Hosted by the International Joint Commission (IJC), the Great Lakes Public Forum is a binational event between Canada and the United States. Once every three years, political leaders, businesses, and organizations come together to discuss issues around the Great Lakes, assessing where progress has been made and, determining what needs to be prioritized.
This event acts as an opportunity for the public to share their ideas and concerns, and speak to their vision for the future of the Great Lakes.
Several members of the public spoke at this year’s forum. Lake Ontario Waterkeeper was fortunate to present a few times. Waterkeeper Mark Mattson took to the stage three times over the course of the three day event. And our Vice President, Krystyn Tully presented at Toronto’s City Hall, where the IJC held their Public Meeting. Torontonians were specifically invited to voice their concerns.
There were so many highlights during the Great Lakes Public Forum. Here are a few from Waterkeeper’s presentations (in case you missed them).
Waterkeeper Mark Mattson presenting at the IJC Public Session on Great Lakes Successes and Challenges: Your Perspective
When it comes to consultation… People want to see their issues dealt with. Their voices and their concerns. If they can’t swim in the water, or touch it, or eat from it, or drink it – they’re here to tell you that. And they want that to be addressed somehow. I know there isn’t a clear answer to that. It’s difficult... But the IJC has to recognize that it’s the most important thing when it comes to the people of the Great Lakes. When people come to you and express their concerns and they can’t drink the water and can’t eat the fish and can’t go swimming. We have to do a better job of reflecting that and letting them know they’re heard. And as the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement says, engaging them and empowering them to go and act individually.
** Scroll to 15:46 to see Waterkeeper Mark Mattson's presentation.
Krystyn Tully presenting Toronto’s sewage pollution at the IJC Forum Public Session: What is a healthy Lake Ontario for you?
If you subtract the 5% of official beach property on the Toronto waterfront, 95% of the Toronto waterfront is not monitored. We don’t know what the water quality is. All we know is there are these combined sewer systems that are putting raw sewage into the lake. We know it’s raw sewage because we can see the things that people are flushing down their toilets floating in the lake. It’s indelicate but that’s what actually happens. So when we talk about restoration of the Great Lakes, and the money that’s being spent, and the progress that’s being made – you can undo 30 years of progress on the lake with one person in a canoe paddling by floating condoms. Doesn’t matter what you tell them after that about how beneficial uses are being restored, and money is being spent, and progress is being made – their experience on the water is that the Great Lakes are an open sewer.
Waterkeeer Mark Mattson presenting at the Great Lakes Public Forum’s Great Lakes Celebration
Each and every one of you have your own history, your own perspective from where you live. And from that place where you stand, are the Great Lakes getting better for you and your community? Because that's the answer that everyone wants to hear. It's your answer – your story – that truly matters most.
The Great Lakes Public Forum may be over, but you can still participate!
Just because the Great Lakes Public Forum is over, doesn’t mean you have to wait another 3 years to have your voice heard. The International Joint Commission wants you to share your views on the progress the governments of Canada and the United States have made under the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. “Citizens in both countries can participate in a series of online and in-person discussions and meetings until June 2017. Your ideas will contribute to the IJC’s first assessment of progress made by the governments to restore and protect the Great Lakes under the 2012 Agreement.”