‘The battle is not over’: Opponents of Highway 413 vow to fight controversial project

Click to play video: 'GTA communities pushback proposed highway projects'
GTA communities pushback proposed highway projects
RELATED: The Ford government's plans to build Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass are being met with pushback by a number of community advocates and concerned residents. Brittany Rosen has more. – Nov 13, 2021

Opponents of Highway 413 say the “battle is not over” after a deal between the federal and provincial governments was reached to allow construction of the project to get underway.

On Monday, the Trudeau and Ford governments announced they had come to an agreement that means work on the 52-kilometre highway on the western edge of the Greater Toronto Area can begin.

The signature Doug Ford project had been frozen since May 2021, when the federal government marked the highway project for a federal review under its powers in the Impact Assessment Act.

Last fall, the Supreme Court of Canada found parts of that act were unconstitutional.

The province then took the federal government to court, asking the court to stop Ottawa from applying the impugned legislation to the 413 project, which ultimately led to the recent agreement.

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Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria said Tuesday he hoped to begin building the project very soon, although he could not say what he expects the route to cost.

“I’m hoping to get shovels in the ground within the next year,” Sarkaria said.

The coalition of political parties and advocacy groups opposed to the route, however, are vowing that they won’t give up working to stop the project from being built.

“The battle’s not over at all,” Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said.

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“I encourage everyone to go out and spend some time along the route of Highway 413 and see all the signs that the locals have up saying ‘Stop Highway 413.'”

Environmental Defence — the group that triggered the initial pause on the project — demanded the federal government pause the project once more.

“If the federal government were to decide not to re-designate Highway 413 for an impact assessment, that would not be a consequence of today’s court order,” Environmental Defence wrote in a statement on Monday.

“Rather, it would be a willing and reckless betrayal of everyone in Ontario who is experiencing unprecedented attacks on their communities by the provincial government and has trusted federal MPs to do their job and protect the environment rather than colluding with the province in its destruction.”

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The Ontario NDP — which, along with the provincial Liberals and Greens, is opposed to the route — said the “federal rollover” on Highway 413 was “shameful” in a statement also issued Monday evening.

“Ford’s Conservatives cannot be trusted to protect the environment and the federal Liberals are simply rolling over,” Leader Marit Stiles said.

“The Ford government still can’t answer how many billions of taxpayer dollars they’re spending on this project, or come clean about whose interests it serves.”

The new deal between Ottawa and Queen’s Park means a working group will be struck to assess the federal species at risk that initially ground the project to a halt. In May 2021, the route was passed citing concerns about the western chorus frog and the red-headed woodpecker.

A joint task force will now be in charge of mitigating the impacts of the road on those creatures. Where the previous federal process had paused the project until measures were in place to protect the species, the Ford government now says it plans to get shovels in the ground as soon as possible.

“We’ve had 15 years of studies in environmental processes with the 413,” Sarkaria said on Tuesday.

“This working group that we have established with the federal government will ensure that … we work through any concerns that we put forward.”

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Schreiner said he didn’t trust the province to be involved in the process.

“The Ford government has so weakened the environmental assessment process that it doesn’t even (really) have teeth anymore in the province of Ontario,” he said.

“We can’t trust them with it.”

— with files from The Canadian Press

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