The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Region: Improving Policy Outcomes Through Research and Engagement | Wilson Center
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The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Region: Improving Policy Outcomes Through Research and Engagement

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Webcast Recap

The Great Lakes-St Lawrence Basin contains 18 percent of the world's freshwater and is home to 42 million people. While these waters are essential to Canada and the United States' quality of life, the current state and future sustainability of the basin continue to challenge policy makers. The Wilson Center's Canada Institute and Environmental Change and Security Program and the Great Lakes Policy Research Network hosted a half-day conference dedicated to bringing government, non-government, private sector, community organizations, and other stakeholders together to discuss the vital issue of Great Lakes environmental governance.

Brief Overview of the Great Lakes Policy Research Network – Research to Date & New Research Frontiers

Carolyn Johns
Associate Professor, Ryerson University

Carolyn Johns gave a brief overview of the research and stated that the goal of the Great Lakes Policy Research Network is to bring together various entities– governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector – to engage with each other on shared interests within the region.


"Public Opinion on Great Lakes Environmental and Energy Policy: A Canada-U.S. Comparison"

Barry Rabe
Director, Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, University of Michigan

Chris Borick
Director, Institute of Public Opinion, Muhlenberg College

Chris Gore
Associate Professor, Ryerson University

Sarah Mills
PhD Student, The University of Michigan

Barry Rabe began the first panel by discussing the methods the Great Lakes Policy Research Network used in their public opinion polling research and the importance of continuing the research. The Network was able to link public and elite opinions, laying the groundwork for future research opportunities.

Research results revealed that American and Canadian opinions are largely similar when considering the basin, as most perceive the lakes to be significant for the regions. Chris Gore outlined the main differences and similarities between Americans and Canadians. Research showed that the most significant difference in opinion revolved around the American disdain for phasing out coal—only 24% of Americans were in support, compared to 50% of Canadians—while one of the primary similarities between the groups centered on the need for renewable energy in the region (though the source of that energy was contested).

Sarah Mills provided more detail on the differences in public opinion surrounding energy sources. Mills found that, when considering wind energy, Americans were more favorable to the idea of wind turbines than Canadians, likely because Canadians have first-hand knowledge of the negative side effects associated with turbines—noise and a decrease in property values. The survey also explored public attitudes on wind energy between rural and non-rural residents, finding that wind turbines are less popular in rural areas because that is frequently where they are placed.

Turning to hydraulic fracking, Chris Borick discussed the significant overlay between shale and the Great Lakes. A majority of Canadians and Americas living in the basin do not favor the expansion of hydraulic fracking, despite the many perceived benefits, including energy independence and job creation. Instead, most respondents maintain significant concerns about the methods used. A primary difference between American and Canadian opinion centered on the role of government in regulation; Canadians saw a greater deal of authority for federal regulators when compared to American respondents.

"Transboundary Governance Capacity in the Great Lakes Region: Comparative Findings Across Four Policy Cases"

Debora VanNijnatten
Associate Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University

Tim Heinmiller
Associate Professor, Brock University

Marcia Valiante
Professor of Law, University of Windsor

Dustin Garrick
Philomathia Chair of Water Policy, McMaster University

Kathryn Friedman
Director of Cross-Border and International Research, University of Buffalo

Debora VanNijnatten discussed the goals of the governance project, which focuses on better understanding the conditions that promote adaptive trans-boundary governance. Stemming from the concern that government institutions have not adequately addressed environmental challenges, VanNijnatten noted that though there have been successes, not all issues have received the same attention. Ultimately, the project attempts to create a model to measure trans-boundary governance that would allow comparisons over time and across basins.

Turning to the governance of irrigation water-takings, Tim Heinmiller discussed results of their research which indicates that agricultural irrigation is the second or third largest use of water in the basin, and therefore necessitates proper governance and treaties to regulate water usage. The most successful and lasting treaty, the 2008 Water Compact, details the regulatory thresholds for water withdrawals and has been regarded as highly legitimate with hopeful signs for future stability.

In the near-shore framework case study, Marcia Valiante noted that the framework serves as an umbrella linking together a variety of issues. The framework addresses the key problem of nutrient pollution, or urban and agricultural run-off. Generally, policies that address these issues are relatively well developed, but there is significant fragmentation between higher levels of government and what occurs on the ground.

Water quality governance and the water issues that come with the increase in globalization requires, as David Garrick notes, “goldilocks governance.” The shared problem of non-point source pollution, which is connected to land-use practice needs neither top-down nor bottom-up governance, but rather building capacity at all levels. To conclude, “not all pollution is created equal” and therefore adequate water quality requires varying levels of governance.

Arctic governance too needs a new framework to handle the profound changes caused by climate change. In answer to the question, “Are existing governance arrangements adequate?” Kathryn Friedman answered that while the current system is functional in its information sharing and cooperation, its legitimacy is merely average because of a lack of indigenous voices in governance as well as underdevelopment in comparison to the governance system of the Great Lakes region.

"Public Outreach in the Basin"

Gail Krantzberg
Professor, Civil Engineering, McMaster University

Savitri Jetoo
PhD student, McMaster University

Public outreach in the basin, which hosts a largely stressed environment and has been combined with new stressors, has reached a tipping point with various governing agencies. To fix the governance problem, shared responsibility and a new policy should be integrated with science and economics, while engaging all regional actors.