Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MP turned down in bid for tour of doomed ELA

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OTTAWA -- Independent MP Bruce Hyer says the government's muzzling of information and scientists at the Experimental Lakes Area has gone too far after he was denied a chance to visit the site this weekend.

Hyer, a Thunder Bay-area MP, requested an official visit with an ELA scientist for June 10. After several days of waiting, the regional director for science for the Fisheries and Oceans Department told him it wasn't going to happen.

"Unfortunately, we are unable to accommodate this request at this time," wrote Michelle Wheatley.

Hyer said he wasn't given any indication why his request couldn't be accommodated.

"I'm really disappointed. I can't 100 per cent know for sure, but this looks like further evidence of this government muzzling scientists."

Late Friday, a Fisheries spokesman said the department does not conduct tours for individuals.

The government announced last month it was cutting the ELA program after more than five decades of research. The ELA is an aquatic experimental area unmatched in the world. It allows scientists to conduct research on the impact of various pollutants and human activity on aquatic life by purposely polluting a series of 58 lakes in northwestern Ontario near Kenora.

The lakes are eventually returned to their normal state, but the research has given scientists and policy-makers insight into everything from phosphorus to mercury to acid rain. Reports from the ELA have driven understanding and policy decisions on coal-fired power plants and hydro dams, helped remove phosphorus from dish soap and given greater insight into the kind of algae blooms that wreak havoc on Lake Winnipeg.

The government has said the ELA is no longer in line with its mandate and wants someone else to take it over, such as a provincial government or the private sector.

Hyer said that stance is perplexing, because in 2009, the same government sang the ELA's praises and invested $850,000 to upgrade the labs on site. Kenora MP Greg Rickford made the announcement as part of the Economic Action Plan.

Dozens of scientists from around the world have written to the Canadian government asking it to reverse its decision on the ELA, noting its unique nature and impact on aquatic ecosystems.

Hyer said he wants to visit the site because he is a scientist and wants a better understanding of what happens there. He was a wildlife biologist before getting elected.

He was an NDP MP but left the caucus earlier this year in a dispute over his support for getting rid of the long-gun registry.

Hyer said he plans to visit the ELA anyway and take a self-guided tour of the parts that are open.

 

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2012 A4

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