History of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan: Vision, Leadership, and Listening.

This article originally appeared in Lake Simcoe Living Magazine here: Vision, Leadership, and Cooperation at the root of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

Pictures by Caley Taylor Photography.  

It has been ten years since the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan came into effect. How did this come to be, what has been accomplished, and what lies ahead? These are all good questions that I will attempt to answer here.

In 2003, some citizens realized that excessive weed growth and changes in Lake Simcoe’s ecology were Lake-wide problems. They created the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, and led the charge for stronger government intervention to stop the lake’s decline. Then Board member Robert Eisenberg invited Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature to join forces to create “Campaign Lake Simcoe”, which aimed to curb the impacts of urban growth, and to limit development to existing settlement area boundaries in Official Plans. All of this was aimed at improving water quality, since what we do on the land affects the water.

Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop introduced a Private Members bill in the Ontario legislature called the Lake Simcoe Conservation Act in 2006. As is the fate of most Private Members bills, it did not move forward, but significantly, the intent of the bill did. Dunlop’s bill was modified to a unanimous Resolution of the Legislature. In June 2007 the government introduced it as Bill 99. After being passed unanimously in the Legislature, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act became law in Ontario on December 10, 2008. This enabling legislation allowed for the creation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, 2009, which is where we find the 118 regulations that are followed and implemented by municipal and provincial governments, agencies, First Nations, and citizens. To date these actions (along with Federal and Provincial funding) have helped the Lake’s healing process.

I had the honour of coordinating Campaign Lake Simcoe, and a great deal of my job was getting out to local groups, asking for their support for the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. More than 25 groups, representing thousands of residents and cottagers, signed on to our submissions to the Province. The Ladies of the Lake organized fantastic educational salons, which culminated in an expression of support for unique legislation to protect Lake Simcoe. There was a groundswell of support, from all parties, and from all walks of life. After a successful campaign many volunteers sighed with relief and took up other pursuits as the province established a staff team to oversee the implementation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP). The professional environmental organizations turned their attention elsewhere.

Citizen activism is likely to rise again. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is up for its statutory review in 2019, which means changes could be made to the Act and Plan. It is the province’s responsibility to outline how it will conduct the review. There will likely be an opportunity for people and groups to demonstrate their commitment to the Lake, and to share their opinions about the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan.

What has happened to the Lake’s health since the Act and Plan came into force? The most recent public comprehensive report on the effectiveness of the LSPP is now 5 years old. The 10-year report is expected to be released soon. The Minister’s Five Year Report on Lake Simcoe highlights the following successes of recent remedial actions, including the implementation of the LSPP:

• The concentration of total phosphorus has decreased significantly in most of the watershed rivers and streams;

• Levels of deep-water dissolved oxygen at the end of summer have significantly improved; and

• As a result, sensitive aquatic life such as lake trout, lake whitefish and cisco (lake herring) have shown signs of recovery;

• From 2008 – 2012 the Lake Simcoe Farm Stewardship Program provided environmental cost-share funding for farmers to complete 440 on-farm projects that reduce phosphorus runoff and improve water quality in nearby rivers and streams, and improve wildlife habitat.

Despite some successes, the report also makes clear that we are not in a position to take our foot off the gas. Climate change, flooding, salt from the increasing number of roads, the fragmented state of our wetlands and forests, and the impacts of the growth planned for the watershed (an additional 12,235 hectares by 2031) are just some of the known stressors affecting the Lake now and into the future. The job is not done.

The quick and cheap fixes are gone. Everything we do matters, and every opportunity to reduce the impacts of development and climate change, must be seized. Let’s not forget that.

I do not believe that people care any less about the Lake now than they did in 2003. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is gearing up to help people voice their opinions and thoughts in 2019. Email rescuelakesimcoecoalition@gmail.com to stay informed.

Finally, I am thankful to all the visionary people who drove the creation of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan, by inspiring a wave of citizen activism. The legislative process was a refreshing example of political parties cooperating, agreeing, and listening to people. Long may it continue.

Read the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan here.

P.S. Readers are encouraged to read Phil Brennan’s excellent article The Other Lake Monster, in LSL’s summer 2018 issue, which provides detail about the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan and the challenges facing our Lake.

Author: Claire Malcolmson is a long time Lake Simcoe activist and is the Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. She lives with her family in Innisfil, where her family has cottaged for six generations.

Above: (Left) Full house at Campaign Lake Simcoe and the Ladies of the Lake’s “Lake Simcoe Summit” at the Southshore Community Centre in Barrie, before the Premier promised to introduce the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. (Right) And after.