The Toronto Star
BUSINESS, Wednesday, November 21, 2001, p. 07
Moraine law is full of flaws, critics warn
Environmental groups say bill needs more work

Loopholes in proposed legislation protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine threaten its very existence, including one allowing the government to unilaterally revoke the law, environmental critics say.

Many of the same environmentalists who hailed the legislation when Municipal Affairs Minister Chris Hodgson introduced it earlier this month are now calling for changes.

Among other things, they want public hearings on the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act and Plan, stricter provisions for protecting land from development and gravel pits, and removal of government powers to override the proposed law.

"The day of the announcement we rightly applauded the government for taking that step ... but what we have done in the intervening time is sift through it detail by detail and have found ... there are these loopholes," Linda Pim, of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists, told a Queen's Park news conference yesterday.

Said Josh Matlow, of Earthroots: "The government should put the champagne on ice for a while until the bill is improved and amended.

"Earthroots has found a series of loopholes and flaws in both the act and plan that would give opportunity to further urban expansion on to protected ecologically sensitive areas," he said.

Matlow said the plan allows for more gravel pits in protected wildlife corridors.

Alexandra Gillespie, a spokesperson for Hodgson, said the minister is pushing for public hearings on the legislation, which would protect more than 90 per cent of the moraine from development, but says that decision will be made by a legislative committee.

Gillespie said giving a cabinet minister power to revoke parts of an act is standard practice.

The moraine is a 160-kilometre ridge of hills, lakes and headwaters running across the top of Toronto, from the Trent River in the east to the Niagara Escarpment in the west.

Environmental lawyer David Estrin called for the elimination of the minister's unilateral power revoke the plan.

"Why have a plan if it can be at the discretion of some minister in the future to absolutely revoke it?" he asked.

Estrin said he was alarmed the legislation allows the government to make ministerial zoning orders, which would let it to override provisions in the act and rezone property on the moraine.

"When the Pickering Airport was proposed back some 20-odd years ago it was through a ministerial zoning order with which the minister froze agricultural land and in effect booted people off their property," he said.

There is no such provision in the Niagara Escarpment Planning and Development Act with which the moraine legislation is often compared, Estrin noted.

He also called for an oversight agency to enforce provisions within the proposed legislation, which is expected to be passed by the end of the year.

Debbe Crandall, executive director of STORM (Save the Oak Ridges Moraine), urged the government to commit to holding hearings on the bill, where shortcomings can be debated. "Public hearings were recommended unanimously by (a government-appointed) advisory panel and were demanded at every public meeting held on the Oak Ridges Moraine," she said.

Matlow called on the government to open a proposed developer land swap to public scrutiny. Large developers are being compensated for land effectively expropriated as a result of the moraine protection bill by getting land in Pickering.

"This is the largest land swap in Ontario history. With no public disclosure, no rules and no cost breakdown it sets a dangerous precedent and opens up a Pandora's box of backroom deals," he said.