Caledon blocks motion by Councillor Annette Groves to reject GTA West Highway
Caledon residents who have spoken out against the environmentally destructive GTA West highway plan are clear, they do not want it built across their largely rural community.
A majority of the town’s council do not feel the same way.
Members of Caledon council who refuse to listen to their own constituents, aggressively supporting the highway, did not provide any explanation as to why they voted down a motion to stop Highway 413 and consider alternatives.
Current proposed route for the GTA West Highway.
(Government of Ontario)
The vote was held in mid-February after Councillor Annette Groves placed the motion on the agenda, telling The Pointer the resurrected transportation corridor that will destroy vast swaths of agricultural land, encroach on the protected Greenbelt and trigger the worst of costly sprawl, represents bad planning.
“We will see exactly what happened to Brampton thirty years ago, happen to Caledon,” she said. “This is a developer driven plan supported by members of our council who are clearly working for large corporate builders, not the hard-working residents of Caledon who do not want their beautiful community planned by private interests that will turn our communities into a string of crowded subdivisions and warehouses over-run by large commercial transport trucks, just like Brampton.”
The highway would stretch 59-kilometres across the northwestern part of the GTA linking the northern edge of Vaughan to the 401 where Mississauga, Milton and Halton Hills meet.
It would cut across the width of Caledon, immediately below the Greenbelt. Critics have warned the GTA West Highway will open up massive subdivision and warehouse development in and around the protected Greenbelt and the major watersheds that flow through much of Caledon.
Scrapped by the Liberals after a panel of experts concluded that not only would the highway cause widespread environmental damage, it would create further road congestion without offering commuters any tangible time savings. The 413 Highway project was revived by the PCs in 2018, after Premier Doug Ford was caught on tape during that year’s election promising a room full of developers that he would open up a “big chunk” of the Greenbelt for them if they helped get him elected.
Almost all municipalities along the route have passed motions opposing the project, including Mississauga, Vaughan, Halton Hills, Markham, the Region of Peel, Halton Region, Orangeville and the City of Toronto.
This has been spurred by local advocates like Jenni Le Forestier, who have continued to press municipalities to stand up to the provincial government’s diktats.
While residents and climate activists across municipalities continue to voice positions against the environmentally destructive highway plan, Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson, both Conservatives, have continued to rally for the highway being pushed by the PCs.
Brown has even bragged that it was his idea to revive the project when he was PC leader in 2018.
Before Groves attempted to follow suit with other municipalities that have condemned the highway policy, Brampton Councillor Doug Whillans attempted to bring forward a motion to reconsider support for the highway project and let the Province know Brampton opposes Highway 413 “in its entirety”, but councillors including Mayor Brown would not allow the motion to be discussed.
There was no debate in Brampton, none in Caledon.
In Caledon’s Planning and Development Committee meeting held February 15, council voted against the motion by Groves to support rejecting the 413 Highway.
It was voted down by Councillor Jennifer Innis, Nick deBoer and Mayor Thompson.
Other councillors including Johanna Downey, Lynn Kiernan and Tony Rosa were absent and Councillor Christina Early recused herself, citing a conflict of interest.
Councillor Innis, who has pushed to expedite the project and has faced criticism because her family owns a large section of property near the highway corridor that would significantly increase in value if the 400-series corridor is built, refused to provide any explanation for her vote despite councillor Groves asking for one.
“Don't need to speak to that, I've spoken to a lot in the past,” Innis said.
“If I was not approving something… I'd give my reasons why, but if Councillor Innis doesn't have a reason—okay, just curious. That's all,” Groves replied.
Councillor Annette Groves shared a Facebook post after Caledon voted down her motion to stop the highway.
“I don't think there has to be a reason beyond that I guess,” Councillor deBoer, who was chairing the meeting, said.
The Pointer reached out to Councillor Innis and deBoer to explain their votes, but did not receive a response.
In an email response to The Pointer, Mayor Thompson called Councillor Groves' motion asking to stop the GTA West Corridor “short-sighted”.
He says the motion did not consider the serious negative consequences to the communities and economy of a future Caledon without a people and goods movement corridor to serve future growth.
“I envision the GTA West to be a Multi Model Transportation Corridor that has a significant transit and rail component as well as infrastructure to support the vehicles of the future and utilizing green technologies in the design and construction,” Thompson wrote in his email to The Pointer.
Caledon council refuses to listen to residents, Groves told The Pointer in a telephone interview March 1.
“[T]hey have made up their mind that they're going to support Highway 413, they really don't care what the people have to say.”
Groves said there are existing corridors to move goods.
“I don't have any issues… a highway to move their goods and services, but there's an alternative and it's called the 407.”
She said if the Ford government can remove tolls from Highways 412 and 418, it can remove the toll off the 407 as well, or create a designated lane for commercial trucks as the highway is rarely filled even during rush hour.
Groves also pointed to the expert panel conclusion in 2018, that the GTA West Highway would not save commuters much time at all.
“The GTAW Recommended Actions would deliver approximately one minute of travel time savings per vehicular trip across the Greater Golden Horseshoe,” the panel observed in 2018. But even that one minute will only come if other highway expansions and modifications are realized. According to the panel, just 30 seconds will be saved as a direct result of the proposed GTA West Highway.
The panel also found that “additional highways can induce significant suburban expansion,” the very opposite of smart growth through density instead of sprawl.
This leads to far higher levels of carbon emissions and the opposite direction Caledon claims to want to move in to help meet GHG emissions reduction targets.
The provincial panel of experts also cast doubt on the assertion used by Thompson. “Freight distribution patterns are shifting,” they wrote, noting that “employment is becoming more flexible, as it moves away from manufacturing and towards the service sector.” The current shift away from commuting to work, which employment experts around the world say will be a permanent fixture of the new job market long after the pandemic, also raises questions about the need for the 413. Critics also doubt who it would benefit, as commuters in Caledon likely would not use it unless they travel from the municipality toward Milton, or go north and east toward Vaughan, transportation patterns that already have plenty of options. It’s unclear how goods movement through Caledon would benefit meaningfully, as the approved 413 corridor does not follow the major goods movement patterns toward Pearson Airport and other major nodes to the south of Caledon, not east toward Vaughan. It offers no benefit for those travelling into central Mississauga, Toronto or other parts of the GTA south of the 407 toll highway.
In a February 18 press release, the Ontario government announced it will permanently remove tolls on Highways 412 and 418, beginning April 5, 2022 to address gridlock in Durham region.
Groves said there will be similar gridlock on the 413, which could be a toll highway as well. If goods movement is the true concern she said, “Give truckers that ability to use the 407 to move our goods and services.”
Le Forestier delegated immediately after Caledon council voted not to support the motion by Groves, not shying away from repeatedly reminding local elected officials about the environmental impacts of the highway.
“The (Ontario) Auditor General confirmed in her report in December 2021, the (provincial) environmental assessment process is flawed… MTO (Ministry of Transportation) has yet to satisfy questions that have been raised at several public meetings on why there is a need for Highway 413,” she told council members.
“The 407 sits ten minutes away—underused—so much so that a small plane landed in the middle of a workday and did not cause an accident,” she said.
Groves said herself, Councillors Sinclair and Rosa are the only local elected officials listening to the residents who voted members to council to represent the public. The rest of council, she said, does not care about the non-reversible environmental impacts the highway would cause.
“There's only three of us that don't support this highway and there's six of them that do support it so it is difficult to do anything here at the local level.”
She says there is nothing she can do at the local level, but is thankful a majority of councillors at the Region of Peel do not support the highway, enough to override Downey, Innis and Mayor Thompson, and the Brampton mayor, who have tried to push the project.
Groves said the GTA West highway goes against Caledon’s aggressive Community Climate Change Action Plan (CCCAP) which aims to get greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and “follow a carbon budget that aligns with 1.5°C warming, which would entail a 36 percent reduction of emissions by 2030,” the CCCAP states.
This would be next to impossible with a new 400-series highway and all the carbon emitting sprawl built around it.
The Town Council unanimously passed a motion declaring a climate emergency in Caledon in January 2020, but the actions of a majority of members who support the highway represent completely opposite priorities.
Caledon’s street sign reads ‘Greenest Town in Ontario’ an award it received jointly in 2003.
Angry residents have been taunting members pushing the 413 to add the word “formerly” to Caledon’s signboard which reads, “Greenest Town in Ontario.”
Caledon was a co-recipient of the “Greenest Town in Ontario” award in 2003, a recognition that likely won’t be made again, Groves says, if a massive 400-series highway is allowed to cut through Caledon’s most coveted greenspaces.
She hopes the federal government will intervene through its ongoing impact assessment, which, if it’s recognized that the 413 Highway contravenes federal environmental legislation or other pieces of policy, could end the plan altogether.
Part of the 413 would run right through the Greenbelt while most of it would run directly alongside, causing irreversible harm.
Groves says the highway will destroy a lot of farmland which will severely impact Ontario’s ability to grow its own food.
She says food prices increase without domestic farmland to grow more local produce.
Despite all the mounting opposition the PCs have been using the highway and the Bradford Bypass as key planks ahead of the upcoming election—attempting to frame the party as one that “says yes” to infrastructure projects and support for businesses. The PCs have removed the 2018 expert panel report from the Ontario government website.
Meanwhile, environmental activists are asking the City of Mississauga to request Queen’s Park consider opening lanes on the 407 for commercial trucking, Le Forestier told The Pointer.
“If we want to talk about congestion, commuting traffic and easing the burden—we don't need to build this highway when we have this other one sitting there empty,” Le Forestier says.
Lana Goldberg, Ontario Climate Program Manager at Environmental Defence, an organization which has continued to call for the cancellation of the highway, previously told The Pointer that it’s essential for people to understand that the provincial government is proposing a false choice—housing and highways versus forests and farms.
“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.”
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