Ontario introduces bill to speed up GTA transit project construction
Caroline Mulroney, Ontario's Attorney General scrums with journalists following Question Period in the Queen's Park Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)
TORONTO -- Premier Doug Ford's government is changing development rules to speed up work on four key transit projects for the Greater Toronto Area, but opposition critics say the new legislation could trample on the environment and homeowners' rights.
Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney introduced the bill -- dubbed the Building Transit Faster Act -- at the provincial legislature Tuesday, pledging it will apply only to four transit projects announced by the government last year.
Mulroney said the legislation, if passed, would streamline land expropriation, co-ordinate utility relocation, and expedite the environmental assessment process for the projects.
"It is critical that we address our transit capacity as quickly as possible," she said. "The legislation I've introduced today is about cutting the unnecessary red tape and redundant steps that hold up major transit projects."
Last year, the Progressive Conservative government unveiled a $28.5-billion plan it said will move the province's aging public transit system into the 21st century.
The plan proposes to build a downtown relief subway line in Toronto, called the Ontario Line, as well as a three-stop Scarborough subway extension. It also includes a light rail extension to the city's west end and future plans to extend the Yonge subway north to York Region.
All of the projects have ambitious timelines, with the government promising to deliver the centrepiece of the work, the Ontario Line, by 2027 at an estimated cost of $10.9 billion.
The bill introduced Tuesday proposes to cut the land expropriation process from a year to approximately seven months. It also proposes to change the environmental assessment process related to these projects, running it alongside development of the line instead of before it.
Mulroney said the powers the bill would grant the province would be used as "backstops" if negotiated agreements couldn't be reached with parties involved in construction.
"We're still going to respect property rights, negotiate in good faith, and treat people fairly," Mulroney said. "But we're not going to spend 12 months getting permission to remove a tree."
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said the bill is vague, and the government needs to provide more information about how it will change the land expropriation and environmental assessment processes.
Schreiner said he is open to measures that will expedite transit construction as long as they do not trample on the environment or the rights of communities that must be consulted.
"It's more important to get transit planning done right than anything," he said. "The current government has ripped up existing plans and undermined years of transit planning. Now it wants to use extraordinary tools ... to expedite their four priority projects. It raises numerous questions."
NDP transit critic Jessica Bell said the government has caused a number of serious delays in project development already by changing plans that were well into development.
"We had a shovel-ready relief line plan ready to be built in 2020 that all levels of government had approved," she said. "It was scrapped for a completely new and untested transit plan."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2020.