Drought in Ontario: A Grim Reality (U. Khan)

I was driving home earlier this week, and I noticed that a lot of the lawns on my street seemed very dry and almost yellow in colour. After doing some research online, I was surprised to find out that Ontario has been under increasingly drought-like conditions over the past few months. If you read my earlier blog on the forest fire in Fort McMurray, you will remember the fact that an increase in the number of droughts is one of the effects of climate change. The current conditions then serve as a reminder to us about what can happen in the future as a result of climate change. Large scale droughts will be a major cause of concern for Canada as we have a major agricultural sector in our economy. We need to adopt policies that not only manage these changing conditions but also stop further damage to the environment.


Accumulated Precipitation in Ontario over the last two months. Source: AAFC

Toronto has received only 26 mm of rain in June, compared to an average of 71.5 mm of rain that fell in June during 1981 and 2010. The lack of rain is not the only problem, in areas that have received rain comparable to their usual average, the rain has come in intense downpours of 30-40 mm at a time. Although rain is great to relieve drought conditions, such a large amount of water cannot be absorbed by the drought ridden arid ground surface. This causes the water to flow and run-off before it can be absorbed. This can also lead to flash floods and even soil degradation.

The agricultural sector in Ontario is facing smaller crop yields and higher costs this year due to the drought. Farmers have to water their crops for an increasing number of hours. Jason Verkaik, chairman of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association says that he has been watering his crops for 20 hours a day, 6 days a week. Normally he would water them for 3 or 4 nights a week. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada(AAFC), extremely dry conditions now stretch from the Ottawa Valley to the Niagara Peninsula. The conditions are that of severe drought event, which happens approximately once every two decades.


What is being done?

The city of Guelph has declared a Level 2 Red watering restriction. This means that outside water use is now restricted to only to essential things. Lawn watering and washing vehicles is prohibited at home. Non-compliance to the restrictions can lead to a ticket of $130. Although the Region of Peel has no such restriction in place, there are a few things we can do that will conserve outdoor water use:

  • Water early in the morning or late in the afternoon to stop water loss from evaporation
  • Grow flowers and trees that do not require an abundant amount of water
  • Add mulch to your garden, this will help retain moisture and protect your lawn from water loss

More tips can be found at the Region of Peel website

The Ontario Climate Change Action Plan released earlier this year had various ideas that help to combat climate change. The government had unveiled an $8.3 billion to combat the problem of climate change, and faced criticism for the large spending. The floods that impacted Ontario in the past few years and this drought are evidence of the fact that there is a direct impact of climate change on the lives of Ontarians and the government needs to act. The Action Plan is a step in the right direction, and the government needs to be make sure that the targets presented in the plan are met in a timely fashion. The economic losses from these natural disasters are going to start adding up, and spending money to stop the problem from occurring might be better over the long term for both the environment as well as the economy.



Micro-beads ARE Toxic! A Follow-Up (by U. Khan)

On June 30th, 2016 the government of Canada took an important step to protect marine life, by adding microbeads to the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). If you read my previous blog post on this subject, you will remember that microbeads are plastic particles that are used in various personal care products. They often end up in our lakes and rivers and are ingested by marine life. They can accumulate toxins and bacteria and transfer them up the food chain. The government has listed microbeads ≤ 5 mm as a schedule one toxin under CEPA. This means that it will now be easier for the government to regulate them and more towards a complete ban. It also allows for the development of regulatory instruments under CEPA to manage environmental risks posed by the plastic particles. You can look up other toxic substances under schedule one here.


A Personal Care Product containing microbeads. Source:  (Heather Brouwer/Sarnia This Week/Postmedia Network Files)

An encouraging part of this story is the fact that 5 of the largest users of microbeads in Canada have already stopped using them, and 9 others will be phasing them out in the next 2 or 3 years. Experts agree that the benefits of these plastic microbeads do not outweigh their negative effects. The exact schedule of the proposed ban is being worked out, but currently the government plans to stop the import and manufacture of these products by the end of 2017, and ban the sale by 2018. The US already has a law that will restrict the manufacture of products containing microbeads by July 1, 2017, and restrict their sale starting from July 1, 2018. With the addition of microbeads to the list of toxic substances under CEPA, Canada is one step closer to banning these harmful plastic particles.

You can read the full order on the Canadian Gazette website.

In case you are wondering what products contain(ed) microbeads, here is a partial list of products that contain microbeads in Canada:

Facial Scrubs
Brand Name Manufacturer Product Name Harmful Ingredient
Aveeno Johnson & Johnson


Skin Brighten Daily Scrub Polyethylene

(plastic that is used to make microbeads)


Aveeno Fresh Essential Daily Exfoliating Scrub
Clean & Clear Morning Burst
Clean & Clear Daily Pore Cleanser
Clean & Clear Blackhead Eraser Scrub
Neutrogena Deep Clean Scrub Exfoliate
Neutrogena Deep Clean Invigorating Foaming Scrub
Neutrogena Deep Clean Daily Scrub
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
Neutrogena Rapid Clear Foaming Scrub
Neutrogena All-in1 Daily Scrub
Neutrogena Oil free Acne Stress Control Power Clear Scrub
Neutrogena Oil Free Acne Wash Pink
Olay Proctor & Gamble ProX Exfoliating Renewal
Olay Pore Minimizing Cleanser + Scrub
Facial Cleaner
Brand Name Manufacturer Product Name Harmful Ingredient
Aveeno Johnson & Johnson Cream Cleanser Polyethylene (PE)

Information retrieved from Beatthebead.org

It is also worthy to note that a number of Crest Toothpastes (made by Proctor & Gamble) contained microbeads until recently, the company decided to stop using microbeads from spring 2016.

Microbeads: The Cleansing Contaminants (By U. Khan)

If you look through the personal care products around your house, you will likely find a product that contains microbeads. Microbeads are plastic particles that are 0.1nm-5mm in size. They are used as an abrasive in personal care products like facial scrubs, cosmetics, and toothpaste. Microbeads are commonly made from polyethylene, a plastic material and are terrible for the environment. They are too small to be detected by water filtration system and commonly end up in lakes and rivers. Once in the water, microbeads are ingested by fish and other aquatic species. The danger to the environment is not from the microbeads itself but from the fact that microbeads accumulate toxic chemicals as they move through the water. These chemicals can then make their way into the food chain and harm humans and animals.

The federal government has long proposed a ban on microbeads. The first attempt to ban them was started by John McKay when he introduced bill C-680 that would prohibit the sale of microbeads smaller than 5 mm. Another bill C-684 also proposed to have microbeads listed as a toxic substance under the Canada Environment Protection Act and prohibit their sale and importation. Unfortunately the bills could not proceed before the dissolution of the parliament for the 2015 elections. The current government has also expressed its interest in banning the use of microbeads in cosmetic products. This plan is currently in the public consultation phase, and the government was accepting public opinion on the ban until March 10th this year. The current government proposal is to ban the manufacturing and import of microbead containing products by 2017, and ban the sale of these products by 2018. A survey done by the Canadian Cosmetics, Toiletry, and Fragrance Association of Canada (CCTFA) found that currently members of the association use between 30kg/year to 68,000 kg/year of microbeads in their products.

Canada is behind our neighbour on the issue of plastic microbeads. The United States already created a law last year that prohibits the manufacturing of products containing microbeads from July 1st, 2017, with the aim of phasing them out in the next 2 years. Although some might argue that the microbeads have a useful purpose and the government has no right to ban them outright. I think that there are other alternatives to microbeads that can be used as an abrasive material in cleansing products. This article by the Huffington post explores some of these alternatives, which include biodegradable as well as rice-based cleansers. The negative impact of these microbeads on both marine and human health is immense as found by various research studies. Therefore, the government should go forward with the ban as it is the best plan forward for the environment.

What can we all do to help solve this problem?

The biggest impact we can all have on this issue is to not buy products that contain these microbeads. Consumers have a lot of power and if we collectively decide to not buy these products, businesses will have to listen and stop creating them. Loblaws has already stated that they will stop making products that contain microbeads by 2018. We can also try to look for innovative solutions for cleaning up the bodies of water that already have a large quantity of microbeads. Students at one Mississauga high school recently created a new filtration system for microbeads. The students won the Samsung Solve for Tomorrow Award for $ 50,000 to develop the idea and create the filtration system. The system works by making water containing microbeads flow through a charged tube and having the negatively charged microbeads attach to a positively charged plate that can be removed from the water. This shows that there is something we can all do to help keep our lakes and rivers free of microbeads.

Say No to Site-C

Things are heating up with Site-C. At the time I wrote The Canadian Environment in Political Context there was not too much to say/guess about the Site-C dam in British Columbia. So it is only briefly mentioned in Chapters 8 (Energy) and 9 (Indigenous Politics). But now over 300 scholars have signed a statement AGAINST Site-C. I don’t need to say too much about it here because there is already a great webpage that explains everything. Check it out:

site c

Blue-green Algae: A Colourful Menace (By U. Khan)

If you have ever walked beside a lake or river in the summer, you might have noticed a blue-green color in the water or surrounding rocks. This gel like substance floating on top of the water is a group of microorganisms known as cyanobacteria or commonly referred to as blue-green algae. Blue-green algae are plant like organisms that grow in bodies of water, and require nutrients like phosphorous and nitrogen to survive. When these algae bloom, they use up the dissolved oxygen in the water and cause fish and other marine species to die. The can also produce toxins that contaminate water supplies and are deadly to marine life. The problem of algal blooms has been reoccurring in various lakes and rivers across Canada since the 1970s, and has yet to be solved.


Satellite view of the algal bloom in Lake Erie on July 28th 2015 Source: NASA

Lake Erie has become notorious for its algal blooms. In 2014, 400,000 people in Toledo were without tap water for two days due to algal blooms in Lake Erie. In 2015, Lake Erie witnessed another large algal bloom. These events have put a lot of attention on the problem of algal blooms in the region, and have put increased pressure on the government to deal with these problems. Earlier this year, the Ontario government released the Ontario Great Lakes Strategy 2016 Progress Report. This report is a review of the Ontario Great Lakes Strategy, a document published in 2012 which laid out Ontario’s efforts to preserve the great lakes. One major accomplishment of the government in the years since the creation of the Ontario Great Lakes Strategy is the passing of the Great Lakes Protection Act 2015. This act has created new monitoring programs for water quality, and allowed the government to set specific targets in improving the water quality in the great lakes. Another major sign of progress is the Basin of Lake Erie Collaborative Agreement signed in June 2015, with includes a bi-national goal to reduce phosphorous emissions into Lake Erie by 40% of 2008 levels by 2025. A key issue in targeting algal blooms in the great lakes is the fact that there are multiple jurisdictions in the area. Agricultural run-off from Michigan and Ohio contribute a large share to the total phosphorous levels. The fact that this agreement involves both Canada and the US is a great move. A study by the University of Michigan University has found that although the current goal is tough, it is achievable if large changes are made by a widespread number of actors. I believe that the content presented in the Progress Report is an indicator that the government has taken steps to deal with the problems of algal blooms, but the fact remains that most of the ideas are targets for the future and actual work needs to be done on the ground to achieve these targets.

Outside of the great lakes, algal blooms have also been an issue in Lake Winnipeg. The problems associated with algal blooms in this region are not only health related but also economic. Fishing and tourism provide many jobs for local businesses and are most affected by algal blooms. According to a 2013 study, the levels of phosphorous in the lake are above the recommended limit in both the northern basin as well as the southern basin of the lake. Projects funded by the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Fund have done well to reduce the amount of phosphorous seeping into Lake Winnipeg. As of March 2015,14800kg of phosphorous runoff per year has been stopped from entering the lake and its tributaries.

So what does it all mean?

Algal blooms result from access nutrients being present in a body of water. These access nutrients are most often the result of agricultural runoff. Algal blooms have negative effects on both local environments as well as commercial activities wherever they occur. The government needs to take a more proactive approach in dealing with these algal blooms. The recent blooms in both Lake Erie as well as Lake Winnipeg after record lows were achieved in the 1990s show that the government has not made it a priority to reduce algal blooms. The creation of new legislation is a great sign that the government is finally moving in the right direction on this issue. A collective effort between all the different ministries and aboriginal communities as well as local communities needs to occur for a healthy water system. There also needs to be cooperation between Canada and the US in this matter as water is a shared resource between our two countries.

Something’s fishy about the oceans (By A. Koundourakis)

At the World Wildlife Fund Annual Oceans Summit, the Federal government released that they are investing $197.1 million over five years to increase ocean and freshwater scientific research and monitoring. The Minister of Fisheries, The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc, announced the Liberal government’s marine conservation targets of protecting 5 percent of Canada’s marine and coastal areas by 2017 and 10 percent by 2020. In the 2016 Budget, there was an $81.3 million investment over five years to be allocated to Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Natural Resources Canada to support marine conservation activities. Also, there will be a $42.4 million investment over five years to continue work on developing new National Parks and National Marine Conservation Areas.


Dominic LeBlanc, Catherine McKenna and Carolyn Bennett at the WWF Annual Oceans Summit (http://news.gc.ca/web/Dha.do?mltmdid=6060)

Whether this target is considered ambitious or not, this investment in the longest coastline in the world is extremely important because we depend on our oceans for a healthy environment and economy. Canada has unrivalled ocean and freshwater resources, and we need to protect and expand our marine regions in order to reach our conservation targets. Furthermore, by protecting the coastline, we are helping to protect our oceans, which provide half of our oxygen production and regulates Earth’s temperature. Not to mention the economic significance it carries through the fishing and tourism industries. Needless to say, every Canadian will be impacted by this investment in marine protection as it is extremely vital to maintain and improve our quality of life.

The Federal government has a five point plan to achieve their conservation targets. These include:

  • Advance the work already underway in areas progressing towards establishment including the proposed Lancaster Sound NMCA and five proposed Oceans Act MPAs: Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound Glass Sponge Reeds, Anguniaqvia Niqiqyuam, Laurentian Channel, Anns Bank and Banc des Americains.
  • Establish new, large Oceans Act MPAs in pristine offshore areas.
  • Establish additional Oceans Act MPAs in areas under pressure from human activities.
  • Identify existing and establish new other effective area-based conservation measures, particularly to protect sensitive sponge and coral concentrations.
  • Examine how the Oceans Act can be updated to facilitate the designation process for MPAs, without sacrificing science, or the public opportunity to provide input.

The Liberal government’s approach to meeting their targets would be guided by three principals: science-based decision making; transparency and advancing reconciliation with Indigenous groups.

The understanding and protection of marine ecosystems relies on our ability to bring complex and diverse sources of information that are based on the scientific method. These are then dependant on further peer review. Furthermore, other sources of information can be sourced from traditional aboriginal knowledge and by industry and local knowledge.

In order to meet our conservation targets, Canada will require full cooperation of the federal, provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous peoples, industries, academics and environmental NGOs. The collaboration of actors and stakeholders will provide opportunities for Canada to reach its conservation targets.

Traditional aboriginal knowledge will be used to highlight the importance of an area and its resources to the traditions and economies of local communities. The Liberal government has announced that it will respect treaties in existence and support the advancements of modern treaties that are under review.

According to the National Post, during the event Shell Canada President, Michael Crothers, also made an announcement that corporations will be working in cooperation with the government to meet the targets. For example, Shell is voluntarily contributing their Lancaster Sound permits for marine conservation in the arctic. These permits cover 8,600 square kilometres north of Baffin Island. This announcement is particularly noteworthy, because protecting Canada’s Northern waters would ensure that dozens of Arctic species would have year round safety for the very foreseeable future. This is a considerable win for the future of the ecosystem. David Miller and Devon Page, the CEO of WWF and executive director of Ecojustice, respectively, remarked that this is a massive win for their organizations, both of whom were fighting for preservation of the region. This cooperation between industry and government highlights the importance of the mutual understanding that marine ecosystems must be protected. Hopefully, it’s an indication of more cooperation between industries and governments to come.

So, here’s my two cents. For anyone that read my blurb about myself, I’m all for anything related to protecting anything water. I drink it, I swim in it, and I depend on it every day of my life. The Earth depends on it; oceans regulate global temperatures and provide ecosystems for organisms that produce oxygen for us to breath. Life as we know it was created in the ocean. It is our responsibility to protect it.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Cousteau family and their contribution to protecting the ocean. Also, for anyone interested, this kid named Boyan Slat started a massive venture to clean plastic out of the ocean. He designed nets that sit on the ocean’s surface and they passively scoop up plastic. The benefits from his company have the same benefits as Canada’s coastal investment. For example, reaching the conservation targets will save hundreds of thousands of aquatic species that call the coastline their home; the cost of pollution and damages will be reduced due to the protection policies; and finally, human health will be improved due to the reduction of bioaccumulation from the chemicals that are killing ecosystems.

Perhaps the Liberal government could follow Slat’s example and look towards a global collaboration of governments and corporations to improve the marine environment. I have no doubt that international water treaty is a tricky legal subject, however, the Federal government could lead the world by looking beyond our own borders and into much more polluted parts of the world.








Tootoo’s Goals

Hunter Tootoo, a businessman and Member of Parliament from Nunavut, was selected by Justin Trudeau to serve as Canada’s Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Tootoo was born and raised in Rankin. He served as member of Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly (Iqaluit Centre) from 1999 to 2013. While a MLA he served in cabinet as the Minister of Education and the Minister Responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation, Homelessness.

In his Minister of Fisheries, Oceans Mandate Letter, the Office of the Prime Minister asked Mr. Tootoo to prioritize and implement these goals:

  1. Base decisions about ecosystem management (including fish stocks) on scientific evidence and the precautionary principle.
  2. Work with all stakeholders – namely the provinces, territories, and Indigenous people – to co-manage Canada’s three oceans.
  3. Support Minister McKenna in protecting the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence River Basin, and the Lake Winnipeg Basin.
  4. Work on restoring sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River (as recommended by the Cohen Commission).
  5. Review the Harper’s governments’ changes to the Fisheries and Navigable Waters Protection Acts – and incorporate modern safeguards (this is to be done with the Minister of Transport.
  6. Formalize a federal moratorium on crude oil tanker traffic on BC’s north coast (work with Ministers of Transport, Natural Resouces, and Environment & Climate Change).
  7. In conjunction with the Minister of Environment & Climate Change and Minister of Natural Resources, review Canada’s environmental assessment process and “introduce new, fair processes that will: restore robust oversight and thorough environmental assessments of areas under federal jurisdiction, while also working with provinces and territories to avoid duplication; ensure that decisions are based on science, facts, and evidence, and serve the public interest; provide ways for Canadians to express their views and opportunities for experts to meaningfully participate; and require project advocates to choose the best technologies available to reduce environmental impacts.”
  8. Re-open the Maritime Rescue Sub-centre in St. John’s, Newfoundland and the Kitsilano Coast Guard Base in Vancouver.
  9. Fulfill the commitments of the National Shipbuilding and Procurement Strategy to obtain new Coast Guard Vessels.
  10. Improve Marine Safety
  11. Examine the implications of climate change on Arctic marine ecosystems (in conjunction with the Minister of Environment & Climate Change and the Minister of Transport).

Of these 11 goals, only 3 are not directly related to the environment (8, 9, and 10). The other 8 are all environmental goals – although a few can be read as natural resource issues (ie. restoring salmon stocks is also about our economy). This means Catherine McKenna and Hunter Tootoo are going to have to work together closely to implement most – if not all – of their goals.