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Ford blunders might stop Highway 413 | David Israelson

Friday, April 09, 2021 @ 8:55 AM | By David Israelson

David Israelson %>
David Israelson
Rather than investing in things like long-term care or sick leave for essential workers, Ontario Premier Doug Ford is now pushing to wreck the province’s precious greenspace with a new pollution-spewing highway that could cost as much as $10 billion. Let’s hope he proves as incompetent at this as he has been in managing COVID-19.

Let’s face it. Whether or not you like the direction that Ford and his Progressive Conservatives are trying to take Ontario — and many don’t like it — it’s pretty clear that when it comes to getting to the finish line, he’s not exactly a thoroughbred.

Bluster and blunder

We’re seeing a pattern. Whatever the problem or the issue, the Ford government usually starts out with a lot of bluster. We’re told there’s urgency about, well, whatever. This was happening even before the real urgency we’ve been enduring since the pandemic began more than a year ago.

At first it was little things. According to the Ford government, shortly after they were elected in 2018 we urgently needed new blue licence plates with a new slogan. Never mind that, actually, no one asked for these, and you couldn’t see the numbers on the new plates in the dark.

We also urgently needed stickers on gas pumps saying — though not true — that the federal carbon tax was going to hurt us. A judge told the province to peel the stickers off.

Then it was urgent to spend up to $30 million to ask the Supreme Court of Canada if the federal government has the right use the tax system to deal with a national problem, climate change.

Guess what? Surprise! Ottawa has the right.

It was critically important as well for Ontarians to have access to a “buck-a-beer” — a can or bottle of suds at a 1970s price. Never mind questions about why the price of beer should be the government’s business, and never mind that even the few brewers who tried to fill this market niche gave up after a few weeks of losing money.

A few more stumbles — remember in 2019 how urgently we needed larger class sizes? — and we got to the pandemic, which actually is an emergency. At first, the Ford government started in a promising way on this one, with a take-charge approach and daily updates from the premier.

That was then. Today, if you can figure out the differences between when Ontario calls for a  shutdown, a lockdown or an emergency brake, you’re doing well.

Highway to hell: Who benefits?

That brings us to the road Ford wants to take us down today — the nasty proposed Highway 413 that would cut across the north and west of the Greater Toronto Area to the benefit of no one.

Actually, it appears that at least eight people would benefit greatly.

As a Tororonto Star/National Observer investigation discovered, eight developers with close ties and generous donations to Ford’s Progressive Conservatives own 39 properties, 3,300 acres, along the route of the proposed highway that nobody else wants built.

The proposed highway was already scrapped by the previous Ontario government, whose studies showed it would destroy Greenbelt and other farmland, encourage urban sprawl and at best, save only a few minutes travel time for cars and trucks that for now, continue to spew out greenhouse gas emissions.

The Ford government’s response? It sees this highway as — surprise again! — urgent. One can only suppose that’s what happens after eight landowners who want the highway contribute $753,000 into Ford’s political piggy bank in the last five years.

Is there payback? Using the need to revive the economy after COVID as a cover, Ford exempted Highway 413 construction from the usual environmental assessment process, a process that Ford has already weakened. Ford and his cabinet have tried to mask their environmental destructiveness by offering to “expand” southern Ontario’s Greenbelt, more or less a cover for swapping land so the highway can go over the existing Greenbelt.

Bad at what they do

The fortunate thing is that for all their scheming to abuse the environment, Ford and his government are proving to be so bad at what they do.

On COVID-19, they have ignored pleas by a wide range of businesspeople, labour groups, health experts and as Ford calls us, “folks,” to do a few simple things: pay sick people to stay home, deliver vaccines efficiently and be clear and consistent about the rules for what can be open and what must close for safety.

On the environment, they have fought efforts to deal with climate change, disembowelled conservation authorities that protect wetlands and wildlife and now, they’re caught catering to a cabal of developer/donors to build an expensive highway that would destroy greenspace.

We can only look forward to the next “urgent” measure Ford says we need to take. Whatever it is, if he’s as successful as he has been so far, we’ll be safe.

David Israelson is a non-practising lawyer, author, journalist and communications consultant. You can follow him on Twitter @davidisraelson or on Linkedin.  

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