Brampton East: A riding split over a highway

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WATCH ABOVE: The final stretch of the 2022 Ontario Election is underway. Sean Simpson from Ipsos details the findings of their latest polls that delves into top issues and voter sentiments for the respective party leaders. – May 30, 2022

Gurratan Singh has held a strong social media and public presence, being the brother of federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, he won his big brother’s old riding in 2018, also representing the NDP, with 47 percent of the votes cast.

There were a total of 38,495 valid votes cast, just over half of the registered voting population of 71,695.

Brampton East has a rapidly growing population, with many new voters likely to cast ballots on June 2. Census data showed that the population grew by 22.4 percent from 2011 to 2016, from 99,712 residents to 122,000.

While Gurratan Singh is returning to the ballot, his will be the only name from 2018, with the other three parties introducing new candidates: Hardeep Grewal for the Conservatives, Jannat Garewal for the Liberals and Jamaal Blackwood for the Greens.

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The highly contentious Highway 413 project is a top-line election issue.

It is one of three 400-series highways being planned by the PCs that will run partially through Ontario’s protected Greenbelt.

The proposed route is expected to cause significant environmental destruction in the headwaters of key watersheds that support much of the biodiversity in southern Ontario.

Research spearheaded by the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition shows the highway alone would pave over 2,200 acres of Greenbelt land.

The project has been condemned by environmentalist groups, including Environmental Defence and climate law group Ecojustice, who have argued it would have sweeping consequences on everything from federally protected at-risk species to the health of ecologically vital lands that are also safeguarded from human activity.

Polling by EKOS for the David Suzuki Foundation found 65 percent of respondents across Ontario said Doug Ford has done a poor job of protecting the environment; 76 percent said the Greenbelt is no place for a new four-to-six-lane highway; and 69 percent said the Greenbelt needs more protection.

Both the NDP and Green Party have vowed to cancel the project.

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Singh has condemned both the project, and the connection between Doug Ford and the developers pushing the plan who have donated $700,000 to the Progressive Conservatives who promise to build it.

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“So let’s get this straight. As of now we don’t know how much this proposed highway is going to cost, we don’t know how much it’s going to cost, we also don’t know how long it’s going to take to build it,” Singh said on a video posted on May 5. “The only thing we do know is developer friends are pushing as hard as they can to make it happen.”

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It’s a particularly divisive issue in the riding because of the large number of residents who work in the transportation and logistics sector including many Punjabi-Canadian truck drivers that want to see the highway built.

The NDP vows instead to remove all tolls on Highway 407 for truckers, which the Party says will immediately end gridlock by reducing traffic on all 400 series highways in the area.

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Representing the Conservatives is Hardeep Grewal.

Many of Grewal’s recent social media posts are direct retweets from Prabmeet Sarkaria, Conservative incumbent in Brampton South, and Doug Ford.

Grewal has also been an advocate for Highway 413, sharing promises that a PC government will make it a reality.

“Brampton is always on the go and we need the roads, the highways, to keep Brampton moving,” Sarkaria said in a video Grewal recently tweeted. “Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs are saying yes. Yes to Highway 413 for Brampton, this means saying yes to saving commuters up to 30 minutes per trip, yes to creating 3,500 local jobs each year and generating over $350 million in GDP annually.”

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With the Liberal Party, things are a bit more complicated. While the Party itself has said it is against the project, its Brampton East candidate Jannat Garewal has vocalized her support for it, going against the platform of Steven Del Duca and the Liberals.

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In a Punjabi language interview on May 11, she claimed there is no harm in building the highway.

“We will definitely build this highway, but we need to focus on education first,” Garewal said. “Kids are our future, they will fulfill our workforce. So we want to invest in them at this time, we can build this highway later.”

After public backlash, on May 16 she contradicted her earlier statements saying she fully supports the plan to scrap Highway 413. Complicating her flip-flopping, in a debate posted May 18, she returned to her earlier support, suggesting the Liberals want to construct Highway 413 after first investing in education.

“I think the Liberal Party of Ontario and the Liberal leader Steven Del Duca knows that we need a university before we can start digging up a highway, then that way people can actually use the 413 and everyone can use it, not just for truckers.”

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Focus Ontario: May 28, 2022

The Tweet on May 16 was her first since 2018.

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A previous request from The Pointer to the Ontario Liberal Party to find out why Garewal had contradicted the Party was not responded to.

Representing the Green Party this election is Jamaal Blackwood. He is a 28-year-old Toronto Metropolitan University student who believes in the ability of young people to solve today’s most pressing issues, like the climate emergency and the housing affordability crisis.

The Green Party has been outspoken in its opposition to Highway 413, their website containing a petition for residents to sign to oppose the project.

“Highway 413 was irresponsible the first time it was proposed under the Liberals and it’s no different now. But Doug Ford is all too eager to pave over the places we love,” it reads.

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