This article examines how the Ontario government stepped forward with funding to help save the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). Through negotiations among the Ontario government, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), a Canadian-based, international public policy research institute, and the Conservative federal government that cancelled funding for the ELA in May 2012, an arrangement has been made for the operation of the Experimental Lakes Area to be done by the IISD, thus keeping alive this highly respected organization.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Environmental studies, world issues, politics

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What is the ELA?
  • What does it do?
  • Why did the federal government cut its funding?
  • Who is the IISD?
  • What role did the Ontario government play in all of this?

New Terminology:

Experimental Lakes Area

International Institute for Sustainable Development

Materials Needed:

Access to the internet

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

Criticism of the Harper Conservative government’s record on the environment is widespread and well documented. For example, as the Sierra Club, a Canadian environmental organization that has been active in Canada since 1963, states concerning the federal budget of 2012:

It was no surprise that the Federal budget, or more correctly the Economic Action Plan 2012, as it was entitled, would continue the Harper government’s support for tar sands oil and a natural resource based export economy while ramping up its on-going assault on environmental protection. (Sierra Club)

In addition, Academic Matters, The Journal of Higher Education, attacks the Harper government for making “bold moves to control or prevent the free flow of scientific information across Canada, particularly when that information highlights the undesirable consequences of industrial development.” (“Harper’s attack on science: No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy”) Greenpeace Canada has an article entitled “Harper government is trying to intimidate environmental groups.” Among other criticised actions are alterations to the regulations and legislation governing the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. These are only a few of the criticisms being levelled at this government by environmental groups.

On a global scale, Canada’s environmental reputation under the Harper government has suffered greatly. We abandoned our Kyoto commitments and will fail to meet our carbon emissions commitments.  At the Durban, South Africa, Conference on the Environment, Canada was awarded the “Fossil of the Year” award for the fifth consecutive time. Our tar sands oil is seen around the world as “dirty oil”. As the David Suzuki Foundation points out, “Canada has the second worst environmental record of OECD countries, ranking 24th out of 25 countries. Only the United States ranks lower. The top ranking countries are Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.” (David Suzuki Foundation)

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that, in 2012 the Harper government cut funding for the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a world-renowned organization that conducts research on 58 small lakes in order to “understand global threats to the environment through knowledge gained from whole-ecosystem, experimental, scientific research”. (ELA) The stated reason for this funding cut was that the government says it felt this research was better done by universities. ( Critics argue, however, that this is just another attempt by the Harper government to shut down a facility that could generate information that demonstrates the negative effects of climate change and the way in which carbon emissions (read here the tar sands) are damaging our environment.

This lesson will have the students examine the events surrounding the cancelling of funding for the ELA and its subsequent resurrection, and determine for themselves whether or they support the government’s action or find themselves in line with the critics.

Action (lesson plan and task):

  • Ask the students if they know anything about the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA).
  • Put the students in groups of four to six
  • Ask them to quickly research the organization and identify what it is and what it does.
  • Take up their findings and confirm the information that they present.
  • Inform them that up to 2012 the federal government provided the funds for the ELA but that in 2012 the Harper government announced that it was cutting the funding and closing the ELA.
  • Ask the students to research the reasons the government gave for doing this and what the critics were saying.
  • Allow them time to research this task and then take up their answers.
  • Provide the students with a copy of the article and allow them time to read it.
  • Get their reactions to it.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Ask the groups to research and explain why the Ontario government was prepared to provide two million dollars per year to help keep the ELA going while the federal Harper Conservatives refused to provide funding.
  • Have them report their findings to the class and to state whether or not they support the action taken by the federal government.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • The students will be able to identify the ELA and explain what it does.
  • The students will be able to explain the reasons given by the federal government for cancelling funding.
  • The students will offer an informed opinion about whether or not the action taken by the Harper government in cancelling funding for the ELA is supportable.

Confirming Activity:

Ask the students, for homework, to briefly research measures taken by the Harper government concerning environmental issues and to determine if they believe that this is an attempt by the government to shut down research that might be counter to its agenda concerning resource development and the impact it has on the environment.