Toronto, ON – Today former Republican Senator Patty Birkholz and former Democratic Congressman James Oberstar are at Queen’s Park to promote the value of bipartisan support for strong legislative measures to protect the Great Lakes. The visit comes as the Ontario legislature is debating Bill 6, the proposed Great Lakes Protection Act.
“Safeguarding our drinking water and protecting lake ecosystems – as well as the economic value they bring for fisheries and recreation – is something people of all political stripes can support,” said Patty Birkholz, the former Republican Senator from Michigan. “Taking strong action to protect the Great Lakes is in line with my values, and it was also a goal the people I represented wanted to see accomplished.” 
In the Michigan legislature, Senator Birkholz was founder and first Chair of the Great Lakes Legislative Caucus, a bipartisan international organization established for Great Lakes legislators and elected officials from Ontario and Quebec to work together on Great Lakes issues. In the State Legislature, Senator Birkholz developed many pieces of landmark legislation including, the Great Lakes Compact (Michigan) and the nation’s first water withdrawal laws based in science, and reformed wetlands laws.
As founding member of the House Great Lakes Caucus and the Northeast-Midwest Coalition, former Minnesota Congressman James Oberstar worked with members of both parties from Great Lakes states as well as their Canadian counterparts to protect and promote the Great Lakes.
“Canada and the U.S. share 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater, and we’ve been working together for decades to make sure we’re good stewards for it,” said James Oberstar, the former Democratic Congressman from Minnesota. “But the Great Lakes are still at risk, and we can’t turn our back now. I applaud the efforts being made in Ontario. We need to stand up for our lakes.”
“The U.S. example shows strong legislative action to protect the Great Lakes can span many divides, including political,” said Sarah Winterton of Environmental Defence. “We’re encouraging all parties in Ontario to work together to pass a strong Great Lakes Protection Act that will establish transparency and set clear targets for reducing pollution and improving water quality.”
In the United States, bipartisan support for Great Lakes protection led to the historic Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the largest investment in the Great Lakes in two decades. The comprehensive plan behind it is the result of extensive collaboration of government, agencies, and non-governmental organizations. The plan addresses the environmental issues that threaten the Great Lakes. The promised investment of $2.2 billion over five years has boosted the conservation-related economy around the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes provide drinking water for over 80 per cent of Ontarians. Great Lakes recreational anglers spend $600 million each year in Ontario on food, lodging, travel, and equipment, and the binational Great Lakes boating industry is valued at $16 billion annually. This economic activity depends on the Great Lakes’ health.
Environmental Defence will post photos of the event by end of day on Monday March 25. Download pictures here:
About ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (  Environmental Defence is Canada’s most effective environmental action organization. We challenge, and inspire change in government, business and people to ensure a greener, healthier and prosperous life for all.
For more information, or to arrange interviews, please contact:
Naomi Carniol, Environmental Defence, (416) 323-9521 ext. 258; (416) 570-2878 (cell)