Executive summary


The Great Lakes program is comprised of three program components – the Great Lakes Nutrient Initiative (GLNI), the Great Lakes Action Plan (GLAP) and the Action Plan for Clean Water (Great Lakes Sediment Remediation Projects or GLSRP). These three programs support actions to address commitments stemming from the Canada–US Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) and Canada–Ontario Agreement Respecting the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem (COA).

Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) works with the US, federal, provincial, state, and community partners as well as with the public to improve Great Lakes water quality. Among many other initiatives, these partners work to deliver Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) that guide restoration and protection efforts in key Areas of Concern (AOCs) — “hot spots” that have been designated as the most severely degraded areas within the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes program uses funding from GLAP to restore beneficial use impairments (BUIs) in AOCs, and implements contaminated sediment remediation projects with funding from the Action Plan for Clean Water. Funding from GLNI is used to determine phosphorus targets and identify possible actions to reduce levels that contribute to harmful algae. The program also develops action plans and strategies to address evolving and historic issues of emerging concern in the Great Lakes (e.g., species and habitat protection, chemicals of concern, and climate change impacts).

The purpose of the evaluation was to assess the relevance and performance of the Great Lakes program (sub-program 1.3.4 in the department’s Program Alignment Architecture). The primary focus of the evaluation was on GLNI, while less effort was expended on the evaluation of GLAP because it had previously been evaluated in 2010. The assessment of the GLSRP was more limited because it was premature to evaluate the achievement of project outcomes. The evaluation primarily covered the five-year period from 2010–2011 to 2014–2015, with some updated information for 2015–2016.

Findings and Conclusions


There is a demonstrated need to restore and maintain the Great Lakes ecosystem. The Great Lakes have enormous environmental, social and economic importance and value to Canada. Current and emerging environmental concerns for the Great Lakes require ongoing attention from the Government of Canada. There is evidence of coordinated efforts to avoid duplication among the various jurisdictions involved in restoring and maintaining the water quality of the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes program is aligned with federal government and ECCC priorities, including the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy’s Goal 3 to maintain water quality and availability, and ECCC’s strategic outcome “Canada’s natural environment is conserved and restored for present and future generations.” The program is also consistent with federal government roles and responsibilities as specified in relevant legislation and international commitments.

Performance – Efficiency and Economy

Evidence indicates that the overall design of the Great Lakes program is appropriate for achieving its intended outcomes: the designs of the GLNI, GLAP and GLSRP are logical; program structures, processes and science are aligned with the updated GLWQA; a process exists for re-designating BUIs and delisting AOCs; and grants and contributions (Gs&Cs) are felt to be an effective mechanism for engaging and supporting a variety of partners to help achieve program results. Some concern was expressed regarding the need for a more clearly defined and timely process for delisting AOCs and reallocating resources, as well as the adequacy of science capacity to meet an expected increase in demand.

The management and governance mechanisms established in 2012 for the renewed GLWQA, including the Great Lakes Executive Committee and Annex Subcommittees, have set up binational processes to achieve a variety of objectives consistent with ECCC’s program outcomes and have led to a more open and transparent governance process. The organization of GLWQA governance around the 10 Annexes in particular is viewed as effective. Most key informants acknowledge that communications and collaboration are challenges because of the number of program initiatives and stakeholder organizations involved. In addition, although roles and responsibilities are defined in the GLWQA, they are not yet clearly understood by all stakeholders. The GLWQA and new COA, and their corresponding governance structures, generally are viewed as complementary, and duplication of work is not thought to be a problem.

Most stakeholders consulted generally agree that Great Lakes initiatives are cost-effective. The project file review indicates that the Gs&Cs component has been successful at leveraging approximately three-quarters of project resources from sources other than ECCC, and the estimated combined administrative costs of the GLAP and GLNI programs are comparable to those for other ECCC Gs&Cs programs.

The program reports federally and provincially through the COA and binationally through the Canada–US GLWQA on progress toward meeting commitments in the agreements. While there are logic models for GLNI, GLAP and the Sediment Remediation projects, there is no formal overall logic model and performance measurement strategy for the Great Lakes program. Program managers and scientists reported that performance data generally are adequate but that significant improvements could be made. For example, it is difficult to integrate and aggregate data from the various Great Lakes program initiatives.

Performance – Effectiveness

GLNI: The work being conducted as part of GLNI is on track and good progress has been made toward the Initiative’s five objectives and associated direct outcomes. (1) Progress has been made in science and monitoring to measure phosphorus loads, including the development of inventories, models and baseline information about nutrients. (2) Research documented through GLWQA Annex Subcommittee reports has led to a better understanding of nutrient loadings and other factors that affect water quality, ecosystem health and algae growth. (3) The Annex 4 Nutrients Subcommittee has summarized the research on nutrient loadings in Lake Erie from Canadian tributaries and recommended phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie. (4) ECCC has completed an evaluation of policy options for reducing phosphorus discharges to Lake Erie, and efforts to further assess and refine these options are expected to continue as part of the development of Canada’s Domestic Action Plan. (5) Progress has also been made by the Annex 2 Lakewide Management Subcommittee to develop a binational nearshoreFootnote 1  assessment and management framework, with a draft framework completed in February 2016.

With respect to intermediate outcomes, understanding of the nearshore has improved through the process of developing a nearshore assessment and management framework, and efforts to manage the nearshore are planned to intensify once the framework has been approved in 2016. Regarding the minimization of the occurrence and impacts of algae, although some progress has been made over the past decades in reducing algae in Lake Erie, there is research evidence indicating that recent algae blooms are a result of excessive nutrient loadings and that there has been a levelling off or reversal of earlier reductions in nutrient loadings. It is premature to assess other GLNI intermediate outcomes (see Annex B) because work on phosphorus load reduction targets and a nearshore assessment and management framework is not yet finalized.

GLAP: Acceptable progress has been made on GLAP’s immediate outcomes. Remedial actions in AOCs are being implemented through the development of Remedial Action Plans and implementation of funded projects focused on BUIs and AOCs with the involvement of local partners. Identification of environmental problems and progress in AOCs is being achieved through science and monitoring as well as the preparation of Remedial Action Plans, Annual Workplans and Progress Reports for AOCs. In addition, management and coordination of efforts to restore the Great Lakes ecosystem have improved with the governance structure and processes of the 2012 GLWQA.

Progress has also been made toward intermediate and longer-term outcomes. Projects in AOCs have had a number of benefits, including reducing pollution and restoring habitats. Activities of federal partners and stakeholders have helped to advance remedial actions in AOCs, for example, through their involvement on Remedial Action Plan committees. In the evaluation timeframe, 17 beneficial uses in AOCs were restored, and overall 54 beneficial uses out of a total of 146 across all 17 AOCs have been restored to “not impaired” status as of 2015. Although no AOCs were delisted during the five-year evaluation timeframe, in 2011 one AOC was designated as being in recovery. ECCC is meeting its international commitments under the GLWQA, for example, through its GLAP work in AOCs, its leadership in the implementation of the Agreement, preparation of 2014 Lakewide Management and Action Plan reports, and finalization of a Canada–US Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Lake Superior.

GLSRP: As it is premature to assess the degree of outcome achievement for GLSRP, progress to date on the Randle Reef project in Hamilton Harbour was examined. While the project has experienced a number of delays, design and planning for this project is now completed, and preliminary work on the seven-year project began in the fall of 2015. Construction of the containment facility in the first phase began in May 2016, with final capping and completion of the project scheduled for 2022. The federal government is contributing $46.3 million of the total project cost of $138.9 million.


The following recommendations are based on the findings and conclusions of the evaluation, detailed in section 4 of the report. The recommendations are directed to the Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategy Policy Branch (SPB), as the senior departmental official responsible for the management of the Great Lakes program.

Recommendation 1: Improve performance measurement and reporting of program outcomes, including enhanced monitoring and development of a single performance measurement strategy for the overall Great Lakes program.

Recommendation 2: Contribute to improving communications on roles and responsibilities and coordination of GLWQA Annex Subcommittees.

Recommendation 3: Review the approach, strategy and timeliness for AOC delisting decisions.

The ADM SPB agrees with the recommendations and has developed a management response that appropriately addresses them. More details on the recommendations and the full management response can be found in section 6 of the report.

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