The Emerald Ash Borer is an invasive species in southwestern Ontario and the Great Lakes States.
Photo from the US Department of Agriculture. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Liberal Natural Resource Minister Bill Mauro reintroduced the Invasive Species Act Wednesday, the first standalone legislation in Canada geared towards stopping the spread of invasives into the province

There is currently a patchwork of more than 20 different federal and provincial pieces of legislation affecting the control of invasive species in the country but none are designed specifically with invasive species in mind. Ontario is keen to change that, said Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Bill Mauro.

"Our proposed legislation will help to address these legislative gaps," he told a crowd of reporters and environmental stakeholders Wednesday morning at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

If passed, the Invasive Species Act would give Ontario additional powers to control the transportation of specific invasive species and boost the enforcement efforts and penalties levied against those breaking the rules. It would also bolster the province's ability to react quickly to the spread of invasives, a critical factor considering rapid response times can mean the difference between containing an invader and allowing them to spread beyond control.

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This bill was first introduced by then Resource Minister David Orazietti in February 2014, making it to second reading before the June 2014 election was called. Mauro told reporters the bill has no time slot for second reading yet, but that his government had made its swift passage a priority. If this happens, this bill will likely become law, given the majority government awarded to Liberal leader Kathleen Wynne this summer.

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The spread of invasives throughout Canada is costly for all levels of government, Mauro cautioned. British Columbia has spent almost one billion attempting to control mountain pine beetle while Toronto has coughed up more than $36-million combatting the Emerald Ash Borer. Canada continues to spend roughly $91-million annually limiting the impact of zebra mussels which have a habit of clogging municipal water intake pipes in the Great Lakes.

Mauro also stressed that the bill is not a jumping off point for his government to start investing in invasive species. They've been doing it for years, he said. In particular, the minister highlighted the $9-million contribution Ontario made to starting the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie and the almost $400,000 the province gives to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters to run the Invasive Species Awareness Program to help educate the public.

Needless to say, these and other stakeholder groups are lining up behind the legislation.

The bill will "help set clear priorities and identify those invasive species that are posing the highest risk to Ontario's environment," said Dilhari Fernando, executive director of the Invasive Species Centre. Angelo Lombardo, head of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, said in a statement the "sale, movement and importation of invasive species in Ontario are of a serious concern."

The Invasive Plant Council is also pleased the government is taking the step of reintroducing this legislation since Ontario has the mandate and resources to help environmental NGOs and the private sector do their part to reduce the impacts of invasives.

"Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of effort and a little bit of money," said Iola Price, president of the Ontario Invasive Plant Council.

Price told me her group would like to see the legislation provide for more eradication activities to deal with the invasive species already present in the province. "The minister mentioned phragmites, but there's garlic mustard, dog-strangling vine, buckthorn – we would like to see some of that money working now to start working on the problem."

Maruo, himself a northern member from Thunder Bay-Attikokan, was quick to talk about the impacts invasives have on resource extraction industries in Northern Ontario. The province's $12-billion a year forestry sector, for example, supports over 55,000 jobs in the province and is facing threats from invasive bugs that feast on trees destined to become timber.

But should the emphasis of the Invasive Species Act be on protecting resource jobs or the province's native species and biodiversity? I asked Mauro, and he doesn't feel the two are mutually exclusive.

"I think they're the same thing," he told me. "I think invasive species, by their very nature, will have an impact on the biodiversity of Ontario [but] there is no focus on one particular sector at all."

Order the Water issue now to read “Carpocalypse Now,” Reeves’ in-depth look at the efforts to keep four species of invasive carp out of the Great Lakes.

 Photo: Thad Cook

Andrew is an award-winning environmental writer based in Toronto with a Masters in Geography from the University of Toronto. Andrew covers environmental politics for the A\J Current Events blog and on his own blog, The Reeves Report. Follow him on Twitter.

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