Last Chance to Save Lake Simcoe?
As another summer of smog approaches and Al Gore’s frightening movie highlights failures to take climate change seriously, good environmental news is hard to find. But as people in the GTA trek north for a weekend by the lake, there is a chance to protect one of the most threatened lakes in the region.
This could be the last summer to protect Lake Simcoe before poorly planned development paves over the wetlands and woods on which the threatened lake’s future depends.
The landmark greenbelt conservation plan of 2005 helps protect green spaces to the lake’s south and east. But Simcoe County was left out and, as a result, more of the GTA’s natural heritage is at risk.
In southern Simcoe alone, there are plans for 140,000 more people on green space that is vital for Lake Simcoe’s health. Already, the lake suffers from polluted runoff and phosphorus that imperils many native fish species.
Unless natural spaces are protected from the sprawling growth seen north of Toronto, the trek to the cottage will see less green and more pavement with inevitable and irreversible consequences.
In Ottawa, the Conservative approach to climate change is worrisome. After more than a decade of falling behind other countries in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions, Canada appears set to do even less.
In Ontario, however, more reasoned provincial Conservative thinking is behind the push to continue the province’s long record of acting to protect its natural heritage. A Tory MPP has stepped up to the plate and deserves all-party support.
This fall, Queen’s Park will vote on Simcoe North MPP Garfield Dunlop’s Lake Simcoe Protection Act. It follows a proud, multi-party tradition of conservation in Ontario as shown by Tory governments in protecting the Niagara Escarpment and Oak Ridges Moraine, and the Liberals in the historic greenbelt plan.
Dunlop’s act will direct development away from sensitive land on which Lake Simcoe’s health depends and onto existing urban boundaries.
It will protect the area’s $200 million tourism industry, more than 2,000 working farms and help protect the 65 species at risk in the area. And one of the GTA’s most valuable and enjoyed watersheds will receive the protection that has been ignored for too long.
This long wait means time is running out for Lake Simcoe, which currently sees a hodgepodge of water protection measures on all shores. Its western side is literally a Wild West of poorly planned development that has impacts throughout the GTA. If commuter patterns mirror those in Barrie, proposed development on green space in Simcoe County alone could add another 33,000 daily commuters to already clogged highways.
Provincial leadership is required now and Liberals cannot afford to rest on their laurels.
The threats to Lake Simcoe continue and given rapidly mounting pressure to permanently pave over more of nature, there is no time to lose. The GTA’s supply of nature is not endless and support for the act is essential if we are to protect the largest lake within Ontario’s borders.
This should not become a partisan issue, and Liberal and Tory governments alike, with support from the NDP, have enacted popular and practical ways to protect natural heritage.
Summer is often a time when worsening air quality reminds us of how little politicians have done. The natural frustration that results sometimes creates the impression that politicians are unprepared to see looming challenges and respond to them. Dunlop is proving this wrong, and needs to be supported if Ontario is going to get more MPPs like him.
Summers are possible without more bad air, but with more green space. This can be the summer that we protect a lake and take another step toward the kind of smart, sustainable growth the GTA urgently needs – now.
Written by Robert Eisenberg, Wendy Francis and Rick Smith. Robert Eisenberg is with the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition and is a member of Ontario Nature’s Board of Directors; Wendy Francis is Ontario Nature’s Director of Conservation and Science; and Dr. Rick Smith is Executive Director of Environmental Defence.