The Toronto Star
NEWS, Wednesday, April 12, 2000

Bucks silence Tories, group charges
Earthroots claims donors influence moraine issue

Richard Brennan

Big money from developers is muzzling Premier Mike Harris and his government when it comes to protecting the Oak Ridges Moraine, the environment group Earthroots said yesterday.

Earthroots director Lee Ann Mallett told a Queen's Park news conference that from 1995 to 1999, Ontario Tories received at least $2.5 million in political donations from developers, $700,000 from companies with direct interests in developing the environmentally sensitive moraine.

"So far we really haven't heard anything from Premier Mike to address the concerns of many people who live on the Oak Ridges Moraine . . . we've seen no movement in terms of a preservation scenario, and we began to ask ourselves why," she said.

Mallett said the only conclusion to be drawn is that developer donations are influencing government. The donation figures, she said, were culled from public records.

Municipal Affairs Minister Tony Clement defended the donations yesterday, saying there is nothing sinister about developers or anyone else donating to political parties.

"You can't bribe or buy favours . . . in our system. You can't do that. They donate to political parties because they expect good government. If they expect any more, they shouldn't."

The 160-kilometre moraine, arcing north of Toronto, contains the headwaters of 35 rivers and streams, including the Humber, Don and Rouge.

Mallett said donations from developers jumped sharply from $312,000 in 1995, when the Harris government was first elected, to $1.13 million last year. Over that time, the party received $20 million, a tenth of it from developers.

"That, obviously, would exercise a significant amount of influence," she said. "We may be looking at a government that is receiving undue influence from the development community and their desires for the urbanization and development of the Oak Ridges Moraine."

New Democratic Party MPP Marilyn Churley (Broadview-Greenwood) is to introduce a resolution in the Legislature today calling the government to freeze moraine development.