THE DEMOCRATIC REPORTER
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Opening comments: More at the end.
Tony Miele denied any violation of environmental regulations but the evidence and statements by the Ontario Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller, say the opposite.
The Toronto Sun article about this same issue is much stronger - Click here
The Toronto Star - A1-- November 2, 2000 - BRIAN McANDREW, ENVIRONMENT REPORTER
Ontario selling public land like 'garage clutter'
"We could go over the next hill and there would be more land ...
The province is selling off environmentally sensitive public lands as if they were "nothing more than garage clutter," says Ontario's chief environmental watchdog.
The Ontario Realty Corp. has failed to conduct any environmental studies of sensitive lands in the Oak Ridges Moraine and Rouge Valley around Greater Toronto before putting them up for sale, Environment Commissioner Gord Miller said yesterday in his annual report.
Provincial regulations require an assessment of any piece of publicly owned land that might have some environmental value before the realty corporation Can put it on the market, the report said.
But in its rush to sell public land, the corporation didn't conduct any environmental assessments, the report said.
The corporation is responsible for managing public land and selling surplus properties. Its mandate was changed to focus solely on selling land under order of the Conservative government's Management Services Board.
"These policy directions from Management Board are the root of the problem, causing Ontario Realty Corp. to pursue that mandate at the expense of environmental policies and legislation," the report said.
"The Ontario Realty Corp. appears to view government lands as nothing more than garage clutter," Miller said during a news conference.
Both Liberal leader Dalton MCGuinty and NDP environment critic Marilyn Churley called for an investigation into the allegations environmental regulations were being ignored.
Miller also called for a probe. "The law was not followed and it should be investigated by the Ministry of Environment," Miller said.
Environment Minister Dan Newman said officials in his Ministry's environmental assessment branch have asked to see the corporation's records, and would investigate any wrongdoings.
The corporation has been under an Ontario Provincial Police anti-rackets investigation since March after an internal audit uncovered evidence of bid rigging and kick-backs to two former employees.
Corporation president Tony Miele denied any violation of environmental regulations, even though Management Board Chair Chris Hodgson wrote to the corporation in May expressing concern about its practices.
"We were not doing anything wrong. We complied with all the regulations," Miele said during an interview.
The corporation has not done an environmental assessment on the proposed sale of the Rouge-Duffins agricultural preserve in Pickering, said David Donnelly, a Canadian Environmental Defence Fund lawyer working with local residents who fear commercial development of the protected area.
Donnelly said the corporation recently sought its first environmental. assessment study for a piece of public land going up for sale in Oakville near Sixteen Mile Creek.
Miller was also critical of the province's failure to renegotiate an agreement with the federal government on joint efforts to clean up the Great lakes That agreement expired last year.
The report chastised the natural resources ministry for failing to act on an opportunity to review its endangered species legislation. Miller said the government was unwilling to enforce the legislation because it would infringe on private property owner-ship rights.
'The only sure way for a species to get listed as endangered under the act in this province is to teeter on the brink of extinction"
"As a result, the only sure way for a species to get listed as endangered under the act in this province is to teeter on the brink of extinction," Miller said.
Part of his report was released in July when he slammed the province's lack of a groundwater protection policy and failure to take control over pollution from factory farms.
Those concerns arose from the Walkerton tragedy in May, when seven people died because the town's drinking water was contaminated by a deadly strain of E.coli bacteria.
Miller said the various provincial ministries fall to address larger environmental issues cohesively, and only act on environmental concerns during a crisis.
He said the province was reaching a critical point where ignoring environmental concerns would threaten the future well-being of Ontario.
"We are reaching our limits for the first time in Ontario. We always believed there was lots of water in the ground and lots of water in the streams. We could go over the next hill and there would be more land available.
"Now we go over the next hill and we see a golf course and the sprinklers are running," said Miller, an avid outdoorsman who dislikes golf.
"It's that intensified use of the land that has created more problems now than we were aware of."
Miller's strongly critical report overcame concerns about his close links to the Conservatives that arose when he was appointed environment commissioner earlier this year.
Government critics predicted Miller would become a government lapdog instead of a watchdog.
Miller, a former environment ministry district manager who lost his job to government cutbacks, was president of the federal Progressive Conservative riding association until his appointment.
He had also been a Conservative candidate in a provincial election in his native Timmins.
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