Environmental concerns prompted Ottawa to consider highway 413 assessment

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Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, answers a question during the Question Period in the House of Commons on November 19, 2020 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wilde / The Canadian Press

Ottawa is stepping into the approval process for a proposed Ontario highway that connects four Toronto-area municipalities, saying environmental concerns need to be closely watched.

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says “clear areas of federal concern” about threatened species – particularly the Western Chorus Frog, the red-headed woodpecker and the rapids clubtail, a species of dragonfly – have helped him understand that What a complete federal impact assessment requires is a $ 6 billion Highway 413 project.

The federal move comes in the face of growing local opposition to the highway project, which, like last week, was recently defended in the Ontario Legislature by Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.

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Responding to Mr. Wilkinson on Monday, Ms. Mulroney said in a statement that she would work with the federal government to address her “newly found concerns” around potential adverse effects on various species.

She said it is unclear what the scope of a federal assessment would be, or whether a full federal impact assessment would be warranted, especially given that the environmental impact is expected to be addressed through “federal and provincial regulatory processes “Which already exist.

“Maltroni said,” The GTA West project is already subject to a strong provincial personal environmental assessment, one of the most rigorous evaluation processes on record. “

The Highway 413 project, also known as the GTA West Corridor, will span 59 kilometers west of Toronto, connecting Highway 401 with 410 and 400. It was superseded by the former liberal government of Ontario in 2018, but revived under the current Progressive Conservatives. “To address congestion and projected population growth,” the government said.

Environmentalists and opposition politicians have said that the project will move into environmentally sensitive areas and farming as it runs through the communities of Vaughan, Caledon, Brampton and Halton Hills.

All three opposition parties have promised to scrap the project, with the Ontario Liberals saying they will use the funds for the highway to build schools and new child-care space.

Critics argue that the highway plan ignored decades of science on account of induced demand – well-established theories that new or widened roads generate additional traffic – and that paving through cultivated and protected green space It was devastating to do.

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In a recent open letter, dozens of scientists urged the federal government to conduct its own evaluation of the project, noting that “significant concerns about the highway’s impact on biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions will boost . “

On Monday, environmental groups received news that the federal government would put forth its view on the project. Representatives from both the David Suzuki Foundation and Environmental Defense argued that Ontario’s environmental assessment, or EA, process was too sluggish and would allow the province to begin the project before the evaluation was completed.

The move to Ottawa’s intervention, which was unusual as green campaigners, came after a number of southern Ontario municipalities came up against the project. Councils in Mississauga, Brampton, Vaughan and Toronto all voted against the proposed highway. These votes suggested a growing political headache for the provincial government, if not binding on the province.

Ontario Buchanan, Ontario Climate Program Manager for Environmental Defense, said, “They did not want this highway in their community and they wanted the federal government to take steps to do a better job of assessing that on their local environment.” What will be the effect. “

He said the federal decision to bring Scrutney closer was another strike against the project, including costs, climate effects and other options for moving people. But she was not optimistic about whether it would be enough to convince Queen Park to kill the project.

At the Suzuki Foundation, however, climate change and transportation policy analyst Gideon Forman was more optimistic that it could be a death blow to the highway. “With Federal EA [being considered] Now, and with all these local governments coming against the highway, there is going to be a lot of pressure on the province to cancel the project, ”he said. “And that’s what we hope they will do.”

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Mr. Wilkinson said the project’s proponent, namely the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, is now required to submit a project description that will help the agency decide whether a full federal impact assessment is needed.

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