MPP JOURNAL for the week of January 7, 2021


Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act

On December 14, 2001, the government enacted legislation to protect the Oak Ridges Moraine and create a lasting legacy for our children and future generations.

The Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001, allows for the establishment of an ecologically based land use plan that will provide for future protection of 100 per cent of the significant natural and water features on the Oak Ridges moraine. The plan will preserve agricultural land and limit almost all development to approve settlement areas.

We have lots of land in this great province, but in southern Ontario we also have a lot of development pressure. This beautiful section of Ontario, which stretches 160 kilometres from the east, around Cobourg, right across to the Niagara Escarpment in Caledon, has been argued about for more than 20 years. Previous governments have grappled with the issues, and millions of dollars have been spent at the Ontario Municipal Board.

In the spring of 2001, the government announced a six-month moratorium on planning applications on the Oak Ridges Moraine. We established a process to see if we could find a consensus on what should be protected for future generations and where development should take place with certainty. We put together a panel of people representing a range of interests in the Moraine. They came to the table willing to find a solution that would work.

Everyone was fully committed to this process, not just caucus and cabinet, but all the parties with an interest in the moraine, including the agricultural community, the aggregate industry, the developers and the environmental groups.

We built upon information brought forward at the OMB hearings. We also learned from the process that Durham, Peel and York Regions and the nine conservation authorities had undertaken, and the public discussions they had held around the future of the Moraine.

We also learned from the public meetings we had when we released our consultation document last summer. They were well attended, and we learned a lot.

We listened as well to the comments we received on the legislation we introduced on November 1. We heard that there should be public input into the 10-year review. We made that a requirement. We heard concerns about the Minister's ability to revoke the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and we clarified that any revocation would be subject to a public process. We heard concerns about the possibility the plan might be weakened as a result of the 10-year review. We already had a provision in the bill that would have prevented any reduction in the area of the land in the natural core and natural linkage areas. We strengthened that to ensure that the 10-year review would not be able to consider removing lands from those designations.

The result was a bill and a plan that will protect the woodlots, ravines, wetlands, kettle lakes and streams - the things we want to pass on. It will protect core areas, and give certainty around the settlement areas, which represent just eight per cent of the land area of the Moraine. It will create some of the largest urban conservation areas in the world.

To ensure that people can enjoy this treasure, the government will promote the establishment of a trail system, including a continuous east-west trail, from one end of the Moraine to the other, that will be accessible to seniors and people with disabilities.

We still have a lot of work to do on bringing municipal official plans into conformity with the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and on municipal watershed plans and water budgets. It will take time to fully implement everything that's envisioned in this plan, but we are committed to making sure this happens, and happen it will.

Helping us achieve this goal will be a foundation, with a mandate to fund activities such as land securement, research, monitoring and public education. We hope that all governments - municipal, federal and provincial - will contribute funds and resources. If everyone works together, we can achieve our goals more quickly.

The true legacy of this bill will really become apparent in the next 50 to 100 years. When Algonquin Park was established in 1895, local people would have wondered why a government would set aside this amount of land that was no different from the adjoining land. Today, 106 years later, we can see the wisdom of protecting that land for future generations.

Environmental protection has been a priority of the Mike Harris government. Ontario's Living Legacy, which resulted in the creation of 378 new parks and protected areas, was a huge accomplishment. The Managed Forest and Conservation Land Tax Incentive Program, which was put in place in 1998, encourage owners of private forests and conservation lands to sustain and manage their properties. A partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, known as Ontario Parks Legacy 2000, which we implemented in 1996, has also helped to complete our system of parks and protected areas.

But Tory governments have always protected the environment. The Niagara Escarpment Commission was established by the Conservative government of the time. It's something that we feel very strongly about as a caucus. Under the leadership of Premier Harris, we've done a lot to make sure that we leave Ontario a little better than we found it and we safeguard the things that should be preserved for future generations.



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