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EDITORIAL: Highway’s environmental impact worsens with every report (July 2022)

July 18th, 2022 · No Comments

The provincial PCs handily won another majority at Queen’s Park. The progressive parties split the vote and Doug Ford walked up the middle with his “get it done” message. It’s a simple and catchy phrase that Ford could utter authentically. A key plank in their plan is building Highway 413, but it appears that getting it done might not be so simple.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests by the Toronto Star and the Narwhal reveal that the province has recently found 11 species which would be endangered by the proposed 60-kilometre highway. Highway 413 is a proposed four to six-lane highway that would connect Highway 400 in Vaughan in the east to the Mississauga-Brampton border where Highway 407 and Highway 401 intersect. 

The 11 at-risk species confirmed to be living along the route of Highway 413 are: a butternut tree, a bobolink (bird), a chimney swift, a bank swallow, a rapids clubtail (rare dragonfly), a redside dace (minnow), the western chorus frog, a wood thrush, an eastern meadowlark, a barn swallow and the olive-sided flycatcher. 

When we last discussed this highway on this page, only the redside dace was on the list. The FOI requests reveal that the province is doing more research using the species-at-risk databases to confirm the presence of 31 other species in this area. These findings are in the 300-page interim report prepared by the engineering consulting firms WSP and AECOM for the province at the behest of the federal government. 

The Ford government weakened Ontario’s species at risk legislation in 2019. It allows the province to permit development, including its own construction, that could harm endangered species’ habitats. The developer must pay an extra fee that goes to the government ostensibly to help endangered species elsewhere. It sounds like the PCs have engineered a path to bulldoze over farmland, parts of the greenbelt, rivers, streams and wetlands, by changing the rules. 

However, in late 2021, the federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault decided that Ottawa would subject Highway 413 to an extra layer of environmental oversight. If the province’s plan to protect species at risk isn’t satisfactory, the feds could decide to take over the project altogether, and there goes the photo-op of the Premier driving a log skidder through the enchanted forest. 

The federal Impact Assessment Agency directed Ontario to outline how the province would minimize harm from the construction of Highway 413 to the western chorus frog, the red-headed woodpecker (which is suspected of being there), and the rapids clubtail, which are at-risk species. With the full head of steam Ford has built up over this proposal, it may seem unlikely that a tiny frog or a delicate dragonfly could stop him, but the federal government recently issued an emergency order effectively blocking a residential development near Montreal due to threats to the habitat of the western chorus frog.

It’s highly likely the federal government will now say that a full federal impact assessment is necessary. It’s helpful too that federal legislation is forcing the province to do due diligence and truly assess the environmental impact of its plans. The federal government will also insist that the province consult with Indigenous communities, which to date they haven’t done. Notably, most regional governments oppose the project as they feel it encourages urban sprawl without doing much to reduce commute times, but it appears that the reckless endangerment of species’ habitats may be its ultimate undoing.


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