The development of Highway 413 is a highly controversial subject in Ontario, with the provincial government and developers pushing for its approval, while municipalities and environmentalists strongly oppose it. Due to the number of factors involved in the project, this article has been broken up into 2 parts. Part 1 will discuss what the proposed project is, and the ecological and societal damage it could cause. Part 2 will focus on how this proposed development shows that the provincial government is not aligned with the federal or municipal governments in its values and goals.
Federal, Provincial & Municipal Alignment
Highway 413 & Greenhouse Gas Emissions
According to the research released in April 2021 by Environmental Defence, if the provincially proposed Highway 413 is built, it could lead to 17.4 million extra tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 2050. This is the same 2050 date that scientists tell we must be at net-zero emissions and the same 2050 date that our federal government has officially committed to being net-zero. This research also found that on top of vehicle-related emissions, if built, Highway 413 could also result in $1.4 billion in damages by 2050, through healthcare costs for those impacted by pollution, and through damage inflicted on the local environment.
A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson has stated that active transportation elements, such as over/underpasses for cyclists on provincial routes, and features like carpool lots and electric vehicle charging stations are being considered. Unfortunately, according to Environmental Defence’s research, even in a best-case scenario, with more electric cars being introduced, Highway 413 would still result in around 13 million tonnes of added emissions. Environmental Defence’s report also argues that Highway 413 will not improve congestion – basing its research on the idea that the highway will add new cars to the roads rather than spread out the number of people actively driving. Sarah Buchanan, the group’s Ontario climate program manager states, “When you build new highway infrastructure, more people simply decide to drive and fill up that road space.” This concept is known as “induced demand” or “induced traffic.”
Emissions from transportation are the largest and fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario, and this new 400-series highway – which will most definitely incentivize car use – will only worsen Ontario’s chance to combat the climate crisis.
Government of Ontario
As a result of the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018, the provincial government was required to establish and publish greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The Act also required the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) to create a climate change plan, regularly prepare reports on this plan, and make these documents readily available to the public.
In November 2018, MECP released Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations: A Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan (Environment Plan). According to the Ministry, the plan’s climate change chapter is supposed to fulfil the commitment under the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018 to prepare a climate change plan. This plan sets a target to reduce Ontario’s emissions by 30% by 2030 (based on 2005 levels) which is aligned with the commitments made by the federal government under the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Unfortunately, the province is unlikely to meet 2030 targets, with Ontario’s annual greenhouse gas emissions rising for the first time in nearly a decade during the first year Doug Ford’s government was in power. According to a December 2020 report by Environmental Defence, Ontario Climate – Yours to Recover, “Ontario is trending dangerously in the wrong direction on climate change, and the gap between Ontario’s carbon reduction targets and actual emissions levels are growing.” The report also says the government has an opportunity to make investments that could stimulate economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic while also reducing emissions – yet has made no moves to do so.
This is the first annual increase in emissions seen in Ontario since 2010, the year the province’s economy recovered from its last recession. According to Sarah Buchanan, this increase in emissions in 2018 means the government will have to make even more reductions than previously promised just to hit its own targets. Unfortunately, since this report was released in 2018, there has been no move from the provincial government signalling change. If anything, as the provincial government continues to promote and support the development of Highway 413, they are actively working against their own interests.
Government of Canada
The Federal government has made a number of global commitments on our country’s behalf relating to climate change, and more specifically, the reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions. Due to our country’s heavy use and reliance on vehicles, it is no surprise that our government chose to focus on transportation as a major source for emissions reduction.
The approval and development of Highway 413 would be against the nation’s interests in terms of the commitments we have made to global partners and to those within our own country.
The Sustainable Development Goals
In September 2015, Canada along with the United Nations 192 other Member States adapted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the UN General Assembly. The aim is a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. In an effort to meet these targets, the Canadian government established a number of strategies, programs and funds from 2015 to date.
With many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) focusing on sustainable development, communities, wildlife, justice, and the overall health of our environments, the federal government has been working hard to do its part. This has been illustrated through its development of a national strategy and accompanying plan for implementation, working together to set out a national vision to realize the world envisioned in the 2030 Agenda and states how they will contribute to advancing the national strategy. This includes elements such as annual reporting on national progress, ongoing opportunities for public engagement, and an SDG funding program that works to support efforts being made by Canadians to advance progress on the SDGs.
While we may still be off the mark from meeting our targets for 2030, and the gap may have only grown due to the pandemic – but that does not mean we should stop trying, or that we should willingly and knowingly damage the progress we have made as a country. The implementation of Highway 413 would go against a number of the ideals and values set out in the commitments made by our country.
The Paris Climate Agreement
During the last federal election (October 2019), the federal government made a number of promises to scale up climate action, including exceeding the country’s 2030 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) target and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
In an effort to meet these goals, in 2016, Canada released its first-ever national climate plan, the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change. This plan was collaboratively developed by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments in an effort to make significant progress in helping Canada reach its 2030 goal of a 30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels.
In December 2020, the federal government released a stronger climate plan titled, A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy. This plan includes 64 improved and new federal policies, programs, and investments aimed towards cutting down on pollution and establishing a stronger, cleaner, and more inclusive economy. A significant portion of this updated climate plan focuses on transportation, stating, “The government will expand the supply of clean electricity through investments in renewable and next-generation clean energy and technology, and encourage cleaner modes of transportation, such as low and zero-emission vehicles, transit and active transportation. This will make communities healthier, less congested, and more vibrant.” To ensure that Canadians have access to cleaner, more affordable transportation methods, the government is planning on investing hundreds of millions of dollars into incentives for zero-emission vehicles, charging and refuelling stations, smart renewable energy and grid modernization, a number of tax write-offs, and much more.
Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability
On top of our national commitments to emissions reduction for the Paris Climate Agreement, the federal government has made the commitment to becoming net-zero by 2050 along with over 120 other countries. Due to this, the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act was introduced to Parliament in November 2020 to formalize Canada’s target, and to establish a series of interim emissions reduction targets at 5-year milestones towards that goal. The Act will establish a legally binding process to set 5-year national emissions reduction targets for 2030, 2035, 2040, and 2045, in addition to the development of credible, science-based emissions reduction plans to achieve each target.
In February 2021, the Government of Canada established an independent group of experts from across the country, who will consult with Canadians and provide the federal government with advice on the best ways to achieve net-zero emissions by the goal date. The Advisory Body consists of 14 individuals hailing from a range of backgrounds and experience with business, policy, science, and other relevant areas. As part of Canada’s plan, the government has committed $3B to establish a Net-Zero Accelerator Fund to help larger emitters to reduce their emissions. As well, the government aims to launch the Net-Zero Challenge, a voluntary initiative to encourage Canadian companies (particularly large industrial emitters) to develop and implement plans for transitioning their operations to net-zero by 2050.
As stated in Part 1 of this article, the uncertainty surrounding the highway has been impacting municipal planning, with Caledon’s own strategy for residential and employment lands in Mayfield West, Bolton, and Caledon East – all of which are designated areas for population growth. Presently, the municipal infrastructure required for the success of the Mayfield West Community Development Plan is being delayed by the ongoing environmental assessment review for the highway.
In 2018, Brampton adopted the Brampton 2040 Vision, a plan which aspires to promote sustainable and healthy growth, create five town centres, build complete neighbourhoods, and integrate a number of mobility options such as regional transit hubs. In keeping with the 2040 Vision, in late 2020 Brampton announced it would be transforming its uptown area into a 20-minute, walkable neighbourhood with an “Urban Community Hub.” This planned transformation would interfere with the proposed route of Highway 413.
According to King City-based land-use planning expert Susan Lloyd Swail, “Agricultural land is valued as low as $18,000 an acre, but residential land is easily worth $1M an acre. There are hundreds of millions of dollars to be made right now simply by rezoning farmlands around the new freeway into development lands. And there are billions more to be made in the future from developing those lands in ever more residential and industrial sprawl.” She continues, “The province is signalling to municipal planners that rather than follow the existing plans calling for reduced urban sprawl, they need to upgrade the land zonings because the highway is coming.”
This clearly signals a misalignment between the provincial government and its municipalities, as the province appears to be influencing planners to willfully ignore and work against the laws and policies put in place and enforced by our local, provincial, and federal plans.
While the provincial government continues to discuss consultation and engagement throughout this process, insisting it is integral to them, community members seem to feel differently. According to one community member, Jenni Le Forestier, “It’s an absolutely phony consultation process. The discussions – infrequent and non-inclusive as they are – are all about mapping and engineering but never about whether this highway is just a huge mistake for the public and the environment. The public hasn’t been allowed to speak about that for at least eight years now – and counting.” Le Forestier first joined in on the consultation for the project during a meeting in 2015, where she was cautioned that discussion about the merits of the highway had ended in 2012, along with the completion of stage 1 of the environmental assessment. Her complaint was echoed by Huron Wendat lawyer Renée Pelletier, whose archaeological sites and burial grounds are within the highway’s proposed path. According to Pelletier, “All we’ve seen so far are some presentations, but that’s not consultation.”
While those consultations occurred during the first attempt at getting the highway built, the consultations that have occurred since Doug Ford’s government took over have not improved. A recent public information session was held in late July 2021, which ended up being more of a lecture than a chance for residents to share their opinions or truly engage in the decision-making process. Of course, that is not how the provincial government framed the meeting; instead, they published this notice:
“The Ontario Ministry of Transportation is in Stage 2 of the GTA West Transportation Corridor Route Planning and Environmental Assessment (EA) Study. To further meet the public’s needs and address community questions, the GTA West Project Team is hosting a Community Engagement Webinar where the public and stakeholders can understand more about the project and have their questions answered. You are invited to attend the Community Engagement Webinar hosted by the GTA West Project Team on July 28, 2021, from 6-8 pm. The Team will provide a brief overview of the project followed by a Q&A period. Expert panellists from a variety of disciplines will be in attendance to answer your questions.”
In reality, attendees could not be seen or heard throughout the 2-hour consultation, with consultants appearing to be extremely selective with questions that were on an unviewable list, and there was no chat function to allow residents to engage with one another.
Overall, there are numerous reasons why the proposal for Highway 413 should not be passed. However, the most troubling aspect of this proposed project and the provincial governments’ push for it, is the complete disregard for the well-being and opinion of Ontario’s citizens and for the laws and values that govern our country on the municipal, provincial, and federal level.
With Ontario being the most populous province in our country, it is integral that the Ontario government work with the municipal and federal governments to help realize Canada’s goals for a more sustainable, net-zero future. The development of this project would not align with the goals, values, or plans currently established throughout the country at various levels.