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This article was published 18/3/2017 (1112 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Renowned water-quality expert Eva Pip fears for Lake Winnipeg after the Pallister government vowed this week to slash government red tape.
"Lake Winnipeg is in great trouble," the retired University of Winnipeg biologist lamented Friday.
"Once you kill Lake Winnipeg, you can’t put it back," she said.
On Thursday, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen tabled for first reading the Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act, which amends or eliminates 15 laws covering drinking water, hog barn operations, fisheries, labour arbitration, hazardous waste, noxious weeds and other areas.
"I certainly did not expect they would go this far," Pip said. "They are dishearteningly retrograde. It’s reprehensible.
"I don’t think this government cares about the future," said Pip, who plans to speak when the bill goes to committee hearings.
"The ones that especially concern me are the Drinking Water Safety Act, where they want to reduce the number of audits. It does talk about the elimination of permits.
"It does imply there will be less monitoring and less vigilance — that’s the opposite of what we need. We need more enforcement of what we have," said Pip, who also accused the Tories of reducing environment controls on hog barns. "You have to have oversight, you can’t just have development."
Premier Brian Pallister told reporters Friday that the bill won’t harm Manitobans. "We’ll never support a regulation that puts the health or environmental health of our province at risk," he said.
He also said "there’s no compelling evidence" that any of the changes put water at risk.
Municipalities are cautiously optimistic the legislation will achieve what Friesen intends, "eliminating the barriers that prevent business and local governments from thriving and expanding."
"We want to govern efficiently," said Steinbach Mayor Chris Goertzen, president of the Association of Municipalities of Manitoba. "Increased flexibility is a good policy to have."
Goertzen lauded a clause letting municipalities recover costs from property owners under the Noxious Weeds Act.
"We welcome that," he said.
Looser regulations for hog barn operations and use of manure need monitoring, Goertzen noted. "We do need to ensure that environmental protection for our communities is there."
Drinking water must be safe, he emphasized. "We’ll be monitoring that closely. We have a very good working relationship with the minister of sustainable development."
But NDP environment critic Rob Altemeyer ripped into the Tory bill: "The first action this government is taking on the environment is a weakening of environmental protections," he charged. "They’re repealing the moratorium on hog barns, so everyone has to be concerned about the health of Lake Winnipeg.
"The hidden agenda has to eventually come out," Altemeyer said. "It should be called the Green Protection Destruction Act."
Altemeyer accused the Pallister government of forgetting the Walkerton inquiry, after five people died and thousands became ill in the Ontario town in 2000 through contamination of the town’s water supply.
"I’m not in any way saying our water supply is unsafe right now. It’s safe now because of the protections we have," Altemeyer said.
Not alarmed at all was Todd MacKay, prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. "It’s always important to review regulations and make sure they’re working for people," MacKay said.
"It’s a never-ending job, because things are always changing; otherwise, they get in the way for nothing," he said.
Don Leitch, president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba, supports a regular review of government regulations. "We’re not saying deregulate, we’re saying appropriate legislation," he said Friday.
Updated on Saturday, March 18, 2017 at 8:49 AM CDT: Edited