NEWS, Thursday, September 27, 2001, p. A21

Moraine protection plan draws cautious support
Provision for review worries some observers

Richard Brennan and Gail Swainson

A 10-year review of proposed legislation to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine will simply delay development, not stop it, critics say.

The review is one of the recommendations in a final report released yesterday by a blue ribbon provincial advisory panel on the moraine's future.

The report is expected to form the basis of provincial law protecting up to 92 per cent of the environmentally sensitive area from further development.

"A 10-year review is an invitation for the development industry to buy up land on the moraine . . . and walk in in 10 years and pave over the Oak Ridges Moraine. A 10-year freeze is not a permanent freeze," said Glenn De Baeremaeker, president of Save the Rouge Valley System.

He recalled that former premier Bill Davis brought in legislation calling for a greenbelt above Toronto 25 years ago. It was amended time and again until it virtually disappeared.

"Where is the Parkway Belt today? It does not exist," De Baeremaeker said. "In a mere 25 years, that beautiful park has been paved over. In my area, it is now called Markham."

But panel members supporting the report predicted it will have residents celebrating.

"If these recommendations end up as the foundation of the laws protecting the moraine, there will be dancing in the streets of Uxbridge and in communities across the moraine," said Wynn Walters, of the Citizens Alliance of Uxbridge.

Panel member Debbe Crandall, of Save the Oak Ridges Moraine, said the review included in legislation protecting the Niagara Escarpment has actually strengthened the law.

"Now, some people will say that the plan should never be subject to a review, that this only opens the door to only negative amendments," Crandall said. But "if we look at the Niagara Escarpment plan . . . during the two five-year review periods, only improvements have been made to that plan."

Crandall was the only one of 14 panel members, who represented diverse interests in the moraine, to show up for the news conference.

The current development freeze is to be lifted Nov. 17, and Municipal Affairs Minister Chris Hodgson said yesterday he'd like to have proposed legislation on the table before that.

"What I have seen so far is encouraging," Hodgson said, dismissing criticism of the 10-year review. "I don't even understand where he (De Baeremaeker) is coming from, because it's 100 per cent protection of the natural features, and that's permanent."

The moraine, a 160-kilometre-long ridge stretching across the top of Greater Toronto, filters rain to feed the headwaters of many rivers.

Other environmentalists expressed support. Josh Matlow, of Earthroots, called it "a small window of opportunity."

"It does appear from these final recommendations that we are on the cusp of something very good," agreed Gregor Beck, of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists. "But we do need to wait to see what the government brings forward."