Roadblock cleared: Ontario’s Highway 413 moving forward after governments reach agreement

Click to play video: 'Ontario budget 2022: Bethlenfalvy outlines investments in Hwy 413, other projects'
Ontario budget 2022: Bethlenfalvy outlines investments in Hwy 413, other projects
RELATED: Tabling the government’s most recent budget on Thursday, Ontario Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy outlined proposed investments in Highway 413 and other proposed highway projects. These include a new twin bridge over the Welland Canal on the Queen Elizabeth Way, widening of Highway 401 in eastern Ontario, widening Highway 17 from Arnprior, Ont. To Renfrew, Ont., and reconstructing a stretch of Highway 101 in northern Ontario – Apr 28, 2022

The Ford and Trudeau governments have announced a joint agreement that will allow Ontario to begin working to build its signature Highway 413 on the western edge of the Greater Toronto Area.

After a years-long battle with the Trudeau government over environmental assessments related to the controversial project, the federal government has decided to relinquish control and filed a joint application with the province to have a federal court judge ratify the agreement.

Highway 413, set to run between Milton and Vaughan, has been paused since the federal government froze the project in 2021.

“Through the agreement announced today, both Ontario and Canada have agreed to a collaborative process to assess and manage the issues around federal species at risk throughout  Ontario’s planning of the project,” a news release said Monday.

“At Ontario and Canada’s request, the Federal Court has ordered that the Highway 413 Project’s designation under the Impact Assessment Act be set aside.”

Story continues below advertisement

The now-cancelled Impact Assessment Act process meant Ontario could not begin building the route until the federal government was satisfied the province had dealt with ways the highway could hurt protected local species.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Now, instead of the province working through that framework, the two governments say they have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that sets up a joint working group tasked with recommending “appropriate measures to minimize environmental impacts in areas of federal environmental jurisdiction.”

Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Steven Guilbeault said the deal would still protect federally-regulated species along the route.

“This agreement shows Canada and Ontario’s ability to work together while recognizing their shared jurisdiction on matters to do with the environment,” he said in a statement.

Prabmeet Sarkaria, Ontario’s transportation minister, said the deal meant “certainty” for the province over how it could move forward with the route.

“In the coming months, we will move ahead with procurement to get shovels in the ground on key interchanges of the project, bringing us one step closer to getting it done,” he said.

The project has been a key point of contention between the two levels of government for years.

In May 2021, after a request from the advocacy group Environmental Defence, the federal government opted to use its powers under the Impact Assessment Act to halt all work on the project.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2023, a Supreme Court opinion cast doubt over whether or not the Impact Assessment Act used to freeze the route was constitutional and would withstand a court challenge.

The route has been blasted by environmentalists for potentially adding more cars to the province’s road network and allowing towns and cities to sprawl outwards. It has been a flashpoint for opposition to the government’s policies, with the Ontario Liberals, NDP and Greens all promising to cancel the project during the last election.

The Ford government, on the other hand, has pinned its hopes on easing congestion around Toronto and on Highway 401 on building Highway 413. It has been argued the new road will be key to speeding up grinding gridlock and getting goods to market quicker.

The federal government appeared to soften its stance on Highway 413 in March, with both Ontario’s transportation minister and attorney general saying Ottawa and Queen’s Park had come to an agreement over the route.

“We have come to an agreement,” Attorney General Doug Downey told reporters on March 21. “We filed the consent with the federal court. And of course, because it’s in front of the courts, I can’t say more than that.”

Environmental Defence, the group that initially pushed to have Highway 413 stopped, said at the time that any agreement between the Ontario and Canadian governments to allow the route to move ahead would be both “irresponsible and unnecessary.”


Sponsored content