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Saturday, November 04, 2006

New poll supports greenbelt

New poll supports greenbelt

Local politicians who mess with Ontario's greenbelt lands do so at their peril.

That's the warning from a Toronto Star/Decima Research poll that shows an overwhelming majority of GTA residents support the greenbelt's goal of curbing urban sprawl and protecting area farmland.

Eighty-nine per cent — almost nine out of 10 area residents — support the greenbelt as a way to ensure cities in Greater Toronto remain liveable and environmentally healthy, with 49 per cent of those saying they "strongly support" the measure, according to the poll.

Just 10 per cent of respondents say they oppose the greenbelt because it could restrict development, drive up housing prices or make people live further away from the city.

The survey underscores the popularity of the provincially-mandated 720,000-hectare arc of protected countryside that runs across the northern GTA. And it's probably why many candidates in the burgeoning towns and cities on the edge of Toronto are making greenbelt support a key plank in their election platforms, says Decima chief executive Bruce Anderson.

In Durham, where regional council recently voted to roll back the greenbelt in some areas, election signs for several candidates include slogans such as "we love our greenbelt" in the hopes of translating public support for the provincial law into votes on Nov. 13.

And yesterday, the Sierra Club of Canada endorsed a dozen candidates in that region for their pledge to protect greenbelt land and to refuse campaign donations from developers.

Environmental lawyer David Donnelly, who has acted for Environmental Defence Canada in its attempts to win provincial protection for sensitive wetlands, woodlots and endangered species across the GTA, hopes area residents who support the greenbelt will help "green" candidates get elected.

Since many of these candidates are women who have trouble competing financially with their pro-development opponents on council, Donnelly and Markham councillor Erin Shapero are co-chairing a fundraiser at Toronto's Gladstone Hotel on Monday.

The "Green Divas for Council" event will celebrate all candidates regardless of gender who have taken the "green pledge," Donnelly says. The so-called Green Agenda 2006, drafted by environmental advocates, calls for politicians to vote against changing the greenbelt boundary; not accept developer money to finance their campaigns; and to vote in favour of creating a "green building standard."

"We need to elect people who will vote to expand the greenbelt and stop developers that want to eat away at its edges," he says. "When the greenbelt gets bigger, our grandchildren's traffic jams get smaller."

"Diva" candidates being honoured include Vaughan's Deb Schulte (Ward 2) who helped save an old growth forest in Boyd Park; Richmond Hill environmentalist Natalie Helferty (Ward 3); Pickering activist Bonnie Littley (Ward 1) who helped save the Duffins Rouge Agricultural Preserve; Oro-Medonte's Mary O'Farrell-Bowers (Ward 5) who fought development at Moon Point on Lake Simcoe; and Clarington's Linda Gasser (Wards 3, 4) a greenbelt defender in Durham Region.

Most GTA residents agree developers should not be allowed to contribute to municipal campaigns, according to the poll. Seventy-four per cent said real or perceived conflicts of interest should disqualify developers from financially backing municipal candidates. Just 26 per cent said they should be treated no differently than other voters and be able to donate.

The Sunday Star published a partial list of 40 candidates running "developer-free" campaigns this week. Since the story ran, more candidates have contacted the Star to say they, too, are accepting only donations from individuals.

They include Toronto candidates, Helen Kennedy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) and Jim Robb (Ward 43, Scarborough East); Richmond Hill candidates Asghar Naqvi (Ward 2) and Vik Gandhi (Ward 3); Markham candidates Bala Balasubramaniam (Ward 5); Howard Shern and Peter Pavlovic (Ward 2); George Treheles and Ivan Yao (Ward 3); Brian Weller (local Ward 4); Surinder Lamba (Ward 8); and Halton Hills mayoral candidate Robert Heaton.

Decima surveyed 748 people in the GTA between Oct. 20 and 26 using computer-assisted web interviewing. The results are considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.6 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

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