LILLEY: Ford bets big on highways for a reason

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The election is still seven months away but the battle over highways is ratcheting up.


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On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford held his second news conference of the week on building new highways, this time the 413 project connecting Vaughan to Halton.

When he was making the announcement, Ford seemed to revel in the fact that the opposition parties at Queen’s Park are unified against him.

“Right now, our 400-series highways are clogged with gridlock. Ask anyone who drives on them, and you’ll hear the same thing: They’re not suitable for the current needs of Ontarians,” Ford said, adding that the region around Toronto will be growing by 1 million people over the next five years.

Then, Ford took a shot at his political opponents.

“Previous governments chose to say ‘no,’” Ford said. “They said ‘no,’ because they cared more about ideology than about real people.”


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Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca didn’t even wait for Ford’s announcement before attacking it

“Ontario Liberals will cancel Hwy. 413 and reinvest the money saved into schools and public transit instead,” Del Duca said in a statement issued ahead of Ford’s event.

The NDP is on the record as opposing the highway in any way, shape or form and on Wednesday, released a letter sent to the auditor general asking for her office to review the project.

“Let me be clear: Hwy. 413 is a climate and financial disaster,” Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said while calling for the project to be cancelled.

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Yet for all their bluster, the political leaders appear to be going against local sentiment.

True, some councils have voted against the idea, but as Ford made his campaign-style announcement in favour of the 413, Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson was standing beside him.


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“We know that the corridor is needed to service the growth, and I think we can look at ways it can also be innovative,” Thompson said.

He also encouraged the province to ensure the project has a transit feature and green initiatives like electric vehicle charging stations.

What many don’t realize is that Hwy. 413 is just one part of a corridor that was set aside by the previous Liberal government for future highway, transit, and power grid infrastructure.

The Region of Peel, which includes Caledon, Brampton and Mississauga, advocated for the highway for more than a decade. The 2019 Long Range Transportation Plan published by the region was emphatic in its support for the GTA West corridor.

“The Region of Peel has been advocating for a highway in the GTA West corridor to accommodate future growth, reduce substantial strain on regional and municipal transportation networks, and facilitate the efficient movement of goods,” the still valid plan states.


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Peel Regional Council only changed its position earlier this year following a concerted campaign by environmental groups and developers opposed to the project. The strongest opposition comes from Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, which is odd considering that the highway runs through areas that are in support of the project.

Brampton city council has asked the province to alter some design elements and make the portion of the project running through that city an “urban boulevard” concept rather than a raised highway. But Brampton does not outright reject the need for the 413.

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Maybe that’s because local politicians, in the areas the highway will run, actually know where their voters stand.

A poll commissioned by labour union Liuna last March found that 57% of voters in Toronto supported building Hwy. 413, compared to 25% opposed. It found 67% of voters in Halton and Peel — where the highway will run — support the construction, while 22% oppose.

When you see Ford standing at the podium relishing the NDP, Liberals, and Greens rejecting Hwy. 413, that smile might be him thinking about all the votes up for grabs next June.


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