who would have thought theenvironment would be the pivotal issue in a provincial by-election in the sprawling suburban middle-class expanses north of Toronto? But developer dreams of paving the Oak Ridges Moraine have so enraged the SUV set in 905 land that the Tory and Liberal candidates in the Vaughan-King-Aurora by-election have seen fit to wrap themselves in the green flag.
The Tory candidate, in particular, has gone a little over the top.
Apparently looking for an edge, Joyce Frustaglio, the York regional councillor running to keep recently deceased Al Palladini's former riding Tory blue, mentioned in a recent announcement that local activists attended her moraine press conference to applaud Mike Harris's conveniently timed six-month moratorium on development.
The release trumpeted the fact that Frustaglio was joined by Deb Crandal of Save the Oak Ridges Moraine (STORM) and Richard Brooks of Earthroots -- leaving the impression that they endorse her campaign.
Asked if any environmental groups have endorsed her, Frustaglio tells NOW, "Not as of yet. However, they are very supportive, as I understand. STORM was one group that was supportive. Their comments were that Harris would keep his word, and as we all know, Harris always keeps his word, so there is no fear.'
But both STORM and Earthroots in no way support Frustaglio or anything less than a total development ban.
While Frustaglio does back the six-month freeze, she also supports so-called "smart growth" on the moraine. And as a regional councillor in York, she supported the controversial "big pipe" extension to King City, a sewer pipe connecting the small municipality to the main York-Durham system, making way for further suburban sprawl on the moraine.
STORM's Crandal wasn't even aware that the Tory candidate had mentioned her in the release, and was clearly bothered when NOW informed her.
Earthroots moraine campaigner Josh Matlow, who has been knocking on doors in the riding along with others to get out word about the moraine during the by-election, says his group was invited to the press conference by an "insider from the Tory party."
"We went there as observers. I was disturbed (by the press release)," says Matlow. "It certainly implied we were there in support."
He certainly doesn't support Frustaglio, and maintains that so far she has simply been following the party line, which isn't all that comforting. Matlow has a big problem with the fact that the Tory legislation imposing a six-month freeze on moraine development allows for exemptions. He points out that there have already been 50 requests to allow developments to go ahead despite the freeze.
Matlow recognizes that he was probably being used as window dressing for Frustaglio's campaign messaging.
"All parties want to be seen with environmental groups to show off that they're going to be the true heroes of the moraine," he says.
While Matlow says he can't formally endorse Liberal candidate Greg Sorbara, a former provincial minister in the David Peterson government, he's "impressed by him."
"I do believe that if elected he will fight very hard for the Oak Ridges Moraine," he says. "The Liberals recognize that this is an important issue for people on the moraine, whether they do it for the environment or because they realize it's good for them to hold this stance."
But Sorbara's not advocating a total development ban either. He has proposed a "statement of provincial interest" in the moraine to guide municipalities and "ensure that development of the moraine does not proceed in a piecemeal manner."
Apparently, members of the Sierra Club have been knocking on doors for the Liberal candidate.
"A number of representatives have come and campaigned with us, for example reps from the Sierra Club, but they may have been out on their own behalf or on behalf of the group," says Sorbara's campaign manager, Steven Del Duca. A local rep from the Sierra Club was unavailable for comment.
The moraine issue alone has no doubt politicized the populace in this affluent riding. Last week, over 800 people attended public meetings at the Sheraton Hotel in Richmond Hill hosted by Save the Rouge.
Save the Rouge's Glenn De Baeremaeker says he hasn't been approached for an endorsement, but he says many traditional Tory and Liberal voters who are fearful that their parties will sell out to the developers in the long run are looking for direction.
"I've said to them, "Go and talk to the candidate yourself, look her in the eye and ask for her opinion,'" he says. ""And if you think there are any wiggle words, walk out the door.'"
Research assistance by Kim Edwards