If municipalities truly want a clean Lake Simcoe they need more than hope

Municipal Response to Protect Our Plan delegations to Council

As the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition prepares for the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s statutory review to begin this fall, we’ve been making delegations to Councils around the watershed, with about half complete so far. Along with Coalition member group leaders, we are ensuring that Councils know what the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan does, and about the lake’s stressors. 

We also asked for Council support for a resolution [https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Rescue_Lake_Simcoe_Coalition_Proposed_Resolution.pdf] that calls on the province to implement and resource the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. This blog summarizes Council responses so far, and what that might tell us about municipal priorities. 

Only two of eight municipalities that we approached so far have strongly supported our motion requesting that the province do its job on Lake Simcoe. Why? The most generous possibility is that they want to provide feedback to the province one time when the LSPP review is taking place and the province’s proposals are clear. At the same time, if these Councils were serious about Lake Simcoe’s health they would preemptively ask the province to not touch the LSPP’s targets, as our model resolution outlines.

The conflict is this: municipalities are, to varying degrees, addicted to growth. Limited in their powers of taxation, they seek to cover the costs of building a bigger and better community on the back of new development and the associated Development Cost Charges collected by the municipality. 

Saving Lake Simcoe runs afoul of the growth agenda that drives many municipalities. It requires maintaining today’s tough caps on sewage treatment plants’ phosphorus pollution, building with a lower environmental impact, and offsetting phosphorus pollution generated by construction or the land use change, or both. None of these choices thrill developers or municipalities responsible for paying for sewage treatment. 

But the reality is that the watershed’s population is projected to double by 2041 while the current provincial government is leading an unabashed pro-growth agenda, going so far as to re-brand our license plates for consistency. Development certainly contributes to phosphorus loads, and the change in land use and hardening of surfaces is usually not good for water quality or flow. As it all flows downstream, these impacts will negatively affect Lake Simcoe’s health. 

Knowing what we know, and limited by the technology we have today, doubling down on development impacts is necessary to save Lake Simcoe. It is a “polluter pay” approach, which is being applied already in the Lake Simcoe watershed, and which Ontario’s Conservative government theoretically supports. Ultimately the choice for elected officials and their administrations amounts to admitting that development hurts the lake and recouping costs for remediation and hope it works; or sticking one’s head in the sand while saying that you love Lake Simcoe and hoping that future generations can undo the mess we are making.

We thought it would be pretty easy to get municipal support for this motion, since we are really just asking the province to just do its job. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s model resolution can be read in full here [https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Rescue_Lake_Simcoe_Coalition_Proposed_Resolution.pdf] , but the substantial parts are these: 

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, THAT the Town of XXXX calls on the Ontario Government to demonstrate its commitment to clean water and protecting what matters most in the provincial statutory review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, by ensuring that provisions in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan that protect water quality are not weakened and that policies protecting natural heritage be strengthened, in order to meet the targets of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan; and
THAT the Ontario Government be requested to work collaboratively with affected Provincial Ministries and all levels of government, including First Nations and Métis, to achieve the goals and targets of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and to resource the programs that improve Lake Simcoe’s water quality during the provincial statutory review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan;

So far, only two of the eight Councils we’ve approached have fully endorsed our resolution. Unsurprisingly, the places that aren’t desperate to attract new growth have responded most positively to the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s pro-environment position. Those are the Barrie City Council and Georgina Island First Nation Band Council.

Orillia’s Environmental Advisory Committee supported our resolution and we are hoping for some action now at the Council level. 

Oro-Medonte’s Council resolution committed the municipality to continue to support the LSPP in its review year.

Whitchurch Stouffville Council’s resolution said the same, and they directed staff to continue to work with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to implement best practices in order to minimize the impacts on Lake Simcoe and the surrounding watershed. 

In East Gwillimbury, following a presentation by a well known local naturalist, a staff planner prepared a thoughtful summary for Council, but ultimately the conclusion was: “Staff will report back to Council when the Province issues updates regarding the LSPP, as well as opportunities to provide comment.” This characterizes the responses from Innisfil and BWG too. 

Innisfil: nothing

Bradford West Gwillimbury: nothing 

Looking forward, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and allies are going to make another eight  delegations to Council this fall about the upcoming review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, in Simcoe County, Durham Region, Newmarket, Aurora, King, Brock, Uxbridge, and Georgina. Residents can support our campaign by calling their Councillor and asking them to support our resolution and protect Lake Simcoe.

We hope it is now clearer to Councils that the environment is a low priority for the province, and that any municipal politician making promises about protecting the environment should take some time to both push the province to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and do the same with their own municipal plans and processes. While the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is doing what it can to push the province to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and not weaken it, the lake needs all the municipal help it can get.

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