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  Address at the Great Lakes Congressional Breakfast
   

March 2, 2005

Good morning. I would like to thank the Northeast Midwest Institute and the Great Lakes Commission for this invitation to address the Congressional Breakfast.

I'm glad to have a chance to talk about the role cities can play in helping to preserve and maintain this tremendously important resource. When I think about what it will take to ensure this lake system remains valuable and viable for generations to come, I am reminded of something the musician Tom Lehrer once said. He said, "Life is like a sewer - what you get out of it . . . depends on what you put into it."

Given that this is a breakfast meeting, I won't belabour this metaphor. But I think it is important both to have a very clear sense of what we want to get out of this worthy international effort to clean up the Great Lakes, and what we're willing to put in to achieving those goals.

I can tell you plainly and simply what I want for Toronto's piece of the Great Lake System: I want people to be able to go swimming at all the beaches and parks that line Toronto's 46 kilometres of shoreline. I want to take my children fishing, and let them catch their supper in Toronto Harbour. I want Torontonians to be able to dip a cup into Lake Ontario and take a drink.

In short, what I want to get out of the Great Lakes is nothing but fresh, clean water for my children and my children's children.

This leads to the question of what Toronto is willing and able to put in to the Great Lakes.

I am here today in recognition of a couple of important principles: First, I think all the representatives from Canada and the United States here today would agree that it takes two to remediate. Neither of our countries can manage this shared resource on their own.

Second, it is vital that we recognize the increasingly important role municipal governments must play in areas of national and international interest, including major environmental initiatives like the clean-up of the Great Lakes.

Toronto in particular can make a unique and valuable contribution to the improvement of the Great Lakes system. Being the fifth largest city in North America - and the largest in Canada - Toronto has a municipal government that is larger than that of most provinces and many states. A government of our size deals with major policy areas like the environment as would a state, provincial, or federal government. At the same time, we still deal with the literal on-the-street issues of running a city, like development, public transit, and of course, sewer systems.

No other order of government has a city's combination of perspective on the big-picture policy issues, and the hands-on practical experience in managing and maintaining water resources.

The solution to many Great Lakes issues will require local governments to implement new approaches to such issues as storm water run-off, wastewater treatment, and sustainable land use. Local governments also have a direct connection with communities and constituents, and can be tremendously effective in engaging residents with issues like invasive species and water conservation.

I will speak briefly about some of the very real ways a city like Toronto can affect the water quality in the Great Lakes. I mentioned that our City Council deals with some pretty mundane issues, like stop signs and speed humps. One of these perennial issues is the debate over whether we should let people pave their front lawn to make a driveway. Councillors argue over the loss of street parking, the ugliness of so much pavement in their neighbourhoods and so on.

An important drawback of these parking pads is that, as we pave more and more of our green spaces, more and more storm water runs straight off the pavement into the sewer system, rather than soaking into the soil. That means the natural filtration system is crippled and much higher concentrations of chemicals and pollutants flow toward the lake.

Toronto has been a leader in mitigating some water management issues. For instance, we have implemented bylaws that prevent mature trees from being cut down on private property. We also approved a wide-reaching pesticide ban, which vastly reduces one of major sources of water pollution. We also have a long-term plan to prevent road salt, household hazardous materials, and other pollutants from ever making their way from our city into the lake.

The City of Toronto is also working with regional conservation agencies to preserve and expand our green spaces. We are working to connect our parks and urban forests into green corridors. When it comes to watersheds, there's a law of expanding returns - the more you can create contiguous green areas, rather than a patchwork of smaller spaces, the more effectively will water be filtered before it returns to the lakes.

I have been talking about some of the initiatives Toronto is taking to improve the water quality of the Great Lakes. Of course, on its own, our efforts are a drop in a bucket - and it happens that this particular bucket holds 6 quadrillion gallons of fresh water.

This is precisely why we have joined this alliance of Great Lakes Cities - to ensure that the local know-how of municipalities translates into effective region-wide policies.

I would like to express my appreciation to Mayor Daley for starting this initiative. I know that these cities have much to learn from each other, and that together we can work in productive partnership with the US and Canadian governments, state and provincial governments, and other stakeholders in Great Lakes restoration.

And let's be clear: Cities don't just have a lot to offer on this file, we also have a tremendous amount at stake. The improvement of water quality and shoreline conditions and tackling invasive species are essential for the vitality of municipalities.

Chicago presents a shining example of how dependent a city is on its waterfront. This lesson has been demonstrated again and again in Berlin and Barcelona and Brisbane. When an urban waterfront is vibrant and sustainable, the city also thrives.

Waterfront activity drives local economies and improves the quality of life for residents and visitors. Toronto's waterfront is undergoing a renaissance at the moment. We are reclaiming and remediating old industrial brownfield sites along our portlands, and building new, sustainable neighbourhoods designed around parks, pedestrians, and public transit. But a rejuvenated waterfront will only ever be as good as the water it fronts.

Of course, the most important aspect of the Great Lakes is drinking water. Seventy five percent of Ontario residents get their drinking water from the Great Lakes.

I am proud to lead Canada's municipalities in this initiative. On March 11, I will host a meeting of Canadian mayors to map out a regional strategy for the lakes.

At that meeting, Canada's Environment Minister, the Honourable Stephane Dion, will speak to Canadian mayors about the Government of Canada's plans for the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River ecosystem. Our continuing work with the other orders of government, puts us on the threshold of Great Lakes renaissance.

We would be foolish not to acknowledge how much work there is to do.

In Canada, the Federal and provincial governments have been collaborating to clean up the Areas of Concern identified in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Eighteen of the 43 Areas of Concern are in Canada. To date, two of these areas have already been fully restored. Of the remaining 16, 13 should be de-listed in the next two to three years. The remaining three, one of which I'm sorry to say is Toronto Harbour, will take a little longer. But it is important to acknowledge that these restorations are only possible because of the participation of municipalities.

As our two countries begin a review of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, cities in Canada and the United States are ready take their seat at the table as partners and collaborators. When it comes to the Great Lakes, we are truly ready to plunge in.

Thank you again for inviting me to speak here today. I hope that this event is the beginning of an ongoing, productive conversation.

For more information please visit:
Canadian Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River mayors chart a course for the care of the world's largest freshwater system
Great Lakes Cities Initiative
Environmental Protection Agency
International Joint Commission
Canadian Federal Great Lakes Program
Great Lakes Canada-Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA)

Mayor Miller spoke in tandem with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

(from left to right) Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson, and Toronto Mayor David Miller.
(From left to right) Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Stephen Johnson, and Toronto Mayor David Miller.

The two mayors co-chair the Great Lakes Cities Initiative, a bi-national coalition of municipal governments working to address issues like invasive species, pollution, and dumping in the Great Lakes.

 

 
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