What’s wrong with Innisfil’s Orbit Ministers Zoning Order request?

Innisfil Council has approved a draft Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO) for the Orbit, a massive development planned for the location of a GO train stop, the 6th line, between the 20th sideroad and Lake Simcoe.

 

It’s off to Simcoe County Council to approve on November 24th.

 

County Council is made up of the Mayors from all around the County. For the sake of sane regional planning, we are asking Simcoe County residents to tell their Mayor and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing not to approve the Orbit MZO proposal. 

 

We hear there are some chinks in the armor and that some Simcoe County Mayors / Deputy Mayors are opposed.

Proposed site of the Orbit: See Lake Simcoe in the background!?
Proposed site of the Orbit: See Lake Simcoe in the background!?

An explanation and points to make are below.

 

But first of all, in the context of an alarming loss of farmland and natural areas in Southern Ontario, this does not represent environmental planning. This is a new city in greenfields, which is the opposite of Smart Growth. The Orbit plan looks like this:

Orbit proposal and natural features: Image by Adam Ballah, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.
Orbit proposal and natural features: Image by Adam Ballah, Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition.

The proposed site now looks like this:

Why oppose the Orbit MZO proposal?

  1. Using an MZO is totally inappropriate for a proposal that would facilitate the development of a new city of 150,000 people way outside Innisfil’s current settlement boundaries. Innisfil’s population is 36,000. A proposal of this scale must go through democratic planning channels like an Official Plan Amendment.

 

  1. Innisfil Council and staff are lying about public support for the proposed use of an MZO. While there is some community support for the Orbit, based on the claims that it would get a GO station in place by 2022, preserve other farmlands (ironic to the 9th degree) and protect the environment by putting what would have to be all future growth around the Orbit, Innisfil Council has not addressed the public’s concerns about using an MZO and has mischaracterized a frenzy of interest (actually alarm) as public support. There are worrying irregularities in the introduction of the motion that Council approved (just 7 days after the first MZO draft was made public), to use an MZO. Cynically, Council voted to use an MZO immediately after they had voted to extend the public input period, ignoring the fact that most public comments were objecting to the use of an MZO.

 

  1. This proposal sets in motion developers’ dreams of developing Innisfil 6th line all the way to Hwy 400, where they want to build up new employment areas (like what we see on the 400 north of the 8th line where employers / businesses can locate ) for which there is no market research.

 

  1. An MZO is a blunt planning tool that leaves no opportunity for public input or public or Town appeal. If the Minister approves this concept, the Zoning Order will be written by the Minister. Based on how MZOs have been used so far by the Ford Government, it does not have to include conditions requested by the Town or County Council.

 

  1. Nothing in the draft MZO guarantees that the Orbit would be built as pitched. Because there is no market research supporting the viability of people buying condos in a farm field, we have grave concerns that this is greenwash, and that the ultimate build out will not be dense or environmentally friendly. Despite reassurances from Town staff we remain concerned that provincial policies like the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan could be ignored. For instance, MZOs have already been issued in the past few months to destroy at least 6 Provincially Significant Wetlands in favour of development in other parts of Southern Ontario, overriding provincial policy.

 

  1. Typically, Simcoe County must share new population allocations with all of their 18 municipalities. Innisfil’s MZO request for 20,000 people for the first phase of the Orbit dilutes the marketability of what other municipalities can build. It also means that developers who went through the proper channels and own land within Innisfil’s settlement area boundaries could not see their plans realized for many years; this is totally unfair, rewards cheaters, and punishes those who followed the Planning Act.

 

Frankly, the province is showing their true colours now, and are using COVID-19 as cover for giving gifts to developers (many of whom are PC party donors) all over Southern Ontario. They have done nothing to protect Lake Simcoe except fund a couple of studies.

 

It’s time to get angry and use your democratic rights. Make a call! Looks like it’s up to us to try to protect Ontario’s environment.

 

  1. Find your Mayor here and please call or send them a personalized email. https://www.simcoe.ca/Clerks/Pages/councilmembers.aspx
  2. If you’re emailing, please cc the ultimate decision-maker, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Steve Clark. minister.mah@ontario.ca
  3. There’s not much point asking Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin or Deputy Mayor Dan Davidson as they are in support. If you’re from Innisfil, call / email the Warden, top of the list in the link above.


For more information please see the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s submission to Innisfil Council on the MZO proposal here: https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/RLSC-Submission-on-MZO-Innisfil-Oct-2020.pdf

 

www.rescuelakesimcoe.org

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.

Minister’s Ten Year Report on Lake Simcoe Obscures Progress by Mixing Science and Politics

August 7, 2020

On July 17th Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin released the Minister of the Environment’s Ten Year report on Lake Simcoe and made a $581,000 funding announcement for Lake Simcoe research. The Minister was nowhere to be seen. Also missing were a credible science monitoring report and the 2018 and 2019 Ministers reports on Lake Simcoe.

We should take this investment to mean that the province is very aware that there are people like you and me who are going to make them wear the impacts of their decisions and actions on Lake Simcoe. We are a strong constituency, and we need to keep it that way. Public pressure is the Lake’s best defence.

I will focus my questions and comments on Lake Simcoe, but the Lake does not exist in a geographical or policy vacuum. Recent and proposed changes to the Growth Plan are going to perpetuate suburban sprawl until 2051 and beyond. The changes virtually guarantee that the scarce remaining farmland in southern Ontario will be bought by land speculators, threatening the viability of local food production. Recent policy changes and proposals also threaten the protection of more natural areas as aggregate extraction will soon be permitted in habitats of endangered species and other natural features outside the Greenbelt and possibly the Lake Simcoe watershed. The Environmental Assessment process is a shell of what it used to be. I could go on. The point is that the environmental policy regime in Ontario has been shattered. This will naturally affect Lake Simcoe.

Now, to the substance of the Minister’s Ten Year Report on Lake Simcoe. The Ten Year Report is far rosier than it should be. There are more unknowns, strange changes, and looming disasters than the report lets on. While I agree that the remedial actions have been helping the lake, there is an obvious editorial slant towards the bright side. I find this problematic because this report forms the backdrop to the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. I worry that it will lead readers to think that the Lake is doing well and needs less protection.

Indeed, fishing and swimming is the way most people use the lake, and the Ten Year Report underreports downward trends and / or existing poor conditions at beaches and regarding fish health. People who use Lake Simcoe have a right to know the truth, warts and all.

If I authored the report it would highlight:

  • Phosphorus loads have skyrocketed in recent years; new development and its impacts are increasing pressure on the lake, and the remedial actions are not keeping up with the need to drive down phosphorus loads;
  • The nearshore area is a mess of invasive species, and the nearshore ecology has undergone massive changes in the past ten years; impacts are yet inadequately studied;
  • We don’t know why dissolved oxygen levels have gone up (good) while phosphorus loads have gone up (bad). This result is the opposite of what lake modelling told us to expect. The most likely explanations involve positive changes brought on by invasive species absorbing, consuming and / or moving phosphorus from one part of the lake to another. The long-term consequences of this are unknown;
  • We are not achieving the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s natural heritage targets for forests, wetlands and shorelines, which are, essentially, to protect what we have and increase the size and quality of natural heritage features. Instead, we have lost wetland and forest cover across the watershed. The legal mechanisms in place will not achieve the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s natural heritage targets;
  • Remedial actions are working but they are not compensating for the impacts of development and climate change. The Lake’s health will not improve without limits to growth, a strong emphasis on restoration, natural heritage protection, and invasive species control.

The most important point, however, is one of transparency. One should not blend science and politics in such an impenetrable way. The Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks is a politician, not a scientist. Yet the Minister’s report says, “This consolidated report, which addresses both five-year and annual reporting requirements under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, describes the collaborative efforts taken to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, as well as results of monitoring programs and progress towards the plan’s objectives.” It reports on the results of monitoring and progress towards objectives inconsistently and inadequately. If the province intended to produce more scientific reports to support the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which we now understand they will do, they should have been clear about that when the Minister’s report was released.

Here’s what is expected: The Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, which has legal effect, lays out some reporting requirements requiring “the Minister of the Environment to prepare a report that, describes the results of any monitoring programs; and describes the extent to which the objectives of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan are being achieved at least once every five years.” 1 The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan says, less forcefully, that the “Ministry of the Environment in partnership with other ministries will produce a report that describes the results of monitoring programs as well as the extent to which the objectives of the Plan are being achieved.”

The Minister’s combo Science and Politics report of 2020 simply does not provide the analysis needed to evaluate the extent to which the objectives of the Plan are being achieved, and does not meet the reporting requirements of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act.

It is not appropriate to put all of this information into one report with little to no citations, and with no editorial input from the Lake Simcoe Science Committee. There is a totally unscientific catch-all reassuring the reader that, “Each priority area is supported by data and trends collected from several provincial monitoring programs, and supplemented with data from partners such as the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority.” I do not mean to diminish the work of these conservation professionals. But the Minister’s report is not a science report without citations. In the absence of any other public explanation, the reader concludes that the province is trying to take the shortest route possible to meet the reporting requirements of the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan by jamming it all into one inadequately sourced document.

The last comprehensive monitoring report on Lake Simcoe was released in 2014. It had been discussed and developed by the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change in collaboration with the Lake Simcoe Science Committee over many months. The Minister’s 2014 Five Year Report on Lake Simcoe appropriately followed the Five Year Comprehensive Monitoring Report. It highlighted the good news, like the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks in 2020, but at least it referenced an independent science report. The 2014 Comprehensive Monitoring Report has authors, citations, and references listed. It includes standard “science stuff” like clearly identifying progress against targets, which is inconsistent at best and deliberately misleading at worst in the 2020 report.

For instance, although the overall watershed trend is a LOSS of forests and wetlands (1% loss each over a ten year time period) what is highlighted in the press release of July 17 is, “The 10-year report on Lake Simcoe shows the restoration of more than 15 kilometres of degraded shorelines, the planting of more than 55,000 trees and shrubs, and the creation and restoration of 120 hectares of wetlands…” 2. Highlighting successes without context is misleading, and is the reason why blending politics and science in one report is problematic.

Related to the loss of natural heritage is development, the only growing source of phosphorus loading at Lake Simcoe. Ten years ago the province acknowledged that approved development to 2031 in the watershed would ADD up to 15.3 Tonnes per year Phosphorus to the lake. 3 The provincial Lake Simcoe Science and Coordinating Committees’ formal advice to the Minister cautioned that development threatens the Lake’s health, advising, “Ensure that the assimilative capacity and ecosystem health of the watershed are considered prior to any amendments to future growth projections.” 4 In contrast, the province has recently inflated growth projections using market demand and land needs assessment methodologies that have been called speculative and flawed by critics. The province has allowed municipalities to expand their settlement boundaries more easily and more often, and has allowed developers to build fewer homes per acre. This new growth will double the watershed’s population by 2041 and add stress to the lake via phosphorus loads from construction in the watershed, and from land converted to urban uses. Therefore we absolutely need to maintain the development and construction policies, practices and offsets programs that reduce the pollution from development at Lake Simcoe.

This is a relatively minor point but I am truly puzzled by this one. The Minister’s 2020 remarks end with: “I want to thank the local conservation authorities, Indigenous communities, municipalities, agricultural and commercial sectors and residents who have worked tirelessly on implementing actions to protect and restore the ecological health of Lake Simcoe. I also want to thank the Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee and the Lake Simcoe Science Committee for their advice on where our efforts need to be focused. This ongoing work requires collaboration and I look forward to continuing this important partnership with you.”

I just do not believe this. It’s polite to thank everyone, it’s true, but this is disingenuous considering what has happened under this administration. To date, the Conservation Authorities budgets’ have been slashed and their powers are expected to be severely curtailed in yet unreleased regulations; there is no Indigenous representation on the Lake Simcoe Science and Coordinating committees, and local Indigenous communities are poised to oppose the new Upper York Sewage System going into Lake Simcoe; the Lake Simcoe Science and Coordinating committees have not met since the current provincial government came to power; municipalities have less ability now to collect development cost charges from developers on some growth-related costs; farmers are furious with the province for basically putting housing development ahead of farmland protection; and frankly, to date commercial and residents have not been publicly engaged by the province.

Lake Simcoe is not a political pawn. It’s a living thing that heals when the right conditions are in place. We need to engage experts in determining what the Ten Year monitoring results mean before contemplating any changes to the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.

TAKE ACTION: If you share my concern that the government’s LSPP Ten Year Review this fall will leave the lake more vulnerable, you can take action now through this 1-click letter campaign.

Claire Malcolmson is the Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. She has worked and volunteered on Lake Simcoe issues since 2001. Claire sat on provincial committees established to develop and then implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan from 2008 – 2018.

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition represents 26 groups around the Lake Simcoe watershed, and spearheaded the campaign to get the Lake Simcoe Protection Act in 2008. www.rescuelakesimcoe.org

  1. S. 12. 2. Lake Simcoe Protection Act
  2. Ontario newsroom. July 17, 2020. Ontario Taking Action to Further Protect Lake Simcoe. https://news.ontario.ca/ene/en/2020/07/ontario-taking-action-to-further-protect-lake-simcoe.html
  3. Ontario, 2010. Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy. https://www.ontario.ca/page/lake- simcoe-phosphorus-reduction-strategy
  4. Minister’s Ten Year Report on Lake Simcoe, 2020 https://www.ontario.ca/page/ministers-10-year-report- lake-simcoe

Aggregate extraction in the home of endangered species? What this means for Lake Simcoe

There are over 27,000ha of potential aggregate resources (sand, stone and gravel) in Simcoe County.[i] Last year the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition analysed how well protected from development our natural features are, and found that only 14% of Simcoe County’s landscape is well protected, and of this, 11% sits atop aggregate resources.[ii]

As the province continues to push for more aggregate development, the health of communities and ecosystems are at risk. Increased atmospheric phosphorous, changes to water regimes, complaints of noise and dust due to blasting, traffic related to haulage, and impacts to the watershed’s forests and wetlands (and their wild inhabitants) are just a few concerns relevant to the Simcoe watershed.


The Provincial Policy Statement (2020) (PPS) sets out the ways in which natural features, such as aggregates, are to be managed. Under the PPS aggregate resources are afforded long-term protection in ways that other natural features are not. Particularly concerning is section 2.5.2.1, which states that “[a]s much of the mineral aggregate resources as is realistically possible shall be made available as close to markets as possible” and that demonstration of need or demand/supply analyses are not required. This directive is almost verbatim included in the County of Simcoe Official Plan.[iii] There is clear danger in assuming constant demand for which constant supply must be made available, as it leaves much of the province, especially the GTA, at risk of unfettered extraction.

Working in tandem with the PPS, the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe[iv] guides where and how development activities should take place. The Growth Plan is currently under review. Through Amendment 1 of the Growth Plan, the province is seeking to “make it easier to establish mineral aggregate operations closer to market.” To do so, changes would permit new aggregate operations in Natural Heritage Systems (except the Greenbelt), while removing prohibitions on aggregate operations from the habitat of endangered and threatened species within the Natural Heritage System.[v] Amendment 1 is currently open for comment on the Environmental Registry (ERO-019-1680) until July 31, 2020.

What stands in the way of rampant extraction? The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP)[vi], is a bold policy that limits the impacts of development activities, including aggregate extraction on the Lake Simcoe watershed. What makes the LSPP particularly powerful is that in case of conflict between it and other provincial policies, “the provision that gives the greatest protection to the ecological health of the Lake Simcoe watershed prevails.” In fact, the LSPP is very strict against permitting new aggregate operations in specific key heritage and key hydrologic features.[vii]

The provincial government announced that they would begin a statutory review of the LSPP this fall. We need to ensure that the Plan is strengthened and implemented in ways that will protect the health of Lake Simcoe and its watershed for the long term. 

Dena Farsad, PhD (ABD)

July 24, 2020


[i] In 2013, the Ontario Geological Survey produced the Aggregate Resources Inventory Paper 188 which outlines potential quantity and quality of aggregate resources in the County of Simcoe. AIRP 188 identifies 2404 ha of primary resources (totalling 283.7 million tonnes) and 27,503 ha of possible bedrock-derived aggregates (totalling 10,928 million tonnes) within the boundary of Simcoe County.

[ii] See the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry’s Pits and Quarries online GIS mapping application to get a sense of the number and location of pits and quarries currently within the Lake Simcoe watershed.

[iii] See for example, section 3.3.1.5 and section 4.4.2 of the Simcoe County OP.

[iv] In Ontario, land-use planning happens under the guidance of the Planning Act, which establishes planning goals and processes, and sets out roles and responsibilities of municipal and regional governments. Section 3 of the Actmandates the establishment of the PPS. All regions and municipalities in Ontario must adhere to the policies set out in the PPS while developing regional and municipal official plans.

[v] In many ways, this is the nail in the coffin for endangered and threatened species as the Endangered Species Act, 2007 has already been significantly weakened under Schedule 5 of Bill 108 (More Homes, More Choice Act, 2019).

[vi] The Plan is given legislative authority via the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008.

[vii] Including significant wetlands, significant habitat of endangered species and threatened species, and significant woodlands.

Take action!

Take action until July 31st, 2020 at https://act.environmentaldefence.ca/page/62895/action/1?ea.tracking.id=action and / or make comments on the province’s Environmental Registry of Ontario site here https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-1680Or email growthplanning@ontario.ca directly. 

Please include something like this in your comments:  Ontario’s proposed changes to growth, planning, and allowing aggregates in habitats of endangered species would be bad for Lake Simcoe’s water quality if enacted. I am very concerned about these and other proposed changes, allowing unfettered, and unneeded greenfield development across southern Ontario at the cost of farmland and natural heritage. 

Re. ERO 019-1679, the proposed changes to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe and ERO 019-1680, the Lands Needs Assessment Methodology. 

What would a Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review look like during a pandemic?

What does legitimate public consultation on the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan look like in the middle of a global pandemic? In April, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition asked its 26 member groups to discuss this question, and we have been sharing the opinion below with the province since. 

The province missed the 2019 deadline for the statutory review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, an indication (among many) that protecting the environment is not a priority for this administration. Too bad, because in retrospect it would have been simpler to get experts together starting in 2018 to produce and review the science that should inform proposals to change Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) policies. 

Instead, the government is caught on its back foot, behind schedule, and lacking expert advice, having cut funding that allowed two mostly-volunteer committees of experts to advise the province on both the evolving science of the lake, and the implementation of the LSPP. 

I know, because I sat on these committees. They were starting to prepare advice for the minister of the environment and climate change to guide the LSPP review in 2018. But committees like these stopped meeting, all over the province, as the government cut “red tape,” no longer funding the cost of travel or food for meetings. The tap of practically-free advice was turned off. Not wanting to stand idly by, I stepped down as chair of the Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee in late 2018. 

The province doesn’t have the conditions in place, or the expert advice it needs, to do a major policy review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan any time soon. The province has two basic choices: 

A. Do an administrative review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, tidying up redundant or out-of-date regulations, but not touching the policies or targets of the LSPP. Focus instead on implementation, specifically better protecting and restoring forests and wetlands, and aggressively bringing down phosphorus loads through a strengthened Phosphorus Reduction Strategy. Phosphorus loads to the lake have gone up since the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan came into force. 

B. Take the time to get it right. For a robust and legitimate review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan and its policies the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and its 26 member groups suggest that the following conditions are needed: 

1. The Lake Simcoe science and co-ordinating committees need three days of meetings, with scientists, to get up to speed and have their questions answered, to provide their feedback to the province on the scope of the review. Some members of the committees are new; it is not reasonable or responsible to expect them to provide good advice about a plan they are not yet familiar with. 

2. If the Lake Simcoe Science Committee endorses the release of a current Lake Simcoe Monitoring Report, which provides adequate information upon which to make adaptive management decisions (i.e. tracks progress toward targets), we suggest that the review can start three months later. This gives analysts and the government the necessary time to evaluate progress and make thoughtful recommendations. 

3. Environmental Bill of Rights and the Environmental Registry of Ontario must be up and running. The Statement of Environmental Values must be considered by decision-makers. In April, 2020, the Ontario government passed a regulation under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) that exempts new laws, regulations, or policies that will impact Ontario’s land, air, water and/or wildlife from going through a 30-day consultation period. The optics are simply not good for the government if they proceed with a major piece of environmental policy review without adequate public consultation.

4. Social distancing measures must have eased such that people would attend open houses. The province could use online consultations only, and certainly this will be part of the solution. But one of the essential components of public participation in policy review is the ability to ask questions, and equally, hearing other people’s questions is an important part of public debate. Without the ability to hold open houses, and engage people in dialogue, feedback is more likely to be from paid professionals, a dynamic that supports profit-oriented interests more than non-profit and public ones. 

5. There must be First Nations representation on the Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee and the Lake Simcoe Science Committee. 

The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan includes “principles to guide our efforts.” These are self-explanatory, but it is worth reminding the province that they are expected to use them. For instance, the review process should use the Adaptive Management Approach of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, which is to: 

Continuously improve and adapt our approaches, policies and management by incorporating new knowledge and innovative design, practices and technology from ongoing science and monitoring. This will allow the plan to evolve and improve over time based on new science and implementation experience.

It is not easy to do adaptive management. Monitoring data and implementation analysis must precede proposals to change management actions or policies.

And finally, despite budget crises and competing views on economic recovery, the health and prosperity of communities across the Lake Simcoe watershed still depends on a healthy environment. Indeed, the watershed’s sustainable recreation sector generates $420 million per year. Luckily for us, the LSPP’s first objective is to “protect, improve or restore the elements that contribute to the ecological health of the Lake Simcoe watershed, including, water quality, hydrology, key natural heritage features and their functions, and key hydrologic features and their functions.”

If we achieve this objective, Lake Simcoe will be a model for living within the limits of nature, which is ultimately the challenge of our time.

Written by Claire Malcolmson, the executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition.

Barillia Beach Park Association makes shoreline improvements look easy, because it is

If you lament that you want to improve Lake Simcoe’s health but don’t know how, then read this  pick me up! 

Barrillia Park Beach Association in Oro-Medonte, on the north shore of  Lake Simcoe, recently applied for and was granted almost $2,000 worth of native shrubs and trees. This program, called LEAP, offered by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, is available to any Lake Simcoe lakefront property holder wishing to plant native shrubs and trees. 

Our community of 40 families co-own our beach access common lot. The property bakes in the afternoon sun and has a flat grass lawn leading to the minimal sandy beach area and is needing a bit of privacy. We are ripe for beautifying, naturalizing and shade providing to create beauty, help pollinators, provide food for birds and feed our souls.  We will also be cleaning the air, stopping erosion and increasing soil fertility.

During a work week in September, eleven neighbours cleared the sides of the lot of bindweed, unruly non native scrub and old cedar hedges that had grown through our fences. In the process we gained about 12 feet of width that will receive most of the trees and shrubs. We chose 3 species of tree: Tulip, Bur Oak and Hackberry. The shrubs include Chokeberry, Amelanchier, Nannybush, Ninebark and Fragrant Sumac. All will grow well in our sandy soil plus they produce flowers in spring, berries and fruit in summer and gorgeous reds and oranges in fall. They were all chosen from a list provided by  the Restoration Specialist for Simcoe County, Peter Shuttleworth. Peter was super helpful and will bring the plant material to our community planting date in November. 

So Lake Simcoe shoreliners take a look around your property and imagine how beautiful your property would look with a boost of native shrubs and trees. Bravo Conservation Authority for supporting the watershed in this way!

Written by Linda Wells, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition Board member

Identifying priority lands for protection in Simcoe County

Through the summer of 2019, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition undertook an important project: to map the parts of Simcoe County’s landscape that are protected, highlight vulnerabilities, and make recommendations on how to further protect them for future generations, with strengthened policies, property acquisitions and conservation easements.

The maps and report are timely, as the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is up for review late in 2019, and there is a consultation underway on proposed changes to the Provincial Policy Statement. Both provincial policies could be strengthened to increase the amount of land that is protected from land use changes. 

The cartographers employed in the research found that just 14% of the total land area in Simcoe County is in the “best protected” category, and 58% is “somewhat protected.” Some of the “best protected” areas are vulnerable to permits for aggregate extraction.And 99% of the area in the “best protected” category is protected by the Province’s natural heritage protection policies. If these policies were weakened, we would be left with a much smaller and weaker Natural Heritage System in Simcoe County.

While all involved in the business of protecting natural areas understand that the policies that protect natural features may change, the Coalition suggests that linkages between the patches that are well-protected by policy are the top priorities for protection. These linkages create a cohesive, protected network through which water and wildlife can move, rather than disconnected patches. It is a “death by a thousand cuts” to the Natural Heritage System that worries the Coalition; those cuts tend to occur in areas identified as “somewhat protected” in the report. These include the crucial linkages between well-protected patches of forest and wetland.

The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority updated their Natural Heritage System and Strategy in 2018; it includes these linkage areas, but does not change the policies applied to the landscape unless a municipality adopts the NHS in their Official Plan. This is our recommendation to all Simcoe County municipalities that have not done so already. 

Protecting greenlands is good for our water, our economy, and our way of life: wetlands regulate water flow, filter water, help control flooding, and provide wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. Forests also help filter water and regulate water flow, create oxygen, and provide habitat for wildlife. And healthy, naturalized shorelines and river banks shade and cool the water while also protecting from soil erosion, slowing erosion’s contributions to the lake’s phosphorus pollution problem.

RLSC’s report also contrasts Environment Canada’s “How Much Habitat is Enough?” recommendations for Southern Ontario with Simcoe County’s current wetland and forest cover. While wetlands coverage is within Environment Canada’s recommended range, wetlands are being lost, and forest cover of 22% is nowhere near the forest cover target for healthy aquatic ecosystems of 50%. Further, forest cover is unevenly distributed across the County. Developing local and specific targets for forest cover and wetlands would be a good next step towards increasing the resiliency of Simcoe County’s landscape and water quality. 

There is absolutely reason for hope: because Simcoe County’s Natural Heritage System is so big, there is ample opportunity to increase the amount of land that is permanently protected, if the County, municipalities or the province go beyond what today’s Natural Heritage protection policies require. The report provides recommendations for the province, municipalities, and landowners, ranging from expanding the Greenbelt into Simcoe County, maintaining or strengthening the provincial policies that protect wetlands, forests, and shorelines, developing strong tree-cutting bylaws and exploring land trust options.

The opportunity to get it right in Simcoe County should inspire engaged citizens, planners, and our governments, to develop an approach to land use planning that permanently protects an adequate amount of green space, and prepares us for an uncertain future. 

The Coalition hopes its maps and research will be useful for land trusts’ identification of priority areas for protection. The Coalition is presenting the results of its research to land trusts on November 7, 2019, by Zoom webinar. Please contact us if you would like to be included. We want to collaborate with land trusts and share our results.

The report and maps are available for download here. 

Written by Claire Malcolmson, Executive Director, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is a lake-wide member-based organization, representing 22 groups in the Lake Simcoe watershed, that provides leadership and inspires people to take action to protect Lake Simcoe. www.rescuelakesimcoe.org

POP! Protect Our Plan in the 2019 Review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan

When the Lake Simcoe Protection Act was passed in 2008, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, its member groups, Environmental Defense, and Ontario Nature celebrated the passage of the best watershed-based legislation in Canada. Ten years later, the Province is getting ready to review the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP). It’s time to learn what the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan do, and how they are performing.

This article first appeared in the spring 2019 edition of Lake Simcoe Living magazine: https://www.lakesimcoeliving.com/

We will all have an opportunity to voice our support, concerns, and priorities for the LSPP to the Province when they announce their LSPP Review consultation plans. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition will keep its members up to date on this file.

What does the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan do?

The science-based plan aims to restore Lake Simcoe’s incredible cold-water fishery. To do this, phosphorus levels have to come down significantly in order to increase the oxygen available to fish in the deeper parts of the lake. It’s an all-hands-on deck exercise, since we need to cut phosphorus loads from farms and developments, urban run-off, streams, septic systems and sewage treatment plants, while doing a better job of protecting the watershed’s forests, wetlands, shoreline and stream bank vegetation.

What was strengthened under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan?

  • Better protection of forests, wetlands (and buffer zones around those features), shorelines and stream banks from development and site alteration. The RLSC’s research finds that 26% of the watershed’s land is well protected natural cover, but this falls well short of the LSPP target of 40% “high quality natural cover” in the watershed;
  • Tougher Sewage Treatment Plant phosphorus caps. Municipalities are improving the technologies used to remove phosphorus and other nutrients and pollutants from their wastewater plants’ effluent. The greatest reductions in phosphorus loads between 2005 and 2015 came from improved treatment technologies at sewage treatment plants, down 46%;
  • The Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, 2010, should lay out a plan to achieve the target phosphorus load of 44 tonnes per year by 2045, but doesn’t quite. The annual phosphorus load is not going down enough; 2005 – 2010 and 2010 – 2015 periods both averaged 85 tonnes / year;
  • Systems to reduce the growing phosphorus load from new development: Improved stormwater management and development guidelines must be followed in new development applications. If phosphorus still flows off the site, the developer pays $35,000 / kg of phosphorus exported / year. Revenues of the Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Offset Program are used locally for retrofits of existing developments and stormwater management systems that pollute the lake;
  • Provincial staff at the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and $20 million in Provincial funding, for LSPP implementation;
  • Mandatory inspections of septic systems within 100 meters of water features, every 5 years;
  • Mandatory inclusion of subwatershed plans in municipal Official Plans. Subwatershed plans outline actions to be taken locally, to achieve the objectives of the LSPP;
  • Better science, monitoring, and oversight by Lake Simcoe Science Committee and the multi-stakeholder Lake Simcoe Coordinating Committee. These committees meet quarterly to review and comment on scientific research and LSPP implementation actions, and provide yearly advice to the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.

Despite these amazing efforts, particularly by the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus levels are not going down as much as expected. The LSPP review provides an opportunity to say, “more funding, and better implementation plans are needed to achieve key ecological targets in the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.” Let’s do that, together.  

Download the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s “Protect Our Plan” priorities and the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan at: https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/resources-2/

Author: Claire Malcolmson is the Executive Director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (RLSC). The RLSC is a lake-wide citizens’ umbrella group that provides leadership and motivates people to take action to protect Lake Simcoe. RLSC represents 22 local organizations and clubs in the watershed. For more information, and to join the RLSC email list, see www.RescueLakeSimcoe.org