“The City of Sarnia is a municipality of approximately 70,000 people situated on the south shore of Lake Huron at the headwaters of the St. Clair River. The city is noted for its breathtaking sky blue water and beautiful waterfront parks.”
–Excerpt from the official Sarnia website
Community Politics of Pollution
When considering the politics of a town it’s always important to take note of how a town displays itself to the world. The following is a tourism video for Sarnia-Lambton, Sarnia’s county.
The centrality of water—clean water—to the narrative of this video hints at its importance in the way Sarnia views itself. Or, perhaps, it is the way it wants to view itself. It becomes difficult, from an analytical perspective, to discern whether or not the video above intends to straightforwardly express a bid for tourism, or if it’s built to combat lower-budget films posted to the internet such as the one below:
An aggregate sample of Sarnia-related media paints the picture of a town at odds with itself. For every tourist video with sparkling clean waters weaving through every described aspect of community life, there are lower-budget films of sirens, smokestacks, and monuments to the resulting dead.
Local Government: A Dead End?
Sarnia’s government consists of nine elected members: four county councilors, four city councilors, and a mayor.
According to the Canadian constitution, none of these nine have much of a say in environmental policy.
In fact, permits for air emissions usually require provincial permissions rather than something that can be spoken for specifically by those living in places like Sarnia. By having a regulatory permit system that allows companies to move about the province freely, high concentrations of hazardous industry have formed close together where it’s economically viable. This is just one legal factor that has contributed to the density of pollution in Sarnia.
Important Provincial Legislation
Environmental Protection Act:
- “prohibits the discharge of any contaminants into the environment which cause or are likely to cause negative effects – and in the case of some approved contaminants requires that they must not exceed approved and regulated limits”
- “requires that any spills of pollutants be reported and cleaned up in a timely fashion.”
Clean Water Act:
- requires that local communities – through local Source Protection Committees – assess existing and potential threats to their water, and that they set out and implement the actions needed to reduce or eliminate these threats
- empowers communities to take action to prevent threats from becoming significant
- requires public participation on every local source protection plan – the planning process for source protection is open to anyone in the community
- requires that all plans and actions are based on sound science.