Local News – Lake Simcoe has a new friend in high, powerful places. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced in Barrie yesterday that his Liberal government will introduce a Lake Simcoe Protection Act to safeguard the lake.
“It will mean that your children can take your grandchildren to the beach,” said McGuinty of the proposed legislation. “This (protecting Lake Simcoe) is much bigger than any one of us or of any one generation. We’re not free to do as we please, as if we are the lone generation or species that matters.”
The premier was speaking at the Lake Simcoe Summit, which gathered about 200 leaders of community groups interested in the lake’s welfare at Southshore Community Centre.
McGuinty’s act intends to improve sewage treatment standards and set strict limits for pollutants, such as phosphorus and promote recreational opportunities, while protecting Lake Simcoe.
His Liberal government dissolved the Legislature this spring. It’s not expected to sit until after the Oct. 10 provincial election.
David Donnelly, of Environmental Defence, said the act, if it becomes law, will bring a measure of control that’s missing now.
“It will impose rules,” he said. “It will be clear, tough and won’t allow exceptions.”
Before McGuinty’s unannounced visit to Barrie yesterday, those attending the summit heard speaker after speaker bemoan Lake Simcoe’s health, and that what was being done to help now wasn’t enough.
Ontario’s Greenbelt, which only protects the lake’s southeastern shores, was particularly singled out.
“As long as one side of the lake is being protected and the other is being developed, the lake is in trouble,” said Wendy Francis of Ontario Nature.
“Half-way measures just aren’t working,” said Robert Eisenberg of the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition. “But things don’t have to get worse. There’s no force of nature destroying the lake. It’s us.”
Rick Smith, of Environmental Defence, laid out the priorities in protecting Lake Simcoe. They include improving water quality, protecting greenspace from development and showing residents that Lake Simcoe can be used for recreation with no ill effects. “People need to be able to enjoy the lake without harming it,” Smith said.
Annabel Slaight of the Ladies of the Lake, who helped organize the summit, said Simcoe’s problems belong to everyone – and that’s where the solutions must come from as well. “People, business and government must work together,” she said.
The Lake Simcoe Protection Act is to be developed and implemented in co-operation with local governments, conservation authorities, community groups, local residents, cottagers, farmers, environmental groups, developers, First Nations and the tourism industry.
“We have a lot of science, a lot of reports and a lot of consensus in the community,” said McGuinty. “All we have to do is act.”
But the act is intended only to apply to new development, not development that’s already on the books or far along in the planning process.
McGuinty made this clear when asked about development proposals in Innisfil’s Big Bay Point, which is subject to the Ontario Municipal Board process.
Raise the bar for sewage treatment standards and set strict limits on pollutants, such as phosphorous.
Create a governing structure recommended by the Lake Simcoe Environmental Management Strategy Working Group.
Promote recreational opportunities while protecting the lake’s health.