Orbit or Obit for Innisfil?

The Orbit is a massive development planned for the location of a GO train stop, the 6th line, between the 20th sideroad and Lake Simcoe. This is a new city in greenfields, which is the opposite of Smart Growth.

A new GO train station, with lots of people living in a variety of high-density housing surrounding it, sounds good – right? But after you scratch the surface of a recent decision by the provincial government for Innisfil, you’ll see it’s far from good.

The Innisfil “Orbit” development is centred on a proposed new station to be built on the existing Barrie GO train line and is located between two small towns, Lefroy and Alcona, which are both shoreline communities of Lake Simcoe.

WHAT IS THE ORBIT?

So what is the Orbit?

If you believe the pictures, it’s an idealized round garden-city style community in which everyone has a cool job, with tasty micro-brew available downstairs, and where plants grow lushly off buildings. The trains must be silent in this fantasy. 

Here’s what I think it actually is: a brilliantly executed land grab, led by well-connected developers, whereby they get to build a new town, and put themselves in prime position to add lands to Innisfil’s already oversized employment area and also get a new interchange at Hwy 400 and Innisfil 6th line – all in exchange for building a GO station at some unspecified time.

MZO TIME

The Orbit project is being pitched to the people of Simcoe and Ontario as a high-density, environmentally friendly, transit-oriented community. But, having some experience with Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZOs) I was wary of these claims. The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition labelled the Orbit as greenwashed sprawl in a March 2021 report, “Lake Simcoe Under Pressure”, because it opens up agricultural land for new and expensive development. 

The final and unappealable  MZO was issued on August 6th, 2021. Now, as municipal planning for growth up to 2051 is underway across the GTHA, Innisfil Council and residents are trying to figure out how an MZO that authorizes new houses for up to 150,000 “over a lifetime” fits with the other growth plan requirements, which would double the size of the Town. 

The use of an MZO for a project of this scale offends planners and urban sustainability experts. It also offends residents who made comments about it to the Town of Innisfil. Sixty of the sixty-one comments posted on the Town’s “Get Involved” website are against the Orbit or the use of an MZO. [1] But it seems the Town and the Minister care little about what citizens think. When the Minister of Municipal Affairs uses an MZO there is no requirement for public consultation or public support. So it’s a perfect fit for an unpopular project.

MIXING GOVERNMENT WITH PRIVATE BUSINESS

But that’s not all. The developer gets to have a Town employee, Chief Planner Tim Cane, (whose title is now Orbit Director for the Town of Innisfil) act like his sales guy, who pitches the development while the Town advocates for a new 400 interchange at the 6th line [2] and the rezoning of farmland for more unjustified employment lands all along the 400, all of which could benefit the Orbit developer. All of this became apparent in the Oct 14, 2020, Innisfil Council meeting: [3]

Counc. Bill VanBerkel: “What is missing from the staff report is a description of need from a financial point of view, and how this MZO is connected to and serves other infrastructure plans such as the 400 / 6th line interchange and Innservices.”

Answer from CAO Jason Reynar: (paraphrase) Developer is front-ending costs of infrastructure to finance the Orbit’s needs and to service future development including getting to the (proposed) 400 / 6th line interchange which the Town is lobbying at AMO and the province to have approved. 

Handy, right!? What a team! That may be because Innisfil is broke and can’t build the station it has been promising people is coming for the past 10-15 years. Innisfil, and I am afraid other small towns with big ambitions and low coffers, come hat in hand to a developer and they work something out that is mutually beneficial. This offends me because I am clear that business is not government. Only governments are responsible for delivering public services and environmental protection. The core business of business is to make money. Period. I am very uncomfortable with the blurred line, and even more uncomfortable with members of the public embracing this approach. 

USING MZOs IS AN ABUSE OF POWER

Further, this MZO (like most) is a massive abuse of power led by the province who by all appearances have decided that “the people” they are working for are mostly developers. While claiming that water will be protected in the 2018 Made in Ontario Environment Plan, with commitments to: “Build on previous successes and continue to implement the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan to protect and restore important natural areas and features of the lake…” [4], the province has changed a dizzying number of rules to let MZOs like the Orbit happen outside of a typical planning process:

  • We know the Ontario government loves issuing MZO’s, having now issued at least 60 of them.They have been mapped here. MZOs have been widely criticized for not following planning laws, not being appealable, and lacking the transparency we have come to expect in our democracy. 
  • The province gutted the Conservation Authorities Act and can now order a Conservation Authority to issue a permit for the destruction of a natural feature that the province used to protect. (With laws and all that pesky paperwork.) Before the MZO for the Orbit was even issued, we noticed a regulation requiring the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority to do just this. But the details are still missing almost five months later, and no decision has been made on the regulation, so we don’t even know what flood-prone or natural areas in this “green” development are slated for destruction. [5]
  • The Province allowed private money to be used to build GO stations, while guaranteeing “air rights” over the stations and extra density to say ‘thanks for building what taxpayers have always paid for.’ I am not aware that there were problems with the public sector building GO stations so it just looks like another way to have private business make more money at the expense of transparency. 
  • Until recently, the province has been getting away with these legislative changes. The Ontario Divisional Court ruled in September 2021 that the government of Ontario broke the law by using “COVID recovery” rationale to fast track the passage of a bill (197) with significant environmental ramifications, while not posting the proposed changes on the Environmental Registry of Ontario. [6]

WHAT’S GOING ON WITH A PROMISED GO STATION?

Image from http://www.innisfil.ca/orbit.

But it’s not just about policy. The locations of GO stations matter to residents and home buyers. Many homes have been sold based on the promise of a GO station located near new subdivisions in Lefroy. [7] As recently as 2011, Innisfil’s Official Plan said the GO station would be built at the 5th line, Belle Aire Beach Rd at the north end of Lefroy. [8] [9] But something changed. The developer advocated for the 6th line, which is in neither Alcona nor Lefroy, and lo and behold it’s on the 6th line. This change occurred under the former Innisfil Mayor Gord Wauchope. I tried to find information about the decisions that led to the selection of the 6th line location, which we understand were considered in an Environmental Assessment by Metrolinx, and by the province in an appeal of the draft secondary plan for the area where the Orbit would be situated today. 

In any case, that is where the station will be and the reason Innisfil NEEDED to use an MZO was to expedite the building of the station, to guarantee that it would be built in 2022. Only… there may not be anything compelling the developer to build the station that fast. There is no timeline in the MZO. There is no mention of a GO station either. On October 14th, 2020, a week after the idea of the MZO was brought to Council, this conversation happened at the Council meeting: [10]

Counc. Orsatti: Does the developer have to build the GO station by a certain time? If not, what is the point of an MZO? 

Answer from Chief Planner Tim Cane: We have always been talking with our partners about 2022 for the GO. 

I gather this is not the robust response some Councillors had hoped for. 

WILL ORBIT REALLY HAPPEN?

The Orbit story in fact goes way back, before the use of MZOs was widespread. The impact today is that people expecting a GO station still don’t have one, and there is no public commitment to a timeline for its construction. What Innisfil also has is an absurd amount of growth allowed in a built form that doesn’t fit with the look and feel of the Town. But because it came in using an MZO, the Town does not have control over the project and will have a huge challenge making this project fit with other Town aspirations and commitments to sustainability. 

The Orbit is such a crazy plan that I don’t think will work. Is there a market for condos in a farm field on a train line? Hm. And if this doesn’t work, what’s plan B? You can bet that the developer has one. 

References:

  1. https://www.getinvolvedinnisfil.ca/go/forum_topics/staff-report-discussion
  2. Identified as “Future Recommended County Road” in the Simcoe County Transportation Master Plan, Public Consultation Phase 1,  March 2021. Pg 15. And https://innisfil.ca/6th-line-interchange-ea/
  3. Youtube Innisfil Council meeting, Oct 14, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCkx_rsynyQ&t=7569s
  4. Made in Ontario Environment Plan, https://www.ontario.ca/page/made-in-ontario-environment-plan p. 13
  5. Regulation – Time to Grant Permission and Enter into a Compensation Agreement on Lands Subject to Zoning Order O.Reg. 568/21 https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-4097
  6. https://www.lawtimesnews.com/practice-areas/environmental/ontario-government-broke-the-law-in-failing-to-comply-with-the-environmental-bill-of-rights-court/359987
  7. https://www.simcoe.com/news-story/2001696-planned-station-not-going-anywhere/
  8. Innisfil Official Plan, 2011 says: “8.3.1 The preferred GO Rail Station location is delineated on Schedule C at the Belle Aire Beach Road. It was selected by GO Rail in their Environmental Assessment study.” https://innisfil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Innisfil_OP_April_8_2011_Text.pdf
  9. https://www.metrolinxengage.com/en/content/innisfil
  10. Youtube Innisfil Council meeting, Oct 14, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCkx_rsynyQ&t=7569s

Take Action To Protect Our Forests and Natural Spaces!

**Updated November 25, 2021**

Please provide your feedback to Simcoe County by December 3rd about the changes proposed to the province’s Natural Heritage System (NHS). We’ve created this guide to help you.

WHY? In 2008 all parties unanimously supported the passage of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan. It is now in effect but more needs to be done to achieve its objectives. For instance, the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan identifies that 40% “high quality natural cover” (HQNC)  is needed to protect and restore the watershed’s ecological health. A low estimate is that hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent identifying and mapping these areas. We want them protected, not just studied!

Putting these features in the province’s new Natural Heritage System will give some green spaces MORE policy protection than they now receive. But Simcoe County has recommended more areas get removed from the province’s Natural Heritage System map than we think the province’s criteria and laws recommend. For example, they have taken out registered plans of subdivision from the NHS. But some of those won’t get developed for 30+ years, if ever. We think those should remain as the province mapped them, IN the Natural Heritage System. 

CLICK ON A HOTSPOT BELOW TO SEE DETAILED MAPS AND BRIEF CONCERNS.

Green indicates the province mapped it as part of the Natural Heritage System. Red means it is proposed to be taken out. Blue means additions to the NHS.

Right-click on the small maps that pop up above to zoom in, or download this map and find the tile for your location.

WRITING YOUR SUBMISSION: WHAT TO SAY & HOW TO SAY IT

Use the County’s form, and don’t give up! Despite appearances, it is not just for developers to use. Tips for specific questions are below.

**Please only submit one form.

Or email kristin.pechkovsky@simcoe.ca.

***Comments must be received by 4:30 pm on December 03, 2021

Question 3. Subject Lands (ARN) Area Roll Number (optional). Find them here.

If you don’t have the roll number or locates exactly, provide an address for the property you are referring to, or many addresses, or road intersection, or the tile number from the 87-page map below. Tile numbers are listed below for each area of concern.

Question 9. Which criteria for refinement applies to your property? Check all that apply.

Do not be deterred – this is not just about your property.  None of the options really apply. Instead, fill out the field –  Other – and say “Mapped areas of high quality natural cover should be included in the NHS” or something similar. 

Question 10. Describe the area or natural feature on your property which you would like refined and provide the reason(s) for the refinement.

Insert all or part of the following text depending on your area of concern.

Big Bay Point: Tiles 28 & 29 

Most of Big Bay Point was mapped and identified as “High Quality Natural Cover” by the province of Ontario in 2011; the province found that the BBP area was worthy of inclusion in the NHS. Any components of the Point that are not approved plans of subdivision must be included in the Natural Heritage System. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS. 

Additional details on BBP locations of concern:

  • Two areas north shore of BBP, on the edge of Barrie: Both areas are mapped as Significant Woodlands in Innisfil Natural Heritage Discussion paper Final, pg. 14. North South Environmental. These are in the High Quality Natural Cover map from the province. Indicated as “shoreline residential” with Natural Heritage overlay on Innisfil OP 2017 Land Use Schedule. Not in a settlement area. 
    • Area 1 – west side – 3655 20 Sideroad, Innisfil;  3699 20 Sideroad, Innisfil, 3718 Fairway Road, Innisfil,  1344 Robinson Place, Innisfil, over to roll # 431601005411070, All of Longwood road, down to Big Bay Point rd. 3710 Strathallan Woods Lane South, Innisfil, lands southwest of Longwood, to Stathallen woods. As a whole these are all large enough to keep in the NHS. 
    • Area 2 – east side – the area between the Silverbirch and Whitecap Dr subdivision, and the next NHS area. Roughly from 1215 Shoreview Drive, Innisfil on the west end of this section, to along Shoreview Dr., to Guest Rd – hard to believe these are less than 50% forested. These should remain in the NHS. 
  • Friday Harbour Golf Course – put it back IN the NHS since it is large, not a subdivision, has some natural cover and could have more, and is part of a “high quality natural cover” area
  • Church compound –  3857 30 Sideroad, Innisfil. Currently a collection of cabins, but is not a subdivision. Would like as much as possible to remain in the NHS.
  • Crescent Harbour, South corner – landowner starting to alter landscape, may be looking to build. Crescent Harbour Rd (titled Block Plan-area and shoreline highlighted) and also Plans 675 from 1923 and Plan 1016 from 1951 that confirm the designation as a subdivision. It has not been developed.
  • Leonard’s beach wetland- make sure this remains IN the NHS

Gilford: Tile 22 

  • 1284 Shore Acres Drive, Innisfil. Roll # 431601000400200 Large “unevaluated” wetland proposed to be removed – this must be protected in the NHS. It borders a large privately held conservation area at DeGrassi Point, and abuts the historic Walker Farm, a heritage site, and helps to reduce flooding in Gilford which is already a problem. It “…has been a draft plan of subdivision for executive estates since around 1986” according to the local Councillor. It is included as “estate residential” in Innisfil OP 2005 Land Use Schedule. In the 2017 OP it is not in the Gilford settlement area boundary. 

Oro-Medonte:  Tiles 36, 37 & 48

Almost the entire Oro Medonte shoreline is identified by the province as High Quality Natural Cover. 8 Mile Point has a conservation area that should be included in the NHS. Only remove the built-up areas that are approved plans of subdivision. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS. 

Additional details on Oro-Medonte locations of concern: 

Tile 48

  • 8 Mile Point 
  • Has a conservation area that should be included in the NHS. They did not request that this conservation area be removed from the NHS. 
  • Just north of 2880 Lakeshore Rd E is the Carthew Bay Wetland. Roll #434603 001 206 500. Take care not to remove this from the NHS, and only take out the housing on Lakeshore.
  • 2553, 2501, 2461 Lakeshore Rd E – these are large woodlands and should not be removed from the NHS. 
  • 820 Memorial Ave. Subdivision between Woodland Dr and Memorial Ace on outskirts of Orillia. Shoreline wetland must be protected. 

Tile 47

  • Roll # 434603001213860 – shoreline habitat with no road access. Keep in NHS. Just west of Line 15 S. 
  • Just north of 538 Line 12 South, Oro-Medonte, NHS wooded area should remain in NHS. Roll # 434 60106 1044300
  • 16 Taras Boulevard. Held by “Ukrainian Park”. Appear to be looking for Zoning change, from EP2 to EP1 for seasonal trailer and or cabins. ZBA 10 – but no application – This is currently forested, should remain so, is in the HQNC area mapped by the province. Does not appear to be “community area” in the Simcoe County GIS. 

Tile 36 

UCCI / Greenwood Forest Road – Registered Plan 51M-187, Block 43

– Residents are opposing the development; it’s a significant woodland connected to the NHS; it is mapped by the province as an area of High Quality Natural Cover; it should not be removed from the NHS

– Not proposed as a subdivision, but it meets the criteria of a subdivision. Therefore there is no registered plan of subdivision.

– The proposed 10 proposed UCCI development lots would have these approximate addresses:  

– proposed lot 9 lots on Greenwood Forest Road attached would be approximately 30 Greenwood Forest Rd (lot 9 attached) thru to lot 2 attached would be approximately 60 Greenwood Forest Road

– the one lot on Windfields (lot 1) that are situated directly beside the cold water creek would be approximately  23 or 25 Windfield Dr West

– the developer UCCI has submitted to Township of Oro Medonte in June 2020 this request:

– Applications 2020-B-04 to 2020-B-12 and Notice of Public Meeting Zoning By-law Amendment (“ZBA”) Application 2020-ZBA-05, for the lands described as Registered Plan 51M-187, Block 43, in the Township of Oro-Medonte, County of Simcoe.

– it is under consideration and not yet approved.

– 691 LINE 9 SOUTH, should remain in NHS, not developed. May be part of the same proposal.

– Assessment # 434601000830000, just east of line 5, also unsubdivided, forested, should remain in NHS. 21 Windfields Dr. 

  • Near Lakeshore E and Orillia St, West of Line 7, just east of where line 8 would be. Roll # 434601000955002, 434601000955001, 434601000955000, 434601000954904, 434601000954911, 434601000954912 undeveloped subdivision contiguous with NHS, keep in NHS. 
  • Red removal outline on water – is this to remove water rights? Close to Line 7, 131 Lakeshore Rd. E. 
  • Roll # 434601000935500 and 118 Lakeshore Road West, Oro-Medonte – super rare undeveloped shoreline lots – this must not be removed from the NHS. This is a common Beach property for community park! This is connected to the north to the NHS and HQNC. 
  • Line 2 area – Roll # 434601000711100 “Shanty Bay Church Woods”. Seriously people. This was saved BY THE COMMUNITY, BY RESCUE LAKE SIMCOE COALITION DIRECTOR TIM CROOKS. RIP. This must stay. It is protected by a covenant with the Couchiching Conservancy. 

Ramara: Tile 50

There should be a buffer on the north side of the Canal Lake along the Trent-Severn Waterway abutting the Greenbelt. Ensure that all of the province’s High Quality Natural Cover is included in the province’s NHS. Only remove the built-up areas that are approved plans of subdivision. There is no guidance in the province’s NHS Technical Criteria that suggests that registered plans of subdivision should be removed from the NHS.  

GENERAL COMMENTS ABOUT SIMCOE COUNTY’S NATURAL HERITAGE SYSTEM MAPPING

  • There is a challenge acknowledged, and identified in the province’s NHS technical guidance, around the protection of NH in a highly fragmented landscape. That defines the Lake Simcoe watershed and Innisfil in particular. This guidance recommends the protection of smaller patches in fragmented landscapes. Thus I am asking that North South Environmental, then Simcoe County and finally the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks ensure that no small patches of natural cover that are close to areas of “high quality natural cover” are removed from the NHS. 
  • Refinements of NHS mapping must aim for a net increase in protected NHS lands and must capture the entirety of all local PSWs and locally significant wetlands as this natural infrastructure is integral to climate adaptation and mitigation. These are also goals of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.  More specifically I recommend these targets: 
    • Forest cover: 50% forest cover or more of the watershed is likely to support most potential species,and healthy aquatic systems. Simcoe County has 22%, but is losing forest cover.
    • Wetlands: The greater of (a) 10% of each major watershed and 6% of each subwatershed, or (b) 40% of the historic watershed wetland coverage, should be protected and restored, and no net loss of wetlands. Simcoe County has 14% wetland cover based on our analysis, and approximately half of its historic wetland cover. Simcoe County is losing wetlands. 
    • Achieve the LSPP’s 40% High Quality Natural Cover target: The NHS refinement opportunity must result in the protection of all mapped High Quality Natural Cover in the Simcoe County portion of  Lake Simcoe watershed. The maps have been available on LIO since 2011, and can also be found here along with the technical guidance for identifying these features.
  • I support the inclusion of the LSRCA’s Natural Heritage System Restoration Strategy recommended areas for an NHS, and the inclusion of the LSRCA’s recommended areas for restoration in the SC NHS. 
  • Registered plans of subdivision  that were not brought into the settlement area boundary by July 1, 2017 or that are not going to be developed with the 2022 MCR updates to 2051 should remain in the provincial NHS. As per the Growth Plan policies, if they are not contiguous with existing settlement area boundaries there is no justification at this time for their removal from the NHS as they should not be approved for development. See Growth Plan policy 5.2.8.4. and 4.2.2.5
  • The MNRF has mapped all Lake Simcoe watershed wetlands. It is up to the County to now apply appropriate protection through this process. SC mapping does not include all mapped wetlands. 

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Consultants and County planners review public comments, and propose a final NHS map.

Municipalities have until January 12, 2022 to provide comments and feedback to the County. A report will go to County Council for approval likely in Jan or Feb. Then to the Province for approval. We have been told that public comments will all in be included in the public report. We have also been told that questions will be answered at one time, and that time is not now.

WATCH FOR THIS
Here are some recommendations or statements from North South Environmental’s Review and Refinements to the Growth Plan’s NHS that we will expect to see in Simcoe County’s OP, as they support the County’s decision to remove registered plans of subdivision from the NHS: 

“It is anticipated that the County Official Plan will require that all draft approvals have lapsing dates and will include policies that indicate that when determining whether a draft approval should be extended for lapsing draft plans of subdivision, the policies of the Growth Plan must be considered in the development review process.” (p 12)

“…municipalities may refine the NHS for the Growth plan at the time of initial implementation in their official plans.”  (p 8) so there could be opportunities for improvements and removals later on in your municipality.

“In some cases, portions of registered Plans of Subdivision remain undeveloped and there are portions of key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features located within these subdivisions; these key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features are currently protected by in-effect zoning and Official Plan designations and relevant policies. It is anticipated that the County Official Plan will include policies that direct the local municipalities to establish appropriate policies in their Official Plans that control how development and redevelopment occurs in these subdivisions.” (p 11)

Simcoe County is recommending removing 7000 sites from the NHS where there are “minor discrepancies” in mapping of areas less than 1 hectare. Rationale is ease of administration. We need to respond to this approach. I think we should use the province’s Lake Simcoe High Quality Natural Cover map as the rationale for keeping some in the NHS mapping. (p. 21)

LEARN MORE 

A Place to Grow Act 2020

“Other implementation” policy 5.2.8.4

If a plan of subdivision or part thereof has been registered for eight years or more and does not meet the growth management objectives of this Plan, municipalities are encouraged to use their authority under subsection 50(4) of the Planning Act to deem it not to be a registered plan of subdivision and, where appropriate, amend site-specific designations and zoning accordingly.

How the Greenbelt supports a cleaner Lake Simcoe

Claire Malcolmson

Until April 19th the Province of Ontario is listening to ideas about growing the Greenbelt, and I want to encourage people to share at least some basic thoughts about it with the government. Did you know that the campaign that resulted in getting the Lake Simcoe Protection Act started with an unsuccessful bid to have Simcoe County included in the Greenbelt? Way back in 2005 we were worried about the impacts of heavy development pressures on Simcoe County, and that has not changed. How can Greenbelt policy help alleviate some of those impacts?

The Greenbelt covers 58% of the Lake Simcoe watershed. 
Source: Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, 2009.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008, and Plan apply to the watershed area, outlined in the map above. Within that area, where the Greenbelt applies today in York and Durham Regions, the “countryside” is protected. In Simcoe County, where there is no Greenbelt, not so much. These farm land areas are facing intense development pressure. 

Simcoe County must plan for a population of 555,000 and 198,000 jobs by 2051 up from a population of 307,050 today. Despite there being a projected oversupply of 75,000 homes permitted to be built in Simcoe County to 2031, planning and permitting will go on because that’s what the province has ordered. The problem is that both construction and development negatively affect Lake Simcoe’s phosphorus loads, which in turn worsens water quality. In it’s  2010 Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, the province analyzed the impacts of development on phosphorus loads, and concluded that there would be additional phosphorus loads, even with the development impact mitigation policies of the LSPP. This is a problem since we are supposed to be cutting phosphorus loads in half to protect Lake Simcoe and its ecosystem.

Municipalities may be welcoming policy alignment between provincial plans, as they have expressed in their comments to the province about the LSPP review. (See my blog on this topic here.) The Greenbelt expansion exercise and the LSPP review, which are happening simultaneously, are both good opportunities for the province to investigate and analyze the effect of some of possible policy choices. They will need to address the issue of having no plan to achieve the LSPP’s 40% “high quality natural cover” target. 

The ideal solution could be applying the Greenbelt to the whole watershed, maintaining the LSPP’s shoreline policies, and adding a new designation for the watershed’s “high quality natural cover”. For a more fulsome overview of the “high quality natural cover issue see our report here and the map below. 

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s intern and planner Mallory Nievas analyzed the strength of policies of the Greenbelt, Growth Plan, Oak Ridges Moraine, Lake Simcoe Protection Plan, and found that the policies of the LSPP are the strongest of the bunch at protecting the shoreline. The policies of the LSPP, Greenbelt and ORMCP are similar when it comes to natural feature protection (forests, wetlands). 

Where the Greenbelt differs in a way that would help Simcoe County and Lake Simcoe, is its unique “Protected Countryside” designation, which is meant to protect agricultural land. Non-agricultural uses of land in the Greenbelt’s “Protected Countryside” are allowed “to support a range of recreation and tourism uses such as trails, parks, golf courses, bed and breakfasts and other tourism-based accommodation, serviced playing fields and campgrounds, ski hills and resorts.” Within the Protected Countryside, Town and City boundaries are firm, which reduces the tendency towards expensive to service, low-density, land gobbling, lake polluting, suburban urban form, and promotes denser community building. 

Based on analyses outlined above, it’s expected that the watershed’s population will more than double and likely add 20 tonnes of phosphorus to the lake by 2051. The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan target is to lower phosphorus loads from an average of 90 tonnes to 44 tonnes per year by 2045. We are concerned that the province is approving development without any public discussion or consideration of the long term damage it causes to Lake Simcoe. That should concern everyone.

The public has until April 19th to contact the province and encourage them to expand the Greenbelt to Simcoe County. 

Visit www.simcoecountygreenbelt.ca for tools and tips.

Ontario’s comment portal on Greenbelt expansion is at https://ero.ontario.ca/notice/019-3136 

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition’s full comments and submission to the province on Greenbelt expansion can be found here for people’s use in their own submissions.

Our two coalition’s new report, Lake Simcoe Under Pressure can be found at www.RescueLakeSimcoe.org 

Image 1: This map indicates the extent to which land features are protected by environmental policy in Simcoe County. There is plenty of potential to increase the size and the level of protection afforded to Simcoe County’s Natural Heritage System. The full report is available at https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/about-us/accomplishments/lake-simcoe-greenlands-project/
Legend below.
Legend LabelSmall legend textDefinitionExamples of permitted activities
1. BEST POLICY PROTECT- IONThese features are subject to policies that prevent or tightly restrict development or other land cover change on them. Permitted activities include aggregate extraction, infrastructure development, and stewardship related work.These features are subject to policies that prevent or tightly restrict development or other land cover change on them. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required to demonstrate environmental impacts of permitted activities are minimal and can be mitigated. Level 1 includes mostly features protected by provincial policies: – significant woodlands; – significant valleylands; – Provincially Significant Wetlands (PSWs); – Areas of Natural Scientific Interest (ANSI’s); – Lake Simcoe shoreline; – natural areas abutting Lake Simcoe; – Significant Wildlife Habitat; – Provincial Parks – Natural Areas (Niagara Escarpment Plan); – Core Areas (Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan).– new aggregate operations, with restoration and environmental impact requirements, low footprint infrastructure that has been proven to have no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, retrofits to stormwater facilities.
2. MODERATE POLICY PROTECT- IONThese features are subject to policies that allow some site alterations or land cover change, having met criteria and conditions. Permitted activities include aggregate extraction, infrastructure development, and stewardship related work. Development and site alteration may be allowed, having met criteria and conditions.These features are subject to policies that allow some site alterations or land cover change, having met criteria and conditions. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is required to demonstrate that environmental impacts are minimal and can be mitigated. Level 2 includes: Setbacks and vegetation protection zones around protected features such as ANSIs, PSWs, permanent and intermittent streams and lakes; – significant groundwater recharge areas and highly vulnerable aquifers; – linkage areas (Oak Ridges Moraine); – Simcoe County Greenlands linkage areas; – features adjacent to level 1 features.– new aggregate operations, with restoration and environmental impact requirements. – Having met criteria to demonstrate limited environmental impact: development and site alteration, wind power facilities. – No Environmental Impact Assessment required for: Low footprint infrastructure that has been proven to have no alternative, non-intrusive recreation, maintenance of existing infrastructure, fish, forest, wildlife management, stewardship and conservation activities, flood or erosion control, retrofits to stormwater facilities.
3. NOT PROTECT- ED BY ENVIRON- MENTAL POLICYThese areas are already developed and / or are not subject to environmental protections.These areas do not contain features that are protected. Level 3 includes: farmland; roads; settlement areas and built up areas. The Greenbelt Protected Countryside designation is included because it does not protect Natural Heritage Features. It does, however, restrict settlement boundary expansions.N/A

What Municipal comments about the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan reveal

Early in 2021 the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) consulted on the review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) and made some presentations to municipal Councils. The Ministry will either make, or not make, amendments to the LSPP by this summer. 

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (RLSC) analysed the five staff reports on the LSPP from York Region, Durham Region, and the lower tier municipalities of Innisfil, Georgina, and King. In three cases, the RLSC wrote to the municipality and Council and made a delegation to request clarification and/or to suggest changes on some staff reports. Both the municipal staff reports on the LSPP and the RLSC comments submitted to municipalities can be accessed here

Some key themes emerge from our study of the publicly available municipal comments regarding the review of the LSPP:

  1. There is strong municipal support for protecting Lake Simcoe, and for strengthening policies of the LSPP by reflecting on what has been learned in the first 12 years implementation.
  2. The province did not provide adequate information and analysis of the effectiveness of LSPP policies for the policy review. Most municipalities emphasize that the province must continue monitoring and tracking the effectiveness of various remediation actions, and report on the lake’s health against the LSPP’s targets and objectives.
  3. Accommodating the watershed population ordered by the province’s Growth Plan (projected to at least double by 2051) while meeting the phosphorus (P) reduction target of the LSPP (which is to cut phosphorus loads in half by 2045) is a massive challenge.
  4. Municipal responses vary greatly when it comes to accommodating growth. At one end is the Town of Georgina standing strong with Georgina Island First Nation opposing the Upper York Sewage System, and at the other end, Innisfil’s staff report obliquely suggesting that some places be allowed to increase P loads to accommodate growth. 

While most municipal responses highlight the importance of reducing phosphorus loads to Lake Simcoe by revising the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, they also discuss the merits of various ways to reduce P loads. Should we continue to focus on P reductions from sewage treatment plants, or from other remedial actions that reduce erosion and runoff? 

Sewage Treatment Plants and phosphorus offsets: 

Most municipalities recognize that reducing phosphorus from sewage treatment plants (STPs) is effective but expensive. They suggest how the province can reduce phosphorus loads from other more “cost-effective” sources. The question is, if STP’s P load caps are eased, will the other P reduction techniques adequately mitigate the harm caused by urban growth?

The RLSC has concerns about the feasibility and timing of the offset approaches suggested. First, the Precautionary Principle is a “guiding principle” of the LSPP, and it would be fitting therefore to not assume that agricultural and landowner remediation and Best Management Practices will be successful at the scale required to bring down P loads without substantive evidence. If the province wants to reduce P loads in a cost-effective way, more research and monitoring is needed to demonstrate that other offsets will work over time and not degrade, fail, and add more phosphorus to the lake than presumed. Until such real-world evidence is provided, other sectors should not be allowed to increase their P loads.

Durham Region supports a future focus “…on more significant sources of phosphorus such as, stormwater and agricultural/rural runoff and invasive species, and that the existing phosphorus loading caps for water pollution control plants be maintained.” The RLSC is in support of this kind of approach.

York Region recommends that P offsets should be used to accommodate new P loads from STPs, and recommends focusing on agricultural and stormwater infrastructure improvements. There is little evidence, however, that offsets from agricultural projects can be relied on as long-term P offsets. And the reduction in family farms, and the related increase in corporate owned farms (mainly land speculators) also means that there are fewer farmers who are land stewards, and fewer farmers willing to undertake remediation on their farms at the scale required to offset the Upper York Sewage System (UYSS), a new STP. If the UYSS discharges into Lake Simcoe, more reliable and enduring offsets will be needed, namely the proposed Government of Canada and York Region – funded stormwater treatment / phosphorus reclamation centre on the East Holland River, which could remove 7 tonnes of P per year.

Although their submissions do not mention the UYSS discharging into Lake Simcoe, York and Durham Regions are advocating for it. York Region supports the UYSS, while Georgina, their lower tier municipality on the lake, opposes it, in harmony with Georgina Island First Nation.

Managing Growth 

Almost all of the staff reports refer in some way to the challenges of accommodating the province’s growth plan population minimums while meeting the requirements of the LSPP. 

York Region asks point blank, “Clarify how municipalities can comply with both legislated growth targets and wastewater servicing restrictions under the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan.”

Georgina’s report says, “Increased pressure on the watershed ecosystem will materialize given the anticipated, significant future growth in the watershed planned in the next 30 years…. Despite the best of intentions and practices, phosphorus loading targets in the lake have not been met since the adoption of the LSPP in 2009. Clearly, better efforts and measures are required to address this condition in the face of increased population growth in the watershed.”

Innisfil advocates for the LSPP to accommodate growth: “phosphorus targets for Lake Simcoe may not be sufficiently in step with other recently updated Provincial policies. Changes to broader the provincial policy landscape, particularly changes to the growth forecasts and policies of A Place to Grow (“Growth Plan”) to be implemented through the County of Simcoe Municipal Comprehensive Review (“MCR”) process, need to be viewed and considered comprehensively with the LSPP…. The MECP’s 10-year review provides an opportunity to examine the growth pressures in the Lake Simcoe watershed and ensure that provincial plans offer a parallel consideration for sufficient servicing capacity to support growth forecasts.”

Innisfil went on to suggest sub-regional targets, presumably to accommodate local growth impacts. It is no secret that Innisfil and landowners and developers operating there have massive growth ambitions. They suggest that the province consider the following: “Could a sub-regionalized approach to the LSPP better achieve Provincial planning goals? …. The Town welcomes the opportunity to discuss with the MECP the introduction of sub-regionally focused amendments following the MECP’s 10-year review, where they are supported by data and provide specific controls related to the environmental threats, growth pressures, and presence of natural heritage resources within each sub-watershed area. The approach may resemble sub-regional policy variations introduced to the Growth Plan and could be informed by the MCR process.” This approach suggests that one part of the lake can pollute more than others. This is not going to work. Clean streams in Oro-Medonte will not make Innisfil’s frequently closed beaches any cleaner. 

Ultimately, the province will have to decide if their growth agenda is more important than Lake Simcoe. We do not have the systems in place to accommodate a doubling of the watershed’s population by 2051. We may never have it all figured out. Until we do, the rate of growth is simply unsustainable, and it seems that Lake Simcoe municipalities are saying that, without saying that exactly.

Harmonizing provincial plans

Three of the five staff reports recommend policy harmonization with other provincial plans, referring to an opportunity to use the Greenbelt (GB) or Oak Ridges Moraine Plan’s (ORMCP) natural heritage feature definitions in the LSPP as one example. This suggestion is appealing for a number of reasons. One, planners and developers would find it easier to implement and to understand the applicable policies if they were the same across the ORMCP, GB and LSPP. Two, if this change could go some way towards achieving the LSPP’s “40% high quality natural cover” target, which so far has been a target without implementing policy. 

But staff comments on policy harmonization also point out some of the gaps and mistakes made by the province in their haste to dismantle environmental policy. Municipalities question whether water, wastewater and stormwater policies are meant to accommodate growth, or to protect the quality and quantity of affected waters. Indeed, the Growth Plan says one thing on this topic and the Provincial Policy Statement says another. One assumes that the province will clarify the intent. We sure hope they come down on the side of water protection. If not, their Made in Ontario Environment Plan promises will have been as empty as Dear Henry’s bucket. 

The province’s public consultation on the LSPP review has ended, but there are still many concerns and questions they will need to address before landing on solutions that will keep Lake Simcoe healthy. For this to happen, the province must accept that their Covid recovery plan (build build build) will have negative impacts on the places that Ontarians love, and change course. 

—- 

Both the municipal staff reports on the LSPP and the RLSC comments submitted to municipalities can be accessed here

Watershed protection this amazing needs to stand

Ontario’s Lake Simcoe Protection Act and Plan represents the best watershed policy in Canada. It’s a model so good it’s been replicated in Ontario’s Great Lakes Protection Act. The Lake Simcoe experience is leading the way for reducing stormwater impacts in a high urban growth context, using low impact development techniques, and adaptive watershed management. As global climate change impacts grow, algae blooms and flooding will get worse in many waterbodies; Lake Simcoe’s Protection Plan offers a model for reducing nutrients and contaminants and protecting and restoring the watershed’s flood-absorbing wetlands and forests. It’s a hard-fought model worthy of protection.

But the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is concerned that the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP) could be weakened in 2021, and that’s why we are asking water protectors across Ontario and Canada to help us Protect Our Plan.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Plan is up for statutory review by the Province of Ontario; the public consultation period ends March 3rd, 2021, and the province says that by the summer, amendments to the Plan will be made.

The Coalition and its 26 member groups are campaigning to Protect Our Plan, urging the Province to leave the Plan’s targets and objectives alone, and focus on the Plan’s implementation.

Protect Our Plan Priorities in brief:

  1. Improve water quality by reducing Phosphorus loads to the lake, to 44 tonnes per year, as soon as possible, from urban and agricultural areas, and from aggregate and construction sites;
  2. Support a healthy environment around the lake and reduce flooding impacts by protecting 40% of the watershed area’s forests and wetlands;

If enough people support excellent watershed protection, it will be possible to raise the bar for watershed health in Ontario. Groups and organisations can support strong watershed protection by signing onto our Lake Simcoe Protection Plan review priorities, and individuals can sign our petition and / or use our template to send a letter to their MPP here: https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/take-action-2/

Lake Simcoe is an hour’s drive north of Toronto, and its watershed population of nearly 500,000 includes Barrie, Orillia, Bradford, Newmarket, Orillia, Sutton and Beaverton. The watershed / drainage basin is 3,400 square kilometres, about five times the size of the lake itself, and is between the GTA’s Oak Ridges Moraine and Greenbelt, and “cottage country” to the north. The watershed is under intense development pressure, with its population is projected to double by 2051. See maps here.

It’s practically impossible to imagine today that the Lake Simcoe Protection Act received UNANIMOUS ALL PARTY SUPPORT a short thirteen years ago at Queen’s Park. The largely Conservative voter base around the lake cares about protecting our water and a quality natural environment. Protecting the environment is not a partisan issue at the local level. That’s why we are reaching out to people of all stripes to join us in Protecting Our Plan.

Ice fishermen and women love Lake Simcoe too. They need it to stay healthy and clean to support the watershed’s $420 million sustainable recreation sector.
Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop, Simcoe North, at Queen’s Park in 2006, introducing Lake Simcoe Protection Act as a Private Members Bill, with heads of Environmental Defence, Ontario Nature, and Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition.

The Lake Simcoe Protection Act was the brainchild of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s founding Chair (and Environmental Defence and Ontario Nature Board member), progressive developer Bobby Eisenberg; and environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who was working for citizens protecting the environment in Oro-Medonte (Simcoe County) at the time. Supporting his constituents, Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop (Simcoe North) introduced what became the Lake Simcoe Protection Act as a private member’s bill as a member of the opposition at Queen’s Park. Two years later, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government introduced and passed the legislation, but Dunlop’s lead made protecting Lake Simcoe a non-partisan issue. Will it remain so?

But while both the Province of Ontario and the Government of Canada pledge to protect Lake Simcoe, the threats keep coming. Changes to growth planning rules in Ontario, a proposed highway across a sensitive wetland and wildlife area of the Holland Marsh, and the Minister’s Zoning Order, (MZO) requested for the gigantic Orbit development in Innisfil all highlight the challenges of accommodating growth while protecting the environment.

What happens at Lake Simcoe is a bellweather for our ability to protect water quality in urbanizing areas. Let’s keep the protections at Lake Simcoe strong so other areas can catch up. Take action before April 2021 to defend best-in-class environmental watershed policy.

Lake Simcoe seen from the site of the proposed Bradford Bypass / Holland Marsh Highway, looking north east towards Cooks Bay and Georgina. Photo Credit Jeff Laidlaw.

Explainer video: What is the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan? https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/

More on the history of the LSPP https://rescuelakesimcoe.org/2018/12/08/history-of-the-lake-simcoe-protection-plan-vision-leadership-and-listening/

In Praise of Wild Places

An essay by Nari Hwang, Grade 8 student from Shanty Bay Public School.

 The author

A map of Lake Simcoe made from pictures taken on a trip around the Lake

“To many a city person there comes a time when the great town wearies them. They hate its sights and smells and clangor. Every duty is a task, and every caller is a bore. There come visions of green fields and far rolling hills, of tall forests and cool, swift flowing streams.”

This excerpt from “Camping and Woodcraft” by Horace Kephart,  a book first published in 1917 and given by my grandfather to his father, still speaks to me over the years. It is still true for many of us.  It explains that sometimes we need to go out into the wild places and do whatever we wish; to be free and to breathe in the clear wilderness air. 

Wild places have the power to make us feel alive and free, they are vital to the health of the environment, and they have been a source of inspiration over the centuries for countless artists, scientists, free spirits and even office bound bankers like my great grandpa. 

Feeling a little pull to the outdoors? Let’s go on a little journey and explore the importance of wild places…

Like so many adventures, ours starts… on the couch! Boredom rules! Someone suggests a walk and everyone sluggishly puts on their boots, squints into the sun and heads off to countless possibilities.

The cool air tingles our cheeks and our hearts start beating a little faster. In a moment, I am climbing a tree with my brother and sister. We are pirates! Hey, you grab a stick sword too and join in! With no laundry to do, or calls to make, the grown-ups loosen up too and we run and laugh and seek and look at teeny tiny inch worms, and feel the soft poofiness of mossy fairy places. Other times, we can just sit quietly and soak in the green earthiness. Experts in mental health even recommend that kids have the chance to get bored, get outside, and get creative.  Whether to try new things, bond with those you love or enjoy some solitude and time to think, wild places, big or small are just the place to do it.

Let’s turn onto a new path, because wild places aren’t only good for encouraging that feeling of awesomeness! They are also a source of creative inspiration. Without the wild places, where would the wild things be? This is a question answered in Maurice Sendak’s children’s story, Where the Wild Things Are. Here, a boy travels to a fantasy land full of weird beasts, becomes king and then heads home in time for dinner. Wild places have been the source of creative inspiration in many books for young people — The Call of the Wild, Lost in the Barrens, and The Jungle Book are a few that I have read with my family. You can probably think of others too.

Think also of the music, dance, theatre and poetry that was inspired by singing birds, rolling hills or dancing leaves. Canadian visual artists like Tom Thomson, Emily Carr, the Group of Seven, Bill Reid and Kenojuak Ashevak have shown us the rough beauty of our landscape and have inspired many to pack lightly, put on some good hiking shoes, or slide into a tippy canoe to go see more of Canada. Each of these creative works asks us, to hear the call, to come along, to join in the adventure and experience a little wild — even if only in our imaginations.

However, we need wild places, not just because they are inspiring, but also for environmental reasons. Forests are good for filtering ground and surface water as it moves through toward bodies of water. They also absorb unwanted carbon dioxide and provide safe habitats and food for native animals and plants. Wetlands and marshes also provide important biodiverse ecosystems and form the main filtration systems in nature! Other places like wild fields or meadows are good for native pollinators, and a whole different ecosystem of creatures and native weeds that are vital to our earth.

Each wild place is a unique ecosystem that produces its own unique cycle and flow of nutrients. Plants and animals live, and serve a special purpose, then once they die and decompose, they turn once again into soil. New plants use that soil to grow, and whatever eats that plant will have new energy and the cycle will continue. It is miraculous and inspiring! 

According to the Canadian Wildlife Federation, Canada is home to more than 70 000 wild species and 43 national parks and reserves that cover nearly a quarter million square kilometres. It’s also home to 30 percent of the world’s boreal forests and 25 percent of the world’s wetlands. 

But, our wild places are in danger because of us. We need to take action against things like climate change and pollution. 

David Attenborough’s new film  called “David Attenborough: A life on our Planet” talks about how our earth is changing because we take more than the earth can afford to give. He says, “The true tragedy of our time is still unfolding across the globe, barely noticeable from day to day. I’m talking about the loss of our planet’s wild places, its biodiversity… We cut down over 15 billion trees each year. We reduced freshwater populations by over 80% replacing the wild, with the tame… We must restore the biodiversity; the very thing that we’ve removed, it’s the only way out of this crisis we have created. We must re-wild the world.”

So, how do we do that? Most of us don’t own a big area of untouched land so how can we create our own little backyard wild place? Think about leaving an area in your yard un-mowed and plant some native wildflowers there. Leave the ditch near your home alone and let the native weeds grow for pollinators. Live near water? Consider a natural shoreline. If you need to remove an old tree, leave about ten feet of it behind and you will be supporting an insect and fungi high-rise condominium!

Wild places have the power to encourage adventure and fun, to improve mental health, to inspire great works of creativity and to sustain and strengthen biodiverse environments.

Remember I began with talking about my great grandpa’s book that has been passed down to my family? It also says that “this instinct for a free life in the open is as natural and wholesome as the gratification of hunger and thirst and love.”  I can imagine him reading these words that also make me excited about wild places and thankful that we still have so many to enjoy. But with that comes a responsibility to protect those places and the species that live there. Let’s leave the wild places wild and ensure that generations to come can know their glory and wonder!

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.