The Globe and Mail - John Barber - November 17, 2001 - A26
Oak Ridges protection bill written in sand
It's a dirty job, but somebody has to look this Oak Ridges gift
horse in the mouth.
adulatory reception that greeted the moraine-protection package
when Municipal Affairs Minister Chris Hodgson unveiled it earlier
this month, most environmentalists and opposition politicians
won't say a word against it. But a few who have actually studied
the bill, which could become law as early as next week, have begun
to shout alarms.
legislation is "a bill without integrity," according
to Josh Matlow of the environmental group
Earthroots, which has begun a lobbying and door-knocking campaign
to demand major changes. "It's not really a conservation
bill at all," he complained. "It's more of a political
his colleagues "to put the champagne on ice for awhile, "
at least until the details of the package can be aired -- and
perhaps amended -- in the legislature.
have already popped the corks and drained the magnums dry, of
course, delighted to
have secured such an unexpected victory. In the course of a few
years, the government veered from defiant
refusal to protect any part of the moraine to special legislation
that puts more than 90 per cent of the
160-kilometre- long land mass off limits to development. But some
seasoned campaigners share Mr. Matlow's
One of them
is Mike Colle, the Liberal MPP who led the fight to protect the
moraine. "In essence," he said, "this is a temporary
plan that can be ripped up and altered whenever the [Municipal
Affairs] minister feels like doing it, and you won't find out
about that until after it's happened."
The main focus
of concern is language that allows the minister to revoke any
part of the plan -- or the entire
thing -- by simple regulation. That means no hearings, no new
legislation, no consultations, just a simple fiat
followed by notice in the official gazette.
the fuss many environmentalists made about an earlier proposal,
which would open the plan up for review every 10 years, the silence
that has greeted this far larger loophole is remarkable. "Why
would you not want at least to take that ability to revoke out
of the bill?" Mr. Colle asked, slightly exasperated by the
current love-in. "That's what astonishes me."
also gives the minister the power to alter the boundaries of the
protected areas (although not to
diminish their total area), and it allows new gravel pits on many
otherwise protected areas -- a loophole that
local residents found especially irksome during public hearings
earlier this fall.
The most mysterious
and potentially controversial aspect of the package is the land
swaps engineered by David Crombie, which levered three of the
biggest developers off the moraine and compensated them with thousands
of acres of developable lands in North Pickering.
went to the roulette wheel and they lost," Mr. Colle complained.
"Now we as taxpayers are expected to
realizes that most citizens, grateful to see the developers moved
off, are willing to wink at the
deals. Since the value of public lands traded off probably measures
in the hundreds of millions of dollars, it's
worrisome that we still know so little about the deals. "It's
all going to be done in a schmoozy backroom,"
according to Mr. Colle. "There's not a single piece of paper
The fact that
the bill is written in sand is the major immediate concern. Mr.
Colle is pushing for public hearings
that would permit legislators to strengthen the bill by making
As it stands,
the bill and the plan represent a great victory for conservationists
and urbanists alike. But the
provisions that allow the minister to trash the whole thing without
notice could easily exhaust all the good faith
a grateful public has so far extended.