Epic People: Honouring the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition’s decorated heroes Bobby Eisenberg and Annabel Slaight

Robert (Bobby) Eisenberg, founding member of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and a recipient of the Order of Canada.

Recently, I’ve been wondering ‘what motivates people to go that extra mile to make a difference?’ And naturally, I’ve been wondering, how can people sit on their duff as the world burns and our water turns green? If you want to be inspired by a couple of outstanding people who really went that extra mile for the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition (RLSC), Bobby Eisenberg and Annabel Slaight, keep reading. 

The Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition was started almost 20 years ago now by some truly remarkable people who made a difference by providing a framework for positive change, and then surrounding themselves with people they respected, and wanted to work with. Two pioneers of our work, Robert (Bobby) Eisenberg, and Annabel Slaight both received one of the greatest acknowledgements of their selfless contributions to the world by being appointed to the Order of Canada, the Governor General’s award! In writing this I discovered that no less than three people who have been on the Board of the RLSC have received the Order of Canada. Wowza! What a legacy! I am really proud to know them and to share with you some of the talent we have had on our team. 

What sets these people apart? Let me start with Bobby. This guy is simultaneously one of the friendliest and most tenacious people I know. For Bobby, friendship and loyalty are at the core of everything he does and the way he does it. For instance, we still get together for social visits and reminisce about all the amazing work we have done together: The Lake Simcoe Protection Act (2008), banning corporate contributions to Municipal Election campaigns (2016), and contributing to anti-SLAPP legislation in Ontario in Protection of Public Participation Act, (2015). Whenever we talk, Bob brings up the (dearly departed) gentlemen George Connel (also an Order of Canada recipient) and Jack MacDonald, and my distant relative (and alive) Bob Matthews, all of whom led the Board with dignity, calm, and such grace. The manners and the lack of ego, despite their massive accomplishments, that these men brought to the organization are something to really cherish. Bob always reflects his deep respect for these mens’ intellect, hard work, and friendship. In a word: teamwork. 

What these guys had in common was a real clarity of purpose, and absolute reliability. At a time that almost pre-dates the wide use of email and lost links and the chaos that all of that brings, it makes me wonder if we weren’t better off meeting in a room together once a month to talk, be passionate, argue our points, then go away, do our work, and report back, rather than firing off dozens of emails a day. 

Being a good friend of mine, Bob has continued to be a supporter of my work at the RLSC even though his focus has shifted to other work, supporting Sistema, a free after-school music and social development program for children living in underserved communities with the end goal of transformative social change. I am needless to say, grateful. It is in part thanks to Bobby that we are offering matching donations in the months of November and December 2022, up to $15,000! 

The most astonishing thing to me about Bob is his incredible breadth of talent. Although writing fiction has become a recent focus, his main gig is being a partner at York Heritage Properties; they mostly redevelop urban heritage buildings, like the Carpet Factory in Southwest Toronto, pictured below. He told me a story about him and his then work partner at Intra Urban Properties, at an earlier point in his career, buying the building I later lived in (as a co-op) and deciding that they would not develop the property as had been their intention. Instead, they were moved by the residents’ wish to turn the building into a co-op. They didn’t renovict the tenants. They sold them the building and let the tenants be! These guys seriously have heart. In the context of today’s gong show provincial government, and the development industry’s clear influence on their policy development, it is good to know that there are in fact good developers out there.

Headquarters and example of the restoration development work of York Heritage Properties.

Until this point, I haven’t described Bobby’s tenacity. Well. Anyone on the provincial Lake Simcoe Advisory Committee knows Bobby is like a dog with a bone. He was unrelenting in making key points that remain critical today:

1. Phosphorus load measurements in the main lake are not a reflection of the health of the lake; nearshore areas are a mess and show it! The details surrounding the presentation of information are critical. 

2. That the actual sources of phosphorus pollution must be identified (ie. agricultural source vs. “tributaries of the lake”, which on their own are not a source of pollution!) You have no idea how hard we had to fight to get that information! But the province finally did it in the Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, 2011.

I believe more people are aware of Annabel Slaight because she has been the main spokesperson, and the driving force, of the Ladies of the Lake since it began in the mid- 2000’s. Annabel was on the Board of the RLSC, not the first, but an early BoD member. Selling a canoe as a fundraiser for the RLSC was considered, and then in typical Annabel style, the lid came off what was possible, and some women decided to do the famous “cheeky but not cheesy” nude calendars in 2006 and 2009. Their runaway success meant the group spun off and spent the $400,000 they earned not with the RLSC, but with their own organization. “The Ladies of the Lake” later merged with Slaight’s Ontario Water Centre, which is now focused on the Clearwater Farm. The lady just does. Not. Give. Up. And for that we thank her.

In recent weeks, with the provincial government attacking environmental protections in ways I have never experienced, we thankfully have some new volunteers stepping up to help the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. It is important that people understand that that is the only way local advocacy efforts can be sustained. The RLSC being still “active” 20 years after it was conceived by Bobby Eisenberg and the other founders is testament to the power of people. 

It is clear to me now that the powers of destruction are persistent and well-heeled. Within our network, we have these qualities too. Let’s use them, and live our lives to our highest purpose, to carry on the legacy that people like Bobby started. To remain a force for good, more people need to emulate the grit of the Bobbies and Annabels of the world, roll our sleeves up and get to work. 


Are you interested in volunteering? We need the following roles to be filled in 2023 because we do not have the funds to pay someone to perform these roles. If you have experience in these areas put your skills to use while meeting like-minded citizens, dedicated to good deeds. 

  • Website updates
  • Treasurer
  • A leader for our fundraising team
  • Event planning 
  • Marketing
  • Corporate relations
  • Government relations

Donations can be made in a variety of ways here.

Thank you! 

Threats to Lake Simcoe: Development planned for the Lake Simcoe area is unsustainable.

Part 1 of our series Who Will Save Lake Simcoe? Read the full report here.

Housing and development growth is at the top of the list because everything else flows from this.

In the year since our initial report, we are not aware of any public assessment regarding the sustainability of the planned development, and its sewage and stormwater requirements, in the Lake Simcoe watershed. This growth is anticipated to negatively affect both water quality and housing affordability.

How does growth affect Lake Simcoe?

One of Lake Simcoe’s biggest environmental issues is Phosphorus pollution. We are currently doubling the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan’s target maximum load of 44 tonnes per year.

Phosphorus is in fertilizer, poop, and dirt! Where does it come from? See green graphic.

The impacts of development are not limited to sewage. Any water that drains across the watershed’s land picks up Phosphorus and other pollutants. Untreated, it becomes part of the stormwater pollution that accounts for a stunning 31% of the estimated Phosphorus loads to Lake Simcoe, the highest contributing source.

The stripping of land and development processes themselves contribute to Lake Simcoe’s pollution. Readers should note that advanced sewage treatment will not address all of the impacts of development.

The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA) says the watershed is now home to 465,000 people, and, “based on the Province of Ontario’s Places to Grow Plan and municipal official plans, it’s projected that the urban area within our watershed will increase by approximately 50% by the year 2041 and the population will nearly double.” [1]

Extrapolating from government estimates for development planned from 2008 to 2031, [2] the development projected for the Lake Simcoe watershed will increase Phosphorus loads by at least 15 tonnes per year.

It is an exercise in futility to fight the population growth across the province, but we should be careful about where it will go, what form it will take, and how much land will be disturbed in the process. As explained above, sprawling development will eat up more farmland and contribute more Phosphorus to the lake. So we must consider the denser alternatives to new subdivisions of single-family homes in farm fields.

The way the Municipal Comprehensive Reviews (part of the Official Plan review process) are rolling out, it appears that the initial allocation of land for new development will occur before climate change and water/wastewater capacity analyses are complete, thereby repeating the mistakes that put us in a situation of having development approvals without sewage treatment plant approvals. More on this in the Upper York Sewage Solution section.

But it gets worse. The province has called for an even higher population for the watershed while weakening the Environmental Assessment process for building new highways and sewage treatment plants. Conservation Authorities’ and municipalities’ ability to spend time getting excellent, environmentally-friendly development proposals has been curtailed. The province has also limited the time allowed for proposal review. [3] Municipalities that exceed the shorter review period will face new financial penalties, and the independence of Conservation Authorities’ decisions on some land use matters has been

undermined with new laws allowing ministers to override Conservation Authority requirements. That is a non-exhaustive list of how Ontario laws have changed since 2018 to limit environmental protections and facilitate development.

Sprawl is also bad for residents’ and municipalities’ finances. An exacerbating factor for both environmental and housing affordability concerns is the province’s entrenchment in “market-based” analysis to determine the correct mix of housing in the future. This approach uses old market preferences favouring single-family home development over more compact and affordable housing options. In today’s housing market, this is a missed opportunity to build what mid- and lower-income Ontarians can afford. Research from York Region shows that it is increasingly difficult to buy a home for the average York Region resident. [4] Smaller, more affordable, and family-friendly units are urgently needed.

Chart 1. York Region Affordable Housing Threshold and Average Cost of New Homes (2019) [4]

Sprawling neighbourhoods rely on sprawling infrastructure for water, wastewater, and hydro. Ottawa analyzed the impacts of sprawl vs. infill development scenarios. Their consultant, Hemson, “found it now costs the City of Ottawa $465 per person each year to serve new low-density homes built on undeveloped land, over and above what it receives from property taxes and water bills….On the other hand, high-density infill development, such as apartment buildings, pays for itself and leaves the city with an extra $606 per capita each year.” [5] This leaves sprawling municipalities with fewer dollars to spend on services that make people’s lives better as they try to cover the long-term maintenance costs of sprawling infrastructure that are not covered by development charges.

Although there is absolutely a way forward that would create complete communities, increase affordability, and reduce environmental impacts of new development, the government is passing on the options that would build “the missing middle,” typified by 3 – 6 story, small buildings of condos, apartments and/or townhouses. This is the way we used to build our communities before we succumbed to the sprawl experiment. In Bill 109, the More Homes for Everyone Act [6] which received Royal Assent on April 14th, 2022, the province did not take important steps recommended by experts, academics, and housing advocates to allow more gentle density to existing neighbourhoods. [7]

Strangely, the province is pushing sprawl and massive density at the same time. The province is forcing massively dense tower projects such as those at Yonge St. and Hwy 407 in Richmond Hill, using Enhanced Minister’s Zoning Orders to permit what would be the highest density development in the western hemisphere. [8]

When it comes to the long-term protection of farmland, water quality, and housing affordability, there is a lot to criticize in the province’s frequent changes to the Planning Act. Development lobby groups love it. [9] So far, it’s hard to tell who else does.


[1] Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, 2021. Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Approved Budget, 2021. p. 5.

[2] Re development to 2031: “Under the Plan all new developments are required to have enhanced stormwater management controls in place, subject to limited exceptions. Accounting for these controls, analysis indicates the Phosphorus load from these new developments would be 15.3 T/yr. Additional analysis indicates that combining “Enhanced” stormwater management controls with LID practices would reduce the Phosphorus load from new development to 9.2 T/yr. While the Strategy and the Plan strongly encourage that effective measures are taken to mitigate and reduce Phosphorus contributions from new development wherever possible, significant Phosphorus loadings from development will occur and should be offset in some way.” (Lake Simcoe Phosphorus Reduction Strategy, p. 30)

[3] This change was made on April 14, 2022, in the More Homes for Everyone Act.

[4] York Region Staff Report: Regional Official Plan Update: Housing Challenges and Opportunities. January 14, 2021. https://yorkpublishing.escribemeetings.com/filestream.ashx?DocumentId=18865

[5] Porter, Kate. Sept 9, 2021. Suburban expansion costs increase to $465 per person per year in Ottawa. CBC news.

[6] Proposed Planning Act changes (the proposed More Homes for Everyone Act, 2022) https://www.ontariocanada.com/registry/view.do?postingId=41487&language=en

[7] Xing, Lisa. March 31, 2022. Ford government left key strategies out of housing legislation, critics say. CBC news. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/housing-crisis-doug-ford-municipalities-1.6403221?fbclid=IwAR0SktZPpUpfXlwj5paX_XXXhZhU9kGr-jLLmqYPejJ0FwKXRV_BUJDovCs

[8] MZOs issued April 14, 2021, for massive density in York Region: https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r22345 & https://www.ontario.ca/laws/regulation/r22344

[9] BILD influencing policy development, politics and voters: https://bildgta.ca/voteforhousing