Environment Letters & Opinion

Event Speakers say the Fight to Stop Hwy 413 is Not Over

Written by Dan O’Reilly

Photos credit: Dan O’Reilly

Highway 413 isn’t going anywhere fast and don’t believe Doug Ford’s claims construction will start in 2025.

That was crystal-clear message delivered (and enthusiastically received) to approximately 150 attendees, including several from Caledon, at a highly charged May 9th meeting in Woodbridge.

“They (the provincial government) haven’t even completed the preliminary design,” said Laurie Bowman, a lawyer with the environmental law charity Ecojustice.

Bowman was one of eight speakers at a Stop Highway 413 forum, hosted and organized by the Vaughan-based Stop Highway 413 Now, a volunteer citizens’ group which has been quite tenacious in its fight.

Other speakers included representatives of a number of non-governmental organizations, all three provincial opposition parties, and First Nations scientist Stephanie Allen, who provided an Indigenous perspective.

All eight were united in their opposition to the highway and, during the course of the two-hour meeting, cited its numerous detrimental impacts such as the destruction of species-at-risk habitats, the elimination of thousands of acres of farmland, and the sprawl development it would create.

Despite being invited, Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria and the Ministry of Transportation Highway 413 project did not attend.

Not at the meeting was Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria, who had been invited by the organizers.

The need for dogged persistence and almost non-stop action by citizen groups was a constant refrain.

“Its (the fight) is not over until it’s over,” said moderator and former Liberal MP Deborah Schulte, who opened the meeting with a short overview of the environmental and financial disaster the highway will create.

“It would make you cry,” said Schulte, referring to the damage to the Nashville Conservation Tract which is on the proposed route.

The key to stopping Highway 413 is a new Federal Impact Assessment Act, said Phil Pothen, program manager and counsel with the advocacy organization Environmental Defence.

“Highway 413 won’t happen if the Federal Government does its job,” said Pothen.

By the term ‘job’, he meant the government’s responsibility to protect federally listed species at-risk along the proposed highway route, by preventing construction close to waterways, and by acting quickly to once again designate 413 for a full impact assessment under the updated Impact Assessment Act.

Highway 413 won’t happen if the Federal Government does is job under a new Federal Impact Assessment Act, said Phil Pothen, program manager and counsel with Environmental Defence.

As the proposed updates were included in the April 30 budget bill, “so it has to be passed.”

A “Memorandum of Understanding” between federal and provincial government, preserves the federal government’s right and obligation to impose a new federal assessment as soon as those amendments are passed, he said.

(The agreement was reached following the Supreme Court ruling last October that the existing Act, in part, is unconstitutional.)

In a reference to Premier Doug Ford’s announcement (in Caledon) on the same day the budget was tabled that construction of the highway will start in 2025, Pothen said the provincial government “is trying to control the narrative. It is not a done deal.”

In a somewhat ominous tone, however, he suggested there are some factions within the Federal Government who would prefer to have a weakened Act or have provisions turned over to provincial control to allow the highway to get built quickly.

“We’re not going to change Doug Ford’s mind (on the highway).”

So, the real opposition to Highway 413 has to be directed towards Federal Members of Parliaments by ensuring they don’t support measures to water down the Act.

“We need to keep the pressure on,” said Pothen.

One example of a pressure tactic is writing letters or emails to their MPs. Another option, for people who are active campaigners for their MPs, is to withdraw that support, he said.

Not all of the meeting was concentrated on opposition strategies. A major focus was how the estimated $6 to $10-billion cost to build the highway would be better invested in healthcare, affordable housing, senior care, education, childcare, and public transit.

“We can build $10 billion elsewhere,” said Peter Miasek, a director with Transport Action Ontario.

A non-profit group whose mission is to promote  an accessible, affordable and sustainable rail and bus based public transportation network, TAO has long advocated for alternatives to Highway 413, such as investing in numerous transit projects and providing a subsidy for truckers to use Highway 407.

“A truck subsidy would be substantially more cost-effective than a new expressway,” said Miasek, pointing it would take divert truckers away from Highway 401.

Polling has shown a majority of respondents don’t believe greenbelts are places for expressways, said Gideon Forman, transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation.

Another speaker was Gideon Forman, transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation, who told the audience he was “bringing some positive news.”

A number of EKOS polls conducted for the foundation revealed that a majority of respondents believe Greenbelts are no place for a highway, he said.

The audience also heard from the NDP’s environment, conservation, and parks critic, Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas MPP Sandy Shaw; Mary-Margaret McMahon, the Liberal MPP for Beaches-East York; and Ontario Green Party Leader and Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner. All three promised their respective parties would work together to stop Highway 413.

Recalling last year’s Greenbelt battle, in which some of his constituents were initially skeptical of success, Schreiner urged the audience to keep fighting against Highway 413.

“We are not giving up,” said Schreiner.

Want to add your voice to stopping Highway 413? Contact Dufferin Caledon MP Kyle Seeback and let him know you want a full federal impact assessment: Kyle.Seeback@parl.gc.ca

Or sign this petition: https://davidsuzuki.org/press/petition-to-stop-highway-413-blows-up/

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About the author

Dan O’Reilly

Dan O’Reilly is a freelance writer specializing in design and construction, the environment, and historical preservation. He is also a regular contributor to the Daily Commercial News and Ontario Home Builder, the official magazine of the Ontario Home Builders Association.

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