On March 3, public consultation ended for the Ontario government’s 10-year review of the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan (LSPP). Despite having a chance to be heard, residents of the area are still concerned that the government may make changes to the plan that could damage Lake Simcoe’s ecological health.
“They’re not saying they’re going to change the Lake Simcoe Protection Plan,” says Claire Malcolmson, the executive director of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, “but I would be blind if I wasn’t able to see that there have been a number of policy moves made by the government that are not in step with their promises and commitments.”
The LSPP took effect on June 2, 2009 under the Lake Simcoe Protection Act, which was adopted in 2008. The purpose of the act is to protect and restore the ecological health of the Lake Simcoe watershed. The purpose of the LSPP is to ensure the protections legislated in the act are implemented.
The Ontario government is in the process of reviewing the LSPP to determine if any amendments need to be made. A representative from the Ministry of Environment, Conservation, and Parks (MECP) said in an email that any amendments to the plan would be posted for public consultation. He also pointed out that in July 2020, Andrea Khanjin, the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Environment, Conservation, and Parks, announced a $581,000 investment for projects that will help reduce the amount of pollutants and nutrients entering Lake Simcoe.
Malcolmson, however, is still concerned about the amount of phosphorus in the lake. Phosphorus enters the lake through run-off from agriculture, sewage treatment plants, and urban development. Once in the lake, it drives algae growth, reducing oxygen levels and killing fish.
The LSPP is designed to mitigate excessive phosphorus loads by protecting its shoreline and natural features. This is becoming more difficult, however, as the Ontario government’s growth plan directs local municipalities in the area to accommodate urban growth.
“The Simcoe County portion of the Lake Simcoe watershed is experiencing enormous growth pressures,” Malcolmson says.
She points to the Orbit development proposed for the community of Innisfil, less than a kilometre from Lake Simcoe. The development is set to house 150,000 new residents, approximately four times the size of Innisfil’s current population, and will centre around a new GO transit station. “There aren’t any water or wastewater service plans for this development, so we don’t know how it will affect water quality in Lake Simcoe,” Malcolmson says.
The draft for the Orbit development is being pushed through with a Minister’s Zoning Order (MZO). This is a part of Ontario’s Planning Act that allows the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister to determine how a piece of land is used without consultation from the public. According to Environmental Defence, an environmental non-profit, over the last year and a half, the Minister has issued 33 MZOs, more than the previous government did during its 15 years in office.
“All of the provincial plans, they leave the option open for the province to build infrastructure,” Malcolmson says. “But the idea, and even the way the Greenbelt and Lake Simcoe Protection Plans are written is not, ‘Well, go ahead and put highways wherever you want.’ They’re supposed to be facilitating connections between existing towns, not fuelling more urban sprawl.”
Malcolmson says that she’s concerned that the government will use the 10-year review to weaken the plan, allowing developments, such as Orbit, the Bradford Bypass, and the Upper York Sewage System, to be built in ecologically sensitive areas.
In response, the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition is advocating for the LSPP to be strengthened by reducing phosphorus loads in the lake to 44 tons per year and increasing the protected areas around the Lake Simcoe watershed to 40 per cent.
“There are a number of issues that are affecting Lake Simcoe that can be dealt with through a revised Lake Simcoe Protection Plan,” Malcolmson says. “But the things that are outstanding are very much the extent of growth and how much land we’re going to cover up with suburban homes.”