when the tories closed the book on the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act last week, environmentalist Glenn De Baeremaeker, one of the government's staunchest critics on the issue, took a turn into the surreal.Save the Rouge Valley president De Baeremaeker, who a couple of months earlier had called the draft conservation plan "a death sentence," was now considering it such a victory that he publicly praised the Tories at the final legislative committee hearing on Bill 122 last Wednesday (December 5).
In a gushing presentation in front of the general government committee chaired by Steve Gilchrist, De Baeremaeker congratulated the government for "permanently protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of land on the moraine" as well as providing "funding for acquisition, restoration and stewardship efforts" and "protection of a greenbelt across southern Ontario that will assist in achieving smarter growth."
He even went so far as to refer to a protected corridor in Richmond Hill as the "premier's park."
It must be said that De Baeremaeker also recommended a number of amendments to the plan, including designating all remaining moraine lands in Richmond Hill as natural core and natural linkage areas and barring the reduction of countryside areas.
Still, De Baeremaeker's latest stance is a curious about-face, given that just months before he was trashing a bill that other eco groups that had consulted with the government were cautiously lauding. In a switcheroo, they now have doubts about its latest incarnation.
What also makes De Baeremaeker's turn so odd is the timing. At those same committee hearings last week, opposition MPPs Marilyn Churley of the NDP and Mike Colle of the Liberals walked out in protest after the Tories refused to allow them to read their own suggested amendments into the record. They say the plan is fraught with loopholes. As well, other groups, including Earthroots, were prevented from voicing their concerns. The government says there wasn't enough time. Apparently, the government only has time to be praised.
Maybe they didn't want to be reminded that they didn't stop gravel-pit operations inside wildlife corridors and that 360 development applications are still being considered.There's also the small matter of the swath that was supposed to be designated countryside but has mysteriously reemerged as residential development.
So despite all that and the fact that the Tories can revoke the legislation at any time, what made De Baeremaeker start blowing the Tories green kisses?
Basically, he says it's the fact that the legislation will protect 300,000 acres of natural areas and wildlife corridors forever (they cannot be diminished at the 10-year review). He says the Tories took out a clause allowing large estate homes on the moraine.
Still, De Baeremaeker's chameleon act has more than a few of the moraine's other defenders puzzled. But after 14 years as a green lobbyist, he obviously feels he has the franchise. "The reality is, our organization has been more critical than all the other groups put together," he says. "We're intelligent enough to realize when we've won."