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Ontario hopes to start building Highway 413 within a year: transportation minister

TORONTO — Ontario hopes to begin building Highway 413 within a year, the province's transportation minister said Tuesday, after reaching an agreement with the federal government.

Ontario's Minister of Transportation Prabmeet Sarkaria attends Question Period at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto, Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023. Ontario hopes to have shovels in the ground to begin building Highway 413 within a year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — Ontario hopes to begin building Highway 413 within a year, the province's transportation minister said Tuesday, after reaching an agreement with the federal government. 

Prabmeet Sarkaria said the new agreement, announced late Monday, will allow construction on the Toronto-area highway to begin much earlier.

"I'm hoping to get shovels in the ground within the next year," Sarkaria said.

Sarkaria did not say how much the highway will cost taxpayers when asked.

Ottawa and Ontario said Monday that they came to an agreement that establishes a joint working group to minimize the planned highway’s environmental impacts in areas of federal jurisdiction.

The federal government had marked the highway project for a federal review under its powers in the Impact Assessment Act. 

Last fall, the Supreme Court of Canada found parts of that act were unconstitutional.

The province then took the federal government to court, asking the court to stop Ottawa from applying the impugned legislation to the 413 project, which ultimately led to the recent agreement. 

"It really provides us a lot of certainty moving forward as this impact assessment had really challenged the province from getting shovels in the ground and acquiring land and really proceeding with the project," Sarkaria said.

"We've come to a conclusion with our federal partners on this to ensure, from an environmental perspective to that working group, that all issues are being addressed."

The highway was first launched by the Liberals in 2007 and a long series of consultations and studies followed. Former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne's government paused the environmental assessment in 2015 before killing the project in 2018.

Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government than resurrected the project in 2019, and, in 2021, the federal government had marked it for an impact assessment.

The province has touted the proposed 52-kilometre Highway 413 that connects the regions of York, Peel and Halton as part of its plan to fight gridlock and expand public transit. 

But the highway has become a flashpoint for environmentalists and other critics.

Over the past few years, the province has weakened some environmental protections as it seeks a building boom of houses, highways and other major infrastructure projects such as mines.

"When it comes to this government, Doug Ford and his government, you cannot trust them when it comes to the environment," said Marit Stiles, leader of the Official Opposition New Democrats.

Stiles said the province should make nearby Highway 407 toll free for truckers as a way to reduce traffic on Highway 401.

Liberal parliamentary leader John Fraser said the proposed highway is nothing more than Ford and his government "rewarding land speculators."  

"Once that highway becomes reality, all that land automatically goes up in value the day it happens," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 16, 2024.

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press