The Globe and Mail - Thursday November 6, 2003
McGuinty backpedals on vow
Premier forced to drop pledge to stop development at Oak Ridges
By RICHARD MACKIE
two-week-old Liberal government faced its first major public embarrassment
yesterday when Premier Dalton McGuinty was forced to drop a campaign
promise to block construction of homes on the environmentally
sensitive Oak Ridges Moraine.
McGuinty told reporters that the Liberal government had imposed
a freeze on development on the moraine until Nov. 20 while it
holds discussions with landowners on the future of the plans for
6,600 new homes.
trying to make the best of a bad situation. The developers have,
in fact, acquired some legally enforceable rights," he admitted.
an attack from the Earthroots environmental group and its director,
Josh Matlow, a former Liberal candidate. "The Liberals should
not make backroom deals like those they criticize the former Tory
government of making with developers."
of the developers' rights cited by Mr. McGuinty is not a new development.
An internal government document obtained by The Globe and Mail
shows that throughout several years of negotiations to protect
key parts of the moraine from development, the land in question
was not included in the areas to be sheltered.
. . . lands were entirely designated as 'settlement' recognizing
the 'urban' designation of the lands," according to the five-page
review of the moraine protection process prepared earlier this
year by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
acceptance of plans to build homes on these lands -- known as
the OPA 138 lands stating the number of the relevant Richmond
Hill Official Plan Amendment -- had been a part of negotiations
with developers, municipal officials and environmental interests
since the mid-1990s, the review says.
When the moraine
legislation was introduced on Nov. 1, 2001, three government news
releases stated the land targeted by developers, about 8 per cent
of the whole moraine, would be considered "settlement areas"
where new homes could be constructed.
the Oak Ridges Protection Act, excluded most of the 190,000-hectare
moraine north of Toronto from urban development. Also on Nov.
1, 2001, the government published a draft of the Oak Ridges Moraine
Conservation Plan. It stated:
purpose of settlement areas, which cover 8 per cent of the Oak
Ridges Moraine, is to focus and contain urban growth and to minimize
the encroachment and impact of development on ecological and hydrological
functions and hydrological features."
clear exclusion of a parcel of land, Mr. McGuinty and the Liberals
insisted in their election platform that plans to build 6,600
homes on this land had been "secretly approved" by the
Progressive Conservative government.
stop their construction," the campaign platform pledged.
election, Mr. McGuinty went further in his comments to reporters.
out a very clear signal, it's been out there for a very long time
now: We're committed to putting genuine protections to the Oak
Ridges Moraine, and we've said we're not gong to allow the construction
of those 6,600 homes," he said on Oct. 16, two weeks after
he blamed the past government for his plight. "The Tories
entered into a bad deal. Bad for the moraine. It's bad for the
environment. It's bad for the people of Ontario. We're trying
to make the very best of a bad situation."
But the Earthroots
group and Mr. Matlow did not accept the reversal in the Liberals'
Liberal government's 'temporary freeze' on the construction of
homes on Oak Ridges Moraine lands in Richmond Hill will allow
developers to continue clearing land, selling homes and possibly
build the infrastructure needed for future development,"
the man chosen by the Liberal Party to run against former premier
Ernie Eves when he re-entered the legislature in May, 2002, challenged
his former leader on the moraine issue.
McGuinty promised a year and a half ago, during the provincial
election, and after the Liberal victory, that he would stop the
construction of the 6,600 homes in Richmond Hill. The Premier
must now show Ontarians that it is his government that is in charge
of Ontario, not the developers."
contended that in backing off his promise, Mr. McGuinty "is
searching for a compromise resolution with both developers and
some environmental organizations that would see some of the 6,600
houses built on the ecologically sensitive moraine."