Ontario’s NDP is urging the Ford government to cancel plans for a new 400-series highway in the northwest portion of the GTA that would cut through York, Peel and Halton regions.
Sandy Shaw, MPP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas and the NDP’s environment critic, said Highway 413 is not needed and would negatively affect the environment, Greenbelt and agricultural land. The four-to-six lane highway is part of what the province calls the GTA West Transportation Corridor.
“We are absolutely convinced that the 413 is the wrong thing to do and we are calling on the government to scrap this plan,” Shaw told CBC News on Wednesday.
“We see opposition to this from all kinds of community groups that are opposed to this for very good reasons, the fact that it will be cutting through the Greenbelt and the fact that it will be contributing to a loss of our valuable agricultural land,” she added.
“It’s really important to note that some municipal councils are also voting to say this is not something they want to see in their communities.”
Shaw’s comments come after Vaughan council, in a committee of the whole meeting on Tuesday, decided in a 5-to-4 vote to withdraw its endorsement of the highway.
That decision must still be ratified by Vaughan council at its next meeting on Wednesday, March 10 at 1 p.m. The motion did not have the support of Vaughan Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua.
Shaw said Vaughan is the latest council to express opposition to the highway, following similar motions by councils in Mississauga, Orangeville and Halton Hills.
“I think that this was quite a surprise to this government,” Shaw said. “I think they thought it was a certainty, that this would be a slam dunk and that the people would just not ask significant questions about this project.”
Highway 413 would run through Vaughan, Caledon, Brampton and Halton Hills, connecting Highway 400 with the Highway 401/407 interchange.
On Wednesday, Shaw raised the issue in question period at Queen’s Park, asking: “Will the Premier cancel this wasteful and environmentally destructive highway?”
Government House Leader Paul Calandra responded, saying the government has drawn up plans to build the highway because the area northwest of Toronto has had significant population growth and the province needs to figure out how “we’re to get people moving around” the region.
“This is, of course, a highway that still requires a number of consultations to be carried out, both with local officials in the area and it requires an environmental assessment,” Calandra said.
“If it makes sense to build this piece of infrastructure, we will. If it doesn’t, we won’t.”
The province has said the population of the Greater Golden Horseshoe is expected to hit 14.8 million by 2051 and roads need to be ready to support traffic from that growth.
Vaughan residents don’t support highway, councillors say
Vaughan councillors who voted to withdraw support on Tuesday said the project would destroy a large part of northern Vaughan. Money earmarked for the project should be spent on transit, they said.
Coun. Marilyn Iafrate, who represents Ward 1, Maple and Kleinburg, said the highway would cut through a historic and green area of Vaughan that community groups have worked hard in the last 40 years to preserve. The highway would start in Vaughan, she said.
“Putting through a multi-lane highway, with other means of transportation, changes and I would say destroys what’s left of that look and feel of rural Vaughan,” Iafrate said.
Iafrate noted that five ward councillors were in favour of withdrawing support, while the mayor and three regional councillors were not in favour. She said it was a tight vote.
“It was a momentous day for the community and I’m really proud of the work they have done.”
Coun. Tony Carella, who represents Ward 2, Woodbridge West, said the highway is unnecessary, “it will go through and disturb areas that should be left alone,” and there are other ways of moving people and goods around and other routes exist.
“I think that the general understanding of the negative impact of this particular proposal built fairly slowly but steadily,” he said.
Carrella said the province should support existing infrastructure, including providing incentives for drivers to take the Highway 407 toll route, instead of spending money on a new highway.
Cost is big factor in municipal opposition, NDP says
As for the pricetag, the province has not yet said how much the highway will cost, but Shaw said estimates have pegged it at least $6 billion. She said the cost is a big factor in municipal opposition.
“Opposition is growing because people understand that we are in the middle of a pandemic and we have limited resources in terms of a fiscal contribution,” Shaw said.
“The costs that they would spend on this highway don’t justify the 30 seconds it would save on people’s commute. It’s going to increase greenhouse gas emissions and we just don’t see a need for it.”