The Gleaner

Saint-Anicet mayor addresses senate as head of multinational initiative

The municipality of Saint-Anicet is at the forefront of freshwater management in Canada.

On February 27, Mayor Gino Moretti testified in Ottawa on behalf of his municipality and the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative (GLSLCI) before the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, as part of a meeting to study the impacts of climate change on critical infrastructure in the transportation and communications sectors.

Moretti currently sits as chair of the GLSLCI, a multi-national coalition of over 240 mayors and local officials working with federal, state, and provincial governments to advance the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River basin.

The local mayor’s presentation focused on critical challenges to marine strategy and the blue economy, including Canada’s commitment to policies and strategies to facilitate the movement of people and goods across freshwater systems. He raised concerns around transportation infrastructure and funding requirements necessary for developing or maintaining these resources, while also addressing the pressing impacts of climate change on the waterway.

“Reduced ice coverage in the basin presents environmental challenges, with winter storms causing substantial damage. Erosion, damaged retaining walls, and extreme weather events with high repair bills surpass the capacity of local governments,” Moretti testified. He then suggested Canada explore opportunities for investing in climate-resilient infrastructure as an adaptation strategy, while noting current government programs and policies, as well as funding, need to be adjusted to allow local governments to better respond to these challenges.

Bringing together local governments

The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative was founded 21 years ago by the mayors of Chicago and Toronto, and it has since grown to include 240 mayors from Quebec, Ontario, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and leaders of several Indigenous communities.

The coalition is emerging as a strong, united voice defending coastal resilience, the equitable access to water and resources, the economic benefits from local freshwater resources, and the protection and restoration of the basin, which includes 10,000 kms of vulnerable shoreline.

Moretti was approached about joining the GLSLCI in 2019 by Régis Labeaume, the mayor of Quebec City at the time. There was no rural municipality involved in the initiative from the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway in Quebec. Moretti submitted his name, and he has been heavily involved ever since. He is also a member of the Union des municipalités du Québec’s comité maritime, and co-chairs the Table de concertation régionale Haut-Saint-Laurent – Grand Montréal, which is focused on water and aquatic ecosystems in the areas downstream of the St-Lawrence River, with Repentigny mayor Nicolas Dufour.

Moretti says these associations are about advocacy, education, and collaboration between the different mayors, where each municipalityhas an equal voice no matter their size. For example, each province and state have a different way of protecting their shorelines, he explains, noting how the mayors can share their best practices and learn from each other’s experiences.

“Mayors are looking for the best ways to support their cities or municipalities,” says Moretti. “We never lose sight of our citizens,” he adds, noting that accountability also plays a very strong role in their work.

“There are a lot of issues, and we try to prioritize them,” Moretti says, noting funding is a major hurdle for most municipalities.  “The only time there is funding is when there is a disaster,” he says, admitting this is a significant concern in terms of climate change and adaptation. He feels that responsible management of the freshwater basin will require stable, predictable, and long-term funding, “as the cost of inaction and repairs will be much higher than climate adaptation.”

He says they are already seeing signs of climate change. “This winter will have an impact,” says Moretti of the potential consequences of the unseasonably mild weather over the past several months. “There will be more surface erosion into the water,” he adds matter of factly. There was next to no ice cover on Lake Saint-François this year, which resulted in a higher flow of water that could cause problems for different dams along the Seaway.

Moretti says one goal for the GLSLCI is to change the perception of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway from an industrial heartland to that of a green corridor. “We are not environmental activists,” he insists, saying the mayors just want to be sure there is water for future generations and that economies can continue to be developed along the waterway in a sustainable way that is adapted to climate realities.

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