A coalition of Ontario environmental groups is calling on provincial parties vying for power in the upcoming election to make it illegal to pave over the Greenbelt.
Premier Doug Ford has vowed to see through major highway construction projects, including the Bradford Bypass south of Lake Simcoe and Highway 413, which would run from Vaughan to the border of Brampton and Mississauga. The Progressive Conservative government has also slated Highway 404 for an extension along the southeast shores of Lake Simcoe.
The three projects combined would pave over more than 2,000 acres of protected Greenbelt land, according to the environmental groups. Each of the projects relies on environmental assessments last updated more than 20 years ago.
The current law protecting the Greenbelt allows for infrastructure construction, including highways.
Environmental Defence, along with Ontario Nature, the Wilderness Committee and two community groups dedicated to protecting Lake Simcoe said in a statement that “superhighways” threaten farms, forests and wetlands along the Greenbelt.
“These highways would also increase pressure to allow new industrial, commercial and residential development along them, while also crossing and polluting hundreds of waterways, fragmenting forests and farms, filling in wetlands and creating a death trap for many wildlife species,” a joint statement noted.
“The Ontario government’s current push to build Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass underscores the need to ban forever these 1950s style developments,” Tim Gray, Environmental Defence’s executive director, said in the statement.
Ford’s government argues the highway expansions are necessary to support population growth and relieve gridlock.
“Ontario drivers are tired of sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic every time they go to work or drive their kids to hockey practice,” Ford spokesperson Ivana Yelich said in an email. “Gridlock grinds our roads and highways to a halt, costs our economy billions of dollars, and keeps commuters idling in congestion and away from their families.”
Studies by the previous Liberal government, which considered and then scrapped the projects, suggested the highways would only shave seconds or minutes off, in part because bigger highways tend to simply draw more vehicles and become gridlocked again.
A coalition of Ontario environmental groups is calling on provincial parties vying for power in the upcoming election to make it illegal to pave over the Greenbelt. #ONpoli
In a request for comment, the Ontario Liberals said the Ford government's “record on the environment is abysmal.”
“Their priority is letting their rich buddies bulldoze the Greenbelt and build highways like the 413 that will only lead to more greenhouse gas emissions and congestion. We do not believe that building new multi-lane highways through the Greenbelt are the answer to relieving gridlock and keeping people moving,” read a statement that promised to stop Highway 413 and invest $10 billion in schools.
“We are committed to making Ontario a place to grow again by protecting and expanding the Greenbelt and we will have more to say about our environmental plan very, very soon,” the statement read.
Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner, who holds the party’s sole seat at Queen’s Park, vowed to amend the Greenbelt Act to forbid new highways.
“We need to stop the sprawl and protect the nature that protects us from the impacts of the climate crisis,” said Schreiner in a statement.
The NDP did not respond by deadline.