‘So much for our path to a sustainable Brampton’: Brown and five other council members refuse to hear motion renouncing Highway 413
Six Brampton council members, led by Mayor Patrick Brown, have made it clear they do not want to talk about Highway 413. Not its destruction of local habitat, not its impact on local climate change goals, and certainly not the myth pushed by the PC government that it will help solve the GTA’s gridlock problem.
On Wednesday, Councillor Doug Whillans attempted to bring forward a motion to reconsider Brampton’s support for the highway project and let the Province know it opposes Highway 413 “in its entirety”.
Brampton remains one of the largest municipalities impacted by the highway that has not passed a motion in opposition. The proposed resolution put forward by Whillans required a two-third majority vote to be considered, due to a previous council decision to support the project, which would have to be reversed to pass the motion proposed Wednesday. It was immediately voted down in a 6-5 vote.
Along with Whillans, Councillors Jeff Bowman, Michael Palleschi, Paul Vicente and Rowena Santos voted in support of reopening the discussion, while Gurpreet Dhillon, Harkirat Singh, Pat Fortini, Charmaine Williams, Martin Medeiros and Mayor Brown voted against rethinking the earlier position, despite growing public opposition to the controversial highway plan, which many other municipalities have rejected.
“All I was trying to do was reopen the issue and have a healthy debate. So much for our path to a sustainable Brampton,” Whillans tweeted almost immediately after his motion was defeated.
The decision to not allow the motion to be brought forward for discussion came despite city clerk Peter Fay telling councillors over a dozen citizens and groups had requested an opportunity to speak to the issue and had made the effort to participate in a discussion they expected would take place. The defeat of the motion blocked stakeholders from having their voices heard.
The motion from Councillor Doug Whillans to reconsider support for the GTA West Highway lost 6-5.
(Image from The Pointer files)
Councillor Whillans says his intention was to give community members an opportunity to speak and allow council to receive input from concerned parties, many of whom have done extensive research on the impacts of the project.
Advocacy groups Environmental Defence, David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club Peel, along with members of Brampton’s Environmental Advisory Committee, were all registered to speak. Because council voted against opening the discussion, they never got the chance.
“All we have to do as elected officials is to start the conversation,” Whillans said.
The move by Brampton council was criticized by Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who earlier in the day released a statement urging Brampton to reconsider its earlier support for the highway plan being aggressively pushed by Premier Doug Ford and the developers who have already bought up large chunks of land along the approved route, which runs up Brampton’s west side from the 401 and then curves east just across the Caledon border toward Vaughan before connecting to the 400 Highway.
It would run immediately below Ontario’s protected Greenbelt, the world’s largest ecologically sensitive area that is covered under legislation to ensure its future health and prevent destructive activities such as highway and new home construction within its boundary. Part of the 413 would actually run right through the Greenbelt while most of it would run directly alongside, causing irreversible harm.
“I think having the voices of those residents to be able to speak to these issues would have been really important,” Schreiner said.
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner pushed Brampton to reconsider its position on Highway 413, calling the highway a “climate and fiscal disaster for Ontario”
Schreiner, a vocal advocate against the highway project, says spending billions of dollars of taxpayers money on a highway will only exacerbate the climate crisis, trigger more urban sprawl—the type of development the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has said is not sustainable—and destroy farmland. It’s a dangerous move for a highway that a previous independent panel appointed by the former Liberal government found would only save commuters 30 seconds.
“[T]he Panel concluded that the GTAW Recommended Actions would deliver approximately one minute of travel time savings per vehicular trip across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. On its own, the proposed new GTAW highway corridor would deliver approximately half of those savings, or about 30 seconds per vehicle trip,” according to the 2017 report, which has since been removed from the government’s website.
The PCs, who are using the GTA West Highway and the Bradford Bypass as key planks in the upcoming election—attempting to frame the party as one that “says yes” to infrastructure projects—have, since their election, dismissed the expert findings on their project website, highway413.ca (earlier gta-west.com) claiming the highway will save 30 minutes for commuters travelling between York and Halton regions.
With Brampton council protecting the status quo, it means Brown and other local officials can straddle the fence. Council has not voiced the type of blanket support for the project many on Caledon council have pushed (including elected officials such as Mayor Allan Thompson and Councillor Jennifer Innis whose family stand to benefit from the sale of property next to the highway corridor). Brown has demanded the province implement an “urban boulevard” through Brampton’s planned Heritage Heights development in the northwest quadrant of the city—which would somehow involve slowing traffic down on the 400-series highway to accommodate an urban boulevard through a long section of the proposed residential/commercial area that has not yet been built. Brown and City officials have repeatedly refused to explain how the concept would work or provide an example of a similar design with a boulevard interrupting a major highway, with vehicles having to slow down for street lights and street intersections before returning to the highway.
The Province has said multiple times that the idea is not possible and is incompatible with its plans for the 413.
Whillans says it was the Province’s unwillingness to work with Brampton on its urban boulevard proposal through Heritage Heights that triggered his attempt to bring his motion forward (it remains unclear how the concept pushed by Brown would work and critics have suggested the mayor is simply trying to stay on the fence).
“When we knew that they were not going to entertain the thought of working with us then I thought it’s best that we bring forward this motion,” Whillans said.
Schreiner told The Pointer he hoped the PCs would consider options. “I was just deeply disappointed that the Ford government just absolutely rejected alternative proposals… that would be less expensive, more affordable for people.”
The proposed route for Highway 413.
The Pointer reached out to Mayor Brown and the five councillors who blocked the motion. Only Councillors Medeiros and Williams responded.
Councillor Medeiros said there would have been repetition as Peel Region, which as the upper tier municipal government has jurisdiction over regional planning issues, has already rejected the highway, through a Peel Council vote which Medeiros, who sits on both councils, supported.
“We are months from a provincial election and the Ford government has already stated they are running on the completion of the 413. I just thought with the length of agenda items that we have, especially in camera, that we couldn’t afford at this meeting a lengthy discussion…,” he told The Pointer in an email.
The lack of willingness to even entertain a discussion on Highway 413 is a telling example of how Brampton council prioritizes the environment and the ongoing climate crisis. Council’s approved 2022 budget includes more funding for a single road, then all of the City’s climate change initiatives combined.
“[I] still think at this stage we are waiting to hear from the federal government regarding the environmental assessment (EA) and the provincial election for clarity,” Medeiros added.
The federal government has designated the 413 for an impact assessment and could take over jurisdiction of the project, with the ability to cancel it if federal legislation is compromised. The Province is currently working on a report to address Ottawa’s concerns. If that report appeases the federal government, then the project will move forward.
City Councillor Charmaine Williams told The Pointer that she voted no because the council has already dealt with this matter.
“Council has already dealt with this matter and a decision was made,” she said, providing no further explanation. Williams won the nomination to represent the PCs in Brampton Centre for this June’s provincial election.
A slide from a City of Brampton presentation on Heritage Heights, which makes direct comparisons between the impact of the highway vs. the proposed boulevard.
Brampton’s initial support for the highway—later muddied by council’s boulevard proposal—was approved during the same meeting when council declared a climate emergency.
One surprise Wednesday was the turnaround by Councillor Michael Palleschi, who aggressively pushed support for the highway at both the Region and inside City Hall, even bringing forward the motion in 2019 to back the 413 plan by supporting the PC move to restart its environmental assessment process. During the same council meeting in June of 2019, Brampton, ironically, declared a climate emergency. On Wednesday Palleschi voted to reopen the debate, breaking ranks with Brown on the issue.
Whillans believes Brampton has been moving in the right direction following its climate emergency declaration, but support for the highway still does not align with a council that claims it is prioritizing the environment.
“Climate change connects to everything we care about, the health of our families, the economic strength of our communities, and the stability of our world,” Whillans said. “To care about climate change you only have to be one thing, and that’s a person living on this planet Earth that wants a better future, and chances are most of us already are that person.”
Whillans wants to continue to pursue the boulevard option through Heritage Heights, something that would be much easier if the highway project is cancelled. The lane restrictions and active transportation options that go along with the boulevard make it next to impossible to be compatible with a 400-series highway.
“I am not giving up, but I am not very hopeful,” he said.
The 59-kilometre highway that would arc across the northwestern part of the GTA, is planned to link the northern edge of Vaughan, to the 401 where Mississauga, Milton and Halton Hills meet. Since the Ford government resurrected the project in 2018, it has seen more opposition than support.
Nearly all municipalities along the route—pressed by local environmental advocates—have passed motions opposing the project, including Vaughan, Mississauga, Halton Hills, Markham, the Region of Peel, Halton Region, Orangeville and the City of Toronto. Mayor Brown and Mayor Thompson in Caledon have continued to rally for the highway being pushed by the Ford government.
Lana Goldberg, Ontario Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defence, says the move to reconsider its stance, signals Brampton councillors are hearing concerns from residents about the proposed highway.
Goldberg says Brampton could have chosen to protect the Greenbelt, forests, and prime farmland, and to build walkable and sustainable communities, rather than support spending billions of dollars on an unnecessary highway.
“The reality is that Brampton’s Boulevard plan, which the City supports in place of the highway, would provide more housing, more employment, and more sustainable communities, while helping to preserve the environment and regional agriculture,” Goldberg says. “Ontarians will have a chance to send a strong message during election time that they want leaders who put the environment and what is best for Ontarians ahead of what is profitable for a few wealthy developers.”
The incredibly strong local opposition to the highway in Peel convinced both Brampton and Caledon councils to support calls for a federal environmental assessment.
Former environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson issued an order last May to designate the 413 for a federal review.
Thursday saw representatives of the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO), along with its partners WSP Global, delegate at Peel Region Council to discuss what the federal impact assessment could mean for the GTA West Highway.
Hossein Hosseini, project engineer with the MTO, acknowledged that the highway may cause adverse effects on the habitat of three federally listed species. An earlier investigation by The Pointer found close to 30 species at risk are found along the route of the GTA West Highway, many of them within areas planned for interchanges.
In March of last year, Regional council voted to oppose the 413 project. Several councillors took the opportunity on Thursday to press provincial representatives about potential alternatives to the destructive highway.
Regional Councillors Annette Groves, Carolyn Parrish and Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie all pressed the provincial government team for answers about how to mitigate damage and come up with a different approach to transportation design in the area, but received very little in response.
Local advocates, denied their opportunity to speak in Brampton the day before, seized the microphone at the Region.
The Ministry of Transportation has yet to properly engage and consult with First Nations the treaty holders, Caledon resident Jenni Le Forestier told councillors.
Ministry officials have said meetings with Indigenous communities have taken place, but few details have been shared.
As part of the request to designate the project under the federal Impact Assessment Act, several Indigenous communities wrote to the agency detailing a number of concerns with the 413.
Gideon Forman, Climate Change and Transportation Policy Analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation, said Thursday that the highway will exacerbate the climate crisis.
“It will waste billions of dollars and we don't know how much it will be in the end… . Please respect the majority of Peel residents and continue to oppose Highway 413. As local people have been saying… the Greenbelt is no place for a highway.”
Following the discussion, regional councillors urged staff to set up a meeting with provincial officials to discuss alternatives to the highway.
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