The Toronto Star
NEWS, Wednesday, April 26, 2000

City appeals for moraine hearing role
Toronto wants to address OMB

Gail Swainson

Toronto is appealing an Ontario Municipal Board decision rejecting the city's bid to be included in a hearing on development on the Oak Ridges Moraine.

"Council authorized us to take all necessary steps to achieve party status, so we are going ahead with this appeal because we think the board made several serious errors in law," city lawyer Brendan O'Callaghan said yesterday.

Earlier this month, OMB chair James Mills denied Toronto's request to be included in a board hearing into housing on the moraine, saying "the addition of the city would not add anything to the hearing."

In presenting his case, O'Callaghan argued that Toronto should be allowed to participate because moraine development could affect drinking water quality and other environmental concerns bearing on the well-being of Toronto's 2.5 million residents.

A 12-week hearing into five development applications on the Richmond Hill portion of the moraine, the headwaters of more than 20 rivers and streams, is to begin May 23.

The proposals, which involve 10,000 housing units, are opposed by environmental groups and the city of Richmond Hill, among others.

Toronto's bid to re-enter the discussion came the same day as results of a poll showing that an overwhelming number of people living on the moraine want laws protecting the environmentally sensitive region.

In a telephone survey conducted by Oraclepoll Research Ltd. and commissioned by the environment group Earthroots, some 89 per cent of the 400 residents of Richmond Hill, Uxbridge and Bolton surveyed said they favour protection of natural areas and farms on the moraine. Just 5 per cent favoured development, while 6 per cent had no opinion.

A sample of this size is considered accurate within 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

"It's clear there is overwhelming support for an environmental protection plan from the people who live on the moraine," Earthroots executive director Lea Ann Mallett said yesterday.

The issue has captured wide attention. Only 7 per cent of respondents were unfamiliar with the debate over building houses on the moraine, a ridge of sand and gravel created during the last ice age. The moraine stretches from the Niagara Escarpment across the northern suburbs of Greater Toronto to the southern shore of Rice Lake.

The poll, taken between April 16 and 18, shows moraine protection was a strong opinion even among supporters of the Progressive Conservative government.

Toronto's notice of motion seeking leave to appeal the OMB ruling was filed to the Superior Court of Justice yesterday. The appeal could be heard as early as May 19.

"It's an uphill battle," O'Callaghan said, "because statistically, it's a rare occurrence that leave is granted, but we think we have a very good case in the law."