A summary of the comments received identified the following key themes:
• Cottagers are beneficial to Algonquin: Cottagers support local businesses and surrounding communities, provide guidance and assistance to other park users, and are environmental stewards in the park. Cottages have existed in the park for multiple generations (since the early 1900s), and cottagers should be allowed to continue to occupy the lots for the long term.
• Algonquin is for the public benefit: Algonquin Provincial Park is for the enjoyment of all citizens; not for the exclusive use and benefit of a select few. The proposal is inequitable in that only the existing cottagers would have the opportunity to use and occupy the cottage lots to 2038. The proposal is inconsistent with the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act and Ontario Regulation 347/07, the Algonquin Provincial Park Management Plan and the government’s long standing commitment (since 1954) to phase out these cottage lots. Cottage structures and activities negatively impact the use and enjoyment of the park by campers, canoeists and other park users who enjoy undeveloped, remote areas.
• Environmental protection: Commenters acknowledged that the maintenance of ecological integrity should be paramount in the park’s management. Some comments suggested new environmental restrictions were unnecessary as cottage structures and activities have positive or little negative impact on natural values. Some commenters stated that if cottages are allowed to continue, then stronger environmental restrictions supported by enhanced enforcement should be implemented. Other commenters stated that the park should be restored to its natural state and as such private cottages should not be allowed to continue. Some commenters stated further research and an environmental assessment was necessary to inform a decision on the cottage lots.
• Transfers, renting and subletting: Some comments asserted there should be no restrictions on transfers, renting or subletting, as these practices enable others to enjoy the park, gain an appreciation for the park’s values and in turn become environmental stewards for the park. Transfers are a way to maintain market value of the cottages.
• Rents and service fees: Some comments suggested that cottagers already pay their fair share, current rents and service fees are not being subsidized by the public, and cottagers provide other economic revenue to the park and surrounding communities. Other comments suggested that there is no evidence that costs incurred by the Crown to administer and support cottage lot occupations are being recovered, and that current rents and service fees are disproportionately low. Some comments suggested the Crown would generate similar revenue if the lots were turned into campsites or roofed accommodations and offered to all members of the public.
• Overall, MNRF’s final policy decision aims to reduce the pressures of cottage structures and activities on park values while providing the opportunity for cottagers to continue to occupy and use the cottage lots to December 31, 2038 (21 years), and ensuring associated rents and service fees provide a fair and reasonable rate of return to the Crown and full cost recovery.
• To improve clarity, transparency and accountability, the final policy includes additional details regarding the eligibility requirements and restrictions on the occupation and use of the lots during the 21 year period (January 1, 2018 – December 31, 2038).
• The final policy incorporates a two-step approach for offering the 21 year extension to cottagers. The first step will provide sufficient time for cottagers to meet all eligibility requirements, including those intended to reduce existing pressures related to cottage lot occupation over the short term, and for MNRF to audit the lots to ensure eligibility requirements have been met. Cottagers who do not meet all eligibility requirements will not be allowed to occupy the cottage lots to 2038 and will be required to vacate the park.
• Three eligibility requirements have been added: removal of excess waste; restoration of disturbed shorelines that exceed specified limits; and submitting an application for occupational authority to 2038. Some eligibility requirements from the proposed policy have been revised, clarified and/or expanded upon.
• Three restrictions on the use and occupation of the lots have been added, regarding: the protection of Indigenous and cultural values; fertilizer use; and waste removal. Some restrictions to address environmental concerns from the proposed policy have been clarified, refined and/or expanded upon.
• The final policy clarifies that MNRF will enhance its compliance monitoring, education and outreach, and research and monitoring to help ensure cottagers understand and comply with the eligibility requirements, and restrictions on the use and occupation of the cottage lots.
• Limits on transfers of the cottage lot occupational authority have been added. Cottagers will be permitted to transfer their occupational authority (e.g., lease) to another individual with the written consent of MNRF. MNRF will maintain the right of first refusal when a cottager wishes to transfer their occupational authority.
• The final policy confirms that rents will provide a fair and reasonable rate of return to the Crown for the use and occupation of lands in a provincial park, and service fees will ensure full cost recovery of the costs that MNRF incurs for the administration, construction, operation, and maintenance of services provided to support the occupation of the cottage lot.
• The restrictions in the final policy will be implemented through a number of tools including the cottage lot occupational authority, regulation, cottage lot policy, Algonquin Provincial Park Management Plan and future permissions or authorization associated with the cottage lots (e.g., work permits).
• New information has been added to the final policy to provide additional context and information (e.g., purpose, guiding principles, MNRF activities).
• Specific limits and conditions regarding development on the lots (e.g., new, replacements and expansions of cottage lot structures and sewage systems) from the proposed policy have not been included in the final policy; these will be consulted on and finalized through a upcoming amendment to the Algonquin Provincial Park Management Plan.
• Limits and conditions regarding docks and other on-water structures associated with the cottage lots have not been included in the final policy; these will be consulted on and finalized through a upcoming regulation proposal under the Provincial Parks and Conservation Reserves Act.