Facing fierce public backlash Caledon council does u-turn on GTA West Highway
Bowing to pressure from a growing contingent of local residents, environmental advocates, conservation authorities and surrounding municipalities, the Town of Caledon has backed a resident’s call to request the federal government conduct an environmental impact assessment of the GTA West Corridor.
The move is a wholescale departure from previous calls by Caledon council members who pushed for an expedited environmental assessment — currently being conducted by the provincial government — to get the highway constructed faster. A federal EA would have the power to override the provincial government and cancel the project should the environmental impact be deemed too great.
“Community members are not asking for mega-highways and new roads, they are asking for better transit, to utilize existing infrastructure to make transportation healthier, more climate friendly and more walkable communities,” said Jenni Le Forestier during Tuesday’s Town council meeting.
Following a request from Caledon resident Jenni Le Forestier, the Town will be writing to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to request the federal government conduct its own review of the 413.
The GTA West Highway — or Highway 413 — was scrapped by the Liberal government in 2018. The decision came after an expert panel reviewed all of the studies and information that had been gathered on the project and came to the conclusion it would do almost nothing to solve the GTA’s congestion problems. The report, which was later removed from the Government of Ontario website, following the election of Premier Doug Ford, was completely ignored by his PC government which quickly restarted the environmental assessment process, and began touting benefits of the corridor to Ontarians, including unsupported claims it will reduce traffic congestion.
The move by Caledon council follows the official request from Ecojustice on behalf of Environmental Defence and the Town of Halton Hills earlier this month requesting the federal government step in and review the merits of the project.
“This unneeded highway will cause irreversible environmental damage within federal jurisdiction, including harm to fish habitat, multiple [federally protected] species at risk, and dozens of significant wetlands, forests, and important ecosystems,” a media release by Environmental Defence reads. “The Province’s proposal to weaken their EA process for this highway would prevent proper study and mitigation measures for these impacts prior to construction, nor any consideration of the climate change impacts of the project.”
Since the announcement in 2019, made by Brampton PC MPP Amarjot Sandhu who forwarded the motion, that the Province would be reopening the EA, the project has drawn a growing number of vocal critics.
Halton Hills, in a motion approved by its council in August, demanded the provincial government halt any further investment in the project, citing its potential for disastrous impacts on the surrounding ecosystems.
Route for the GTA West Corridor
In November, a letter from one Orangeville councillor, and supported by his colleagues, was sent to the Province stating their opposition to the project for not “aligning with Orangeville’s priorities”. York Region, where a large part of the proposed route runs, has supported the project, but recently requested the Ford government commit to further study of the plan with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA).
Caledon Councillor Annette Groves said she is willing to do “whatever we need to do to stop the Province from proceeding.”
“I don’t think that the Province is looking at this holistically, and in my opinion, I’ve always said, the GTA West, it’s a highway going nowhere,” Groves said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Caledon Councillor Annette Groves
Her position has been strongly opposed in Caledon, particularly by Mayor Allan Thompson and Councillor Jennifer Innis. Around the Region of Peel council table, the stance of local councillors on the highway has been fraught with contradiction, as Thompson, Innis and other Caledon members have aggressively pushed the highway plan, before their recent about face.
“Council can not say they are committed to strong and urgent action on climate change and preservation of the Greenbelt and prime agriculture and also support the super sprawl highway. Without question it’s a contradiction,” Le Forestier said.
Other municipal politicians in Peel have also offered contradicting positions on the highway and efforts to stop environmental damage.
In June of 2019, Brampton councillors passed a motion in support of resurrecting the EA for the highway. In the very same meeting, councillors unanimously supported a motion declaring a climate emergency in the City of Brampton.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) a UN affiliated agency of more than 6,000 global scientists, has released a series of reports that detailed the need for municipal and other sub-national governments to make sustainable land-use decisions, as sprawl and congested highways are a major contributor to temperature increase. It is widely understood that the approval of Highway 413 is essentially approval for the sprawling residential development that will follow.
The same confusing stance taken by Brampton councillors was mirrored by the Region of Peel in October 2019 when council declared a climate emergency in the region, while at the same time approving a motion in support of the highway. A month later, councillors, led by Caledon members, pushed for the EA process to be expedited.
“You’re really putting us in a position not to be able to approve an official plan,” Innis said at the time, before asking the provincial officials present whether those timelines could be shortened. “Time is of the essence.”
Her ardent support of the plan has raised concerns of conflict because of the possibility that members of her family could benefit by selling property for development. Similar conflicts potentially exist for other Caledon councillors including Mayor Allan Thompson, Johanna Downey and Christina Early. Councillor Early declared a conflict of interest during Tuesday’s meeting and did not take part in any votes. She was the only councillor to do so.
It’s also been pointed out that the previous lobbying efforts of Councillor Innis for an expedited EA appear to run contrary to her role as Chair of the TRCA.
When this potential conflict was raised by Le Forestier during Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, Innis did not address it.
The Pointer reached out to Innis to address the conflict of chairing a conservation authority, while also pushing for an expedited EA process for a highway that could have damaging impacts on the environment. She did not respond.
Councillor Downey, who sits as a member of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority was asked about the same potential conflict between her decision-making role on Caledon Council which has strongly supported the 413 Highway plan, and the mandate of the CVC to protect the environment. She did not respond.
A similar confounding stance is being taken by Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown. When the renewed EA was first announced, the mayor released a statement saying he was pleased with the news, noting that “getting product to marketplace is integral for creating an environment that is open for business.” The statement was not surprising as Brown, who had recently been ousted as leader of the Ontario PCs, bragged about being the one who put the GTA West Corridor onto the PC platform during the 2018 provincial election, after the Liberals had scrapped the project.
Brampton's proposed Heritage Heights boulevard design would replace the 413 Highway through the massive development.
However, Brown has since muddied the waters on where he stands on the project. He was recently quoted in the Toronto Star as saying the highway is “contrary to Brampton’s economic interests.” When asked by The Pointer where he stands on the highway and whether he now opposes the 413, Brown did not respond.
His stance follows other recent confusion surrounding Brampton council’s stance as a whole following its Heritage Heights boulevard proposal, which currently has the City of Brampton at odds with the Province over what the 413 would look like when it runs through a proposed new development in northwest Brampton. The City wants to see an urban boulevard with reduced speed limits, pedestrian walkways and intersecting streets, instead of the planned multi-lane 400-series highway. The Province has said this does not comply with its plan to construct a traditional 400-series highway through the corridor.
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