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Ontario and Ottawa release joint statement moving forward on Hwy. 413

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An agreement between the provincial and federal governments will see Premier Doug Ford’s flagship Highway 413 move forward with a joint working group dedicated to minimizing environmental impacts.

In a statement released Monday, officials said that the two levels of government have agreed to a “collaborative process to assess and manage the issues around federal species at risk throughout Ontario’s planning of the project.”

“This agreement shows Canada and Ontario’s ability to work together while recognizing their shared jurisdiction on matters to do with the environment,” federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said in a statement.

“It also ensures federal interests will be maintained on the protection of species while offering Ontario, in light of the recent Supreme Court’s decision, a greater level of clarity around the review process for the Highway 413 Project.”

This “memorandum of understanding” comes after years of back-and-forth between the two levels of government on the Highway 413 project—a major campaign promise of Ford’s that would see a six-lane, 52-kilometre throughway connect Halton and York regions.

Environmental advocates and local farmers have criticized the plan, noting it will compromise crucial land and impact business.

A 2022 report by Environment Defence identified at least 29 “federally identified species at risk” that will be impacted by the new highway and said it would cross more than 100 streams and rivers and result in the loss of about 400 acres of Greenbelt land.

In a statement, Environment Defence asked that the highway be re-designated for assessment as soon as possible, noting that key habitats and waterways will be destroyed.

They noted that if it is not re-designated for assessment, "it would be a willing and reckless betrayal of everyone in Ontario who is experiencing unprecedented attacks on their communities by the provincial government and has trusted federal MPs to do their job and protect the environment rather than colluding with the province in its destruction"

In May 2021, the federal government determined that the highway warranted designation under the Impact Assessment Act, a piece of legislation that gives them the authority to evaluate how climate change may be impacted by the project.

After a Supreme Court opinion found the Impact Assessment Act was unconstitutional, the government has been actively fighting the process for both Highway 413 and Ontario Place.

In March 2024, both governments said they agreed to resolve the court battle through a joint consent order. The designation has now been set aside.

Project has 'some of the strongest (environmental) measures': Minister 

Speaking with CP24 late Monday afternoon, Ontario Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said that the new six-lane highway would be build with “appropriate environmental measures in place and following very strict, just like any other highway project in this province, environmental assessment processes."

He said that the Ford government is eager to get this project built and fulfill its promise of getting Ontarians moving faster.

“People of this province elected this government, elected Premier Ford to build Highway 413. We know what's going to save 30 minutes in each direction,” the mininister said.

 

“We're going to work both with the federal government and also with our existing environmental protections across this province. Like I said, we have some of the strongest measures in place."

Advocates have questioned the government's argument that Highway 413 will save drivers 30 minutes, noting that once a new road opens more drivers will take advantage of it, creating congestion.

The proposed route of Highway 413 is shown. (Ontario Ministry of Transportation)

In Monday’s joint statement, government officials released a few more details about this agreement, saying that a joint working group will be created to “recommend appropriate measures to minimize environmental impacts in areas of federal environmental jurisdiction.”

“The joint working group will leverage collective expertise to protect the environment and ensure impacts to species at risk, like the Western chorus frog and the red-headed woodpecker, and their critical habitats are considered before the project moves into the detailed design stage,” officials said in the joint release.

They further noted the project is still subject to Ontario’s Environmental Assessment Act and other provincial and federal protections, including the Fisheries Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Species at Risk Act.

Ontario's official opposition called out the federal government in a statement, accusing them of "rolling over."

"The Ford government still can't answer how many billions of taxpayer dollars they're spending on this project, or come clean about whose interests it serves," NDP Leader Marit Stiles said.

The provincial government has not released a cost breakdown or estimation for the new highway.

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