015 04:15 EST | Updated 04/20/2015 05:59 EDT

Ontario creates Great Lakes Guardian Council to help protect fresh water source

TORONTO - Ontario is creating a Great Lakes Guardians' Council to improve collaboration among governments, agencies and First Nations around the world's largest supply of fresh water.

Environment Minister Glen Murray says there have been dramatic changes in water levels in the Great Lakes in recent years because of climate change, which will require new infrastructure to protect the drinking water supply.

Murray says right now there is no overall provincial body that brings together all the governments and parties involved in the Great Lakes.

He says the Guardians' Council will identify priority areas that need action and help find funding sources for the projects.

But the Progressive Conservatives say there's so little detail in the Great Lakes Protection Act it's like an old episode of Seinfeld — "much ado about nothing."

The New Democrats say people are tired of 12 years of Liberal rhetoric on the Great Lakes and want to see real progress.

"Aspiration is nice, but we need action," said NDP environment critic Percy Hatfield. "Previous government bills fell short because they set no measurable goals, offered little funding, and imposed no timelines."

Progressive Conservative environment critic Lisa Thompson pointed out there is no funding in this year's budget for the new legislation, and said the government should already be collecting crucial data on the Great Lakes.

"Why do we need legislation to ensure that the government is out there consulting with stakeholders," asked Thompson.

Great Lakes ministers, First Nations and Métis representatives, as well as municipal politicians, would be invited to participate in the Great Lakes Guardians' Council, but the Tories complained members would be "hand picked" by the Liberal government.

"To me it just sounds like another opportunity for Liberal appointments," said Thompson.

The legislation will allow the government to set standards and targets for things like nutrient levels in the lakes, and the prevention of run-off from farms, which is a particular concern because of algal blooms, said Murray.

"It also creates the resources and capacity and authority to start to collect data and metrics, so we'll have much more specific data on lake temperatures, on climate change impacts, on changes in micro-organisms and plankton that are the foundation of the food of life in the lakes, so we can start to anticipate problems before they happen," he said.

The government said the act will also recognize that First Nations have "important connections to the Great Lakes - St Lawrence River basin and re-affirm that it would not abrogate or derogate from protections provided by existing aboriginal and treaty rights.

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