like a freshly felled pine at alogging mill, environmentalists are split by the Harris government's recommendations for the future of the Oak Ridges Moraine.In the Lands for Life fiasco a couple of years back, the Tories "consulted" select greens only to end up allowing mining in provincial parks. Now, once again, tree huggers are divided on the government's current moraine pitch, which would allow development to proceed on hundreds of acres of ecologically sensitive land.
By the time Municipal Affairs minister Chris Hodgson dropped by the moraine Tuesday (August 14) to spin his advisory panel's long list of recommendations, announce four upcoming public forums in communities near the moraine and appoint former Toronto mayor David Crombie moraine development mediator, greens inside and outside the process were already sniping at each other.
The scuffle started six days earlier, when Save the Rouge Valley president Glenn De Baeremaeker, in an attempt to get in front of Hodgson, claimed in a press release that the government was planning to recommend the rezoning of 250,000 acres of the moraine for residential use, clearing the way to develop a million new homes.
Environmentalists on the panel, De Baeremaeker told NOW prior to Hodgson's announcement, were "out-negotiated."
"We've been briefed on every detail of the document. It is a death sentence, and I'm disappointed that some other environmentalists feel compelled to sign on," De Baeremaeker says. "(But) I've been told that something is better than nothing."
The greens who were invited to sit on the advisory panel, however, criticized De Baeremaeker for generating hysteria based on unsubstantiated numbers and jumping the gun before the panel's recommendations were made public.
"Do you think I'd be sitting on the advisory panel if we recommended that a million new houses be built on the moraine?" asks a testy Debbe Crandall, executive director of the Save the Oak Ridges Moraine Coalition, adding, "I don't know where he's getting his facts."
But it turns out De Baeremaeker came pretty close in his preview. Although there is no mention of allowing a million new homes on the moraine, the panel's recommendations include: allowing regional governments to appeal for further urban development on the moraine every five years;
reducing wildlife migration corridors from 31 per cent to 16 per cent;
allowing quarries and gravel pits in migration corridors;
allowing golf courses and ski hills in designated "countryside" areas on the moraine; and
allowing "rural residential" as well as "commercial, institutional and industrial" uses in designated "countryside" areas.Along with regional politicians, reps from natural resource industries and developers Mario Cortellucci (a top Tory donor), Fred DeGasperis and Peter Gilgan, the Tories named four environmental advocates to Hodgson's 13-member moraine advisory panel last June. De Baeremaeker was not one of them.
Along with Crandall, greens on the panel included Ric Symmes, executive director of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (which was also part of the Lands for Life consultations), Ron Christie, chair of the Rouge Park Alliance, John Riley, science director of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and Dick O'Brien, chair of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. (However, O'Brien, a former Toronto city councillor, was hardly a leader on environmental issues when he was a politician.)
Coincidentally (or not?), the Tories tapped former deputy minister of Natural Resources Ron Vrancart, who had previously led the consultation process around Lands for Life, to steer the panel.
While O'Brien and Symmes both dismissed De Baeremaeker's charges as speculation when NOW spoke to them, the Save the Rouge Valley activist isn't alone in his criticism. Earthroots, which was burned by the Lands for Life process when the government ultimately allowed mining in provincial parks, also got advance notice of Hodgson's recommendations and is highly critical of them.
"The (Tories) always seem to find a way to leave a loophole so their biggest supporters can continue their work, whether it be miners, loggers or developers," says Earthroots moraine campaigner Josh Matlow. "With Lands for Life, they boasted that they protected 270 provincial parks and conservation areas. But within virtually all of them they continue to allow sports hunting and mining."
Like De Baeremaeker, Earthroots is worried that there is no final decision on the expansion of gravel pits on the moraine, no comprehensive groundwater strategy, that wildlife corridors have been cut and, ultimately, the door has been left open for the expansion of urban development.
Matlow says he spoke with Crandall recently and told her to hold her ground, because they may not get another shot at preserving the moraine.
""When you're haggling at a street market and the guy you're buying the shirt from wants $50, go to $10,'" Matlow says he told Crandall. ""Don't give in so far so soon just because you want the shirt. Get the best deal for it, because this isn't a game. If we don't get the plan we want now, I think it will take a long time to get another opportunity, and it may be too late.'"
For the moment, it seems Crandall is content to let the Tories' public forums play out.
"Lets have a chance to chew it around and see what flows out of it," said Crandall earlier this week. "And if there are some areas that need to be tightened up, then that's the point of the public consultation."