Only three days remain to finalize the interim agreement to find a new operator for the Experimental Lakes Area laboratory in northern Ontario, but the province’s resource minister is “optimistic” things will work out.
“We are optimistic that we’ll have some positive news very shortly,” said Natural Resources Minister David Orazietti Thursday.
It’s possible all parties may agree to an interim continuation of the already interim agreement if no permanent arrangement can be found, he said, but currently the Liberals don’t believe more time will be necessary to strike a deal. “We may need to, but right now we are focused on meeting those timelines so those experiments can continue,” he said.
The interim agreement signed on Sept. 2, 2013 set a deadline of March 31, 2014 for all parties to sign a new operating framework for the ELA. With only three days to go until the deadline, no one will say how talks are proceeding.
A spokesperson for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada said in an emailed statement Thursday the government of Canada remains committed to finding a “more suitable operator” for the ELA.
“We hope to have some further information to share shortly,” she said.
Joel Trenaman, communications director with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), the group set to take over day-to-day operations of the facility, told me earlier this week his organization is unable to offer any comment at the moment on the status of the ongoing talks. “Negotiations continue towards March 31,” he said.
In September, representatives from the federal Conservatives, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and the IISD met in Kenora near the Ontario-Manitoba border to announce an interim agreement had been reached to transfer ownership of the living research facility from Ottawa to the IISD with provincial assistance and funding.
Ontario committed up to $2 million per year for the length of the agreement while Manitoba has earmarked $1 million a year for six years to ensure the freshwater laboratory of 58 contained lakes, open since 1968, would remain open to Canadian and international scientists.
The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in early 2012 their annual ELA funding of $2 million would be cut off, casting doubt on whether the research facility could remain open after the March 31, 2013 deadline they imposed.
Wynne, flanked with cabinet ministers in a science lab at the University of Toronto in April, 2013, signalled her government’s intention to provide “operational support” for the ELA and their commitment to find a new operator.
“I think it’s an important scientific endeavour and I don’t believe that either provincially, regionally, or nationally and internationally we can afford to let it go,” Wynne said at the time.
Orazietti said in an interview he is aware that disruptions in experiments can compromise research being undertaken at the lakes, which is why the Liberal government is working towards finding a resolution before the March 31 deadline to keep the ELA open.
“There has been substantial resources invested to date,” he said. “The research that is garnered from them is something that takes place over a number of years, and they do need that longevity in experimentation to develop more accurate findings.”
But Diane Orihel, freshwater ecologist and vocal advocate for the the ELA, said on Twitter earlier this week negotiations determining how the research facility would be transferred have always been conducted behind closed doors.
“Scientists have not been included in this process,” she said. “Without a new deal, [the] ELA is closed.”