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Scientist miffed Tory MP takes credit for saving ELA

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SUPPORTERS of the Experimental Lakes Area are fuming at a new flyer from Winnipeg Conservative MP Joyce Bateman that takes credit for solving a problem her government created.

The flyer, which arrived in mailboxes late last week, offers an update on the Harper government's plans to turn over control of the world-class freshwater research station to a Winnipeg-based environmental think-tank, the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

The move comes after Ottawa slashed funding to the ELA and issued layoff notices to dozens of staff and scientists last year, threatening long-term research conducted on the collection of 58 lakes near Kenora.

"I'm very happy to announce a new agreement on the future of the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA)," reads the flyer. "We have been working diligently to secure a third-party operator for ELA and this agreement is an important step for the future. This new agreement will ensure that the long-term experiments being undertaken at ELA can continue uninterrupted during the summer."

Bateman, MP for Winnipeg South Centre, said the flyer was meant to keep constituents up to date and to show the government made good on its commitment to work with a private operator willing to run the research station.

But supporters of the ELA say the flyer was misleading at best.

"I thought it was a monumental amount of political chutzpah," said Winnipeg South Centre resident David Rosenberg, a former ELA scientist. "It makes me so disrespectful of politicians."

Rosenberg, who worked for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans until retiring about a dozen years ago, said it was cynical of Bateman and her government to take credit for saving the research centre when it was federal budget cuts that nearly doomed it.

The ELA and its remaining staff are still in limbo, waiting for the outcome of down-to-the-wire negotiations between the IISD, the Ontario and Manitoba governments and Ottawa over the particulars of the transfer deal. The deal is expected to see the provinces pick up the tab for most of the cost, with IISD running the facility.

If a deal isn't done before the end of the month, the land reverts back to the Ontario government.

Ontario has committed up to $2 million, but it's increasingly unlikely Ottawa will offer any capital or operating funds.

For more than 40 years, ELA scientists have deliberately polluted lakes to measure the long-term effects on an entire, complex ecosystem -- work done nowhere else on the planet. ELA studies have led to continent-wide policy shifts on acid rain, changes to the way hydro dams are built, a ban on phosphorus in detergents and huge advancements in the battle against the green algae that foul Lake Winnipeg beaches every summer.

The fate of the ELA could be a niche election issue in Winnipeg South Centre in 2015, since a number of vocal ELA scientists, students and their supporters live in the riding, especially River Heights. And it's not the first time one of Bateman's flyers has annoyed ELA supporters. Last summer, a letter to constituents sparked a war of words with six former scientists who took issue with Bateman's claim the research done at the ELA no longer aligns with the department's priorities and the number of research projects has declined though costs are up.

Bateman said the deal with the IISD is a lemons-into-lemonade situation, and turning over the ELA to an environmental think-tank with global reach is a good solution.

"We took full credit when nobody was happy. We take full credit for the solution, too," said Bateman. "We make no apologies for balancing the books. We're going to be in a better place as a country because of that."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 8, 2013 A4

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