May 9, 2003:
"Drinking water sources should be protected by developing watershed-based
source protection plans. Source protection plans should be required
for all watersheds in Ontario," so wrote Justice O'Connor in
his chapter on "The Protection of Drinking Water Resources"
in his Report of the Walkerton Inquiry in May of 2002.
O'Connor's advice led to the creation of an Advisory Committee
on Watershed-based Source Protection Planning. Now, less than a
year after the Walkerton findings, the report of this Advisory Committee
turns O'Connor's original 17 recommendations about drinking water
source protection into 55 recommendations that spell out a planning
framework for getting the job done.
The proposed planning framework follows O'Connor's recommendations
utterly. The first recommendation: "The government require
the watershed-based source protection framework described in the
Advisory Committee's report and recommendations to be used in all
watersheds in Ontario."
Justice O'Connor will not be surprised.
Earlier this month, at a seminar in Toronto on accountability in
government, O'Connor spelled out the Walkerton Inquiry's road to
a public policy success.
It won public confidence. It was thorough. It considered all the
options. It was timely. It demonstrated a spirit of working hard.
The public did not lose interest. It was transparent, accessible
and open. Everything was on its website. It was fairly run. Everybody
was heard in an orderly fashion. It worked with the best people
The first part of the Inquiry had investigated what went wrong
in Walkerton and was dominated by lawyers. The policy part of the
Inquiry, also known as Part ll, and focused on future public policy,
was independent from government and accountable only to the public
for its policy advice and recommendations. Part II avoided lawyers
and depended on researchers, experts and stakeholders.
The research agenda created the finest library worldwide of modern
best practices for protecting drinking water. The 36 diverse groups
that were granted intervenor status created a body of people who
had something meaningful to say. They met with the experts in public
meetings to narrow the issues and create policy options. In O'Connor's
words: "The concerned stakeholders came together and developed
the recommendations very cooperatively. It was a fantastic response."
The watershed-based source protection framework will soon reach
onto our farms, particularly in areas where drinking water is vulnerable
to contamination. When that time comes it will be imperative to
look past the causes of contaminated water and the deaths in Walkerton.
As O'Connor pointed out during the seminar, what happened in Walkerton
had little impact on the Inquiry's policy recommendations. He suggested
five percent. The source protection recommendations are, in fact,
the result of stakeholder cooperation.
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