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Money set aside by feds for Lake Simcoe remains on ice: council

'They did put the money in the budget in March 2022, they just haven’t done anything with it yet,' laments local councillor who urges feds to 'take the next step'

A local municipal council is calling on the federal government to live up to its promises and do more to protect Lake Simcoe.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Bradford West Gwillimbury councillors passed a nearly identical motion last year.

“We had a motion very similar to this… and I believe it was passed by all the municipalities in the watershed, it was endorsed by environmental groups, the (Lake Simcoe Regional Conversation Authority) and federal politicians of both the government side and the opposition side,” said Coun. Jonathan Scott.

Dedicated funding for Lake Simcoe has been lacking since 2017, when the Lake Simcoe Clean-Up Fund expired. That funding, introduced by former York-Simcoe MP Peter Van Loan, committed $65 million in funding to reduce phosphorus levels, restore fish habitats and improve shorelines and retention ponds. 

After its 10-year window passed, the funding hasn’t been replenished, despite promises from both the eventual governing and opposition parties during the past two election campaigns.

In 2019, both the Liberals and the Conservatives pledged $40 million and $30 million over five years, respectively, for Lake Simcoe during the run-up to the federal election, however the Liberals were unable to live up to their commitment before their minority government was dissolved. In the 2021 campaign, the Liberals announced a $1 billion investment through a 10-year Freshwater Action Plan that highlights funding various waterways in Ontario, including Lake Simcoe.

Last year’s motion from council had support from municipalities throughout the watershed and local conversation authorities, and that pre-budget pressure seemed to help. The 2022 federal budget included a $19.6-million funding commitment in 2022-23 for a Freshwater Action Fund, including Lake Simcoe. 

“And we thought we had a win; it was in the budget,” Scott said during debate on the motion at council's Jan. 17 meeting. “The Minister of the Environment was very happy that he was going to get to set up a new freshwater action fund and come to Lake Simcoe to announce the details.”

Nothing’s happened since then and area councillors aren’t impressed. And even though a motion was passed last year, the weight of a new motion would be more valuable to the cause than a follow-up letter from the mayor.

“They did put the money in the budget in March 2022, they just haven’t done anything with it yet,” Scott said. “Which is partially why we want to come back and say, OK, you got right up to the starting line, you were all laced up and ready to go, and what the hell? Take the next step."

This year’s motion reads similar to last year’s, as it provides both a Coles Notes overview of past government action and inaction on Lake Simcoe, as well as suggestions as to how the $40 million in funding over five years could be spent.

Those measures include shoreline mitigation in the Holland River, Maskinonge River and Black River, and the Holland Marsh tributaries, planting 250,000 trees, improvement of contaminated sites throughout the watershed, retrofitting and updates to municipal environmental infrastructure (such as wastewater and stormwater facilities) and purchasing and conserving more natural heritage sites under the auspices of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority (LSRCA).

Bradford West Gwillimbury is the first municipality this year to pass this motion. The resolution will be forwarded to various MPs, including those local to the watershed and the Minister of Finance and the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, as well as all Lake Simcoe municipalities and the LSRCA for further endorsement.

Coun. Peter Ferragine is hopeful Bradford West Gwillimbury’s motion will kick-start the discussion again in 2023 and that the money needed to help secure the future health of the lake will begin to flow.

“It comes to a point where if you’re going to come forward, if you’re going to make that commitment, you need to see it through,” he said. “Everybody loves the fact that they can enjoy the lake, they can enjoy all the benefits of the lake. Everybody loves clean, fresh water, right? But, at the end of the day, it needs help.”

With files from Village Media


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