Ontario Will Spend Half Billion On Water Safety In
Queen's Park Bureau
The Ontario government will spend more than $500 million
over the next two years to protect Ontario's drinking
water, including hiring more inspectors.
"We are committed to ensuring that Ontario has the toughest
policies in the world for safe, clean drinking water and
will dedicate whatever resources are required to accomplish
that goal," Finance Minister Janet Ecker said yesterday
after delivering her first budget.
This is a direct response to both reports from Mr. Justice
Dennis O'Connor's inquiry into the Walkerton water tragedy
in which seven people died and more than 2,300 were made
ill from drinking town water contaminated with E. coli and
"We have accepted all of his recommendations, and remain
fully committed to their implementation. We are providing
additional funding to more than double the number of inspectors
to inspect municipal water systems," Ecker said. "The government
will commit to an investment of over a half billion dollars
in the next two years on clean, safe, drinking water for
the people of Ontario."
The money is coming from across the government, much of
it from OSTAR (Ontario Small Town and Rural program), a
special fund created some years ago by the government to
make improvements to small municipal water systems. About
$174 million will come from this fund.
But critics says the money, which includes $245 million
this year, is far short of the billions of dollars needed
to upgrade Ontario's aging water and sewage treatment plants.
O'Connor estimated a one-time cost of about $280 million
for the province, municipalities and individuals to implement
his recommendations, with ongoing costs of about $50 million.
"I think this government money is a drop in the bucket.
It's not enough to ensure clean, safe drinking water in
the province," New Democratic Party critic MPP Marilyn Churley
Critics also noted that even with 77 inspectors, up from
51, it's still a far cry from the more than 100 inspector
positions that existed prior to the Tories slashing the
environment ministry in 1996. The government's decision
to cut spending by 40 per cent and staff by 50 per cent
during its first mandate contributed to the death of seven
people, the O'Connor report said.
O'Connor blamed the cuts for contributing to the Walkerton
tragedy, especially the decision to close down provincially
run water testing laboratories.
"The environmental issue for Ernie Eves is the sorry legacy
of Walkerton and extended litany of promises that are unfulfilled,
so we got more promises today. Big deal," Liberal Leader
Dalton McGuinty said. McGuinty said the government is simply
restoring some of the $230 million taken out the environment
ministry over the past six years.
Oakville Mayor Ann Mulvale, president of the Association
of Municipalities of Ontario, (AMO), said the two-year commitment
"is an acknowledgment that they have a responsibility to
partnership with us; we think that's good news."
The environment ministry's budget actually went up by only
"If you look very closely at this budget you will find that
this government is still investing less in the environment
than when they came into office," Liberal critic MPP Jim
Bradley (St. Catharines) said.