The Toronto Star
NEWS, Thursday, August 16, 2001, p. B05

Moraine protection called weak
Environmentalists divided on response to Oak Ridges plan

Caroline Mallan
QUEEN'S PARK BUREAU CHIEF

'If you look at the report, it's glaringly weak. I find it quite strange that they are placidly giving their quiet support to this advisory panel.'

At least one environmental group says it cannot support a draft protection plan for the Oak Ridges Moraine without serious revisions, including a ban on expanded gravel pit mining.

Josh Matlow of Earthroots, which was not represented on the 13-member panel that came up with the draft plan, says it does not offer enough protection for the moraine. The plan, which was released this week, will be subjected to public input at a series of open houses later this month and into September.

The Conservative government then plans to draft a bill protecting the moraine when the Legislature resumes this fall.

"This is probably the one chance we've got to find a solution, to get a protection plan," Matlow told a news conference yesterday.

Referring to support for the plan from some environmental groups, Matlow said that "some might want to grab any bone that's thrown if they feel that they're not going to get anything more from this government." But he said he views the draft proposal only as a starting point. "It's a haggling position; we need to go all the way if we're going to get what we want."

The plan proposes dividing the entire 195,000 hectares of the moraine into four types of designated land: natural core areas, the most protected natural linkages; stretches of land that connect core areas; countryside areas where some development of golf courses, ski hills and some residences would be permitted; and settlement areas where subdivisions can be built to house up to 80,000 in 26,000 dwellings over the next 20 years.

Three panel members are affiliated with environmental groups including the Save the Oak Ridges Moraine group and the Federation of Ontario Naturalists and all supported the principles of the draft plan.

New Democrat environment critic Marilyn Churley said she worries that the Conservative government may be pitting environmental groups against one another in an effort divide their opposition when it comes to development on the moraine.

"My concern is that it's more of a divide and conquer that's going on here," she said.

"I have a lot of respect for the people on the committee but the pressure is on, people are feeling that they have to compromise to get something and I understand that pressure but I'm very concerned about it as well."

Liberal Mike Colle (Eglinton-Lawrence) said he was baffled by the consensus that was achieved by the panel, which also included representatives of the development and aggregate mining industries, as well as academics. He labelled the plan a "half-measure" at best.

"If you look at the report, it's glaringly weak," he said. "I find it quite strange that they are placidly giving their quiet support to this advisory panel."

Key concerns include the provision for rural residences in land to be designated countryside. Colle and Matlow say that opens the door to estate housing developments for the wealthy, which Colle called a worst-case scenario when it comes to land use.

Matlow said there is also a provision in the plan to let municipalities apply to the province to expand their designated settlement areas for subdivisions land that would initially be limited to 9 per cent of the moraine.

Earthroots is also asking the government to hold more extensive public consultations than the four open house meetings planned in various communities on the moraine. Matlow said Toronto should host a session since the headwaters of the Don and Humber rivers are in the moraine and ultimately flow into Lake Ontario.