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Friday, August 03, 2007

Lake Simcoe needs action

First the Canadian government was going to save Lake Simcoe. Then the Ontario government said it would save Simcoe.

And now the Progressive Conservative Party says it wants to be the lake's knight on a white horse.

All of which is fine, provided one or two or all three of these political entities actually gets around to the job, which Lake Simcoe's Conservation Authority estimates will cost about $160 million. The sneaky suspicion is that what's been promised to save the lake isn't enough, and it isn't being done for all the right reasons.

The federal Conservatives got into the act first this year with a $12-million plan in their mid-March budget. At least they're a sitting government and can begin saving the lake, although details on what's to be done and when are few and far between.

Ontario's Liberal government unveiled its plan during last month's Lake Simcoe Summit in Barrie, when Premier Dalton McGuinty made a surprise visit.

His plan for a Lake Simcoe Protection Act would improve sewage treatment standards and set strict limits for pollutants - such as phosphorus - and promote recreational opportunities, while protecting the lake.

But McGuinty made the announcement after he'd dissolved the legislature, with the Oct. 10 provincial election ahead of him. So it was an election promise, nothing more, nothing less.

The same goes for Ontario Tory leader John Tory's eight-point, $12-million action plan for Lake Simcoe, announced last week.

It includes increased funding for water treatment facilities and projects having an impact on the lake, creating a Lake Simcoe charter, a land conservation challenge fund and hiring more conservation officers.

Good ideas, but difficult to implement if the Tories aren't the next Ontario government or in a position to influence it after the election.

Let's not forget what's at stake here.

Excluding the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe is Southern Ontario's largest inland lake. It provides safe drinking water for six municipalities, and generates more than $200 million a year for this area's economy, through recreational use.

But Simcoe's ecosystem has been disrupted, its sustainability threatened, by increased levels of phosphorous from both urban and rural sources.

An argument can be made, of course, that whatever help any political party offers to save Lake Simcoe is better than no help at all.

Ottawa should be able to follow through with it's $12-million commitment, unless Harper stumbles and sends Canadians to the polls anytime soon. And since both the Liberals and Tories agree that Lake Simcoe needs saving, perhaps they can work together after the election to get a plan working.

But all three parties need reminding that even millions of dollars and detailed plans don't make for anything resembling action. What those who know and love Lake Simcoe want is something done, and almost right away.

The time for talking about saving Lake Simcoe is over. It's time to save the lake, and political promises don't cut it.

The time for talking about saving Lake Simcoe is over. It's time to save the lake


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