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Member of the government comes to town bearing a promise; the Mayor isn’t sure what to do with the thing.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON August 4, 2011 Is it really going to be THE defining issue during the provincial election that has now begun to gain some momentum? There is certainly going to be a lot of chatter with everyone looking for a way to get their two cents worth in.

The arrow tells the story in the clearest possible language – that is where the province has said in the past it wants to build a highway.  Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said recently that there wouldn’t be a highway built through the Escarpment – but not everyone believe her and the Progressive Conservatives have been very clear – they will build a highway through the Escarpment.

The arrow tells the story in the clearest possible language – that is where the province has said in the past it wants to build a highway. Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne said recently that there wouldn’t be a highway built through the Escarpment – but not everyone believe her and the Progressive Conservatives have been very clear – they will build a highway through the Escarpment.

 

What got his ball rolling – and it was just waiting for a bit of a push – was the visit to the city by Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transportation for the province. She was brought into town by Liberal candidate Karmel Sakran to take part in a closed door Round Table that included Mayor Goldring, Regional Chair Gary Carr, Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor who has been a tireless fighter for the preservation of the Escarpment, and the Liberal Candidate for Halton Indira Naidoo-Harris. Geoff Brock and Susan McMaster of the Stop Escarpment Highway Coalition (SEHC) were also on hand.

Wynne told the media after the Round Table session that Ontario’s Liberal government has no plans to pave over the escarpment, according to Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne, who was in Burlington yesterday to discuss the controversial Niagara to GTA corridor.

Wynne assured local politicians and citizens’ groups gathered that the provincial Liberals aren’t moving forward with a 33-km highway that connects Hwy. 403 in Ancaster to north Burlington.

“People need to move around. There is congestion on the roads and we need to address that. But we don’t need to destroy environmentally-sensitive land in order to do that,”

“The fundamental thing I hear is that people in this community are very concerned about a road that will disrupt a sensitive environmental area that really is the basis of the quality of life in the area. That’s why our government stepped back from this.”

The event, which took place in Burlington was organized by Liberal candidates Karmel Sakran (Burlington), Indira Naidoo-Harris (Halton) and Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Westdale MPP Ted McMeekin. Given who the sponsors were – what did you think the Minster was going to say – add to that, if they play their cards right, the Liberals have a decent chance of taking both the Burlington and Halton seats.

During the session Minister Wynne made the comment that while she is the Minister of Transportation the people she directs tend to see themselves as employees of the old Department of Highways – and as the Minister pointed out, highways are one mode of transportation, but she directs a ministry made up of people who are deeply ingrained and committed to the construction of highways – and indeed Ontario has some magnificent roads.

Burlington Councillor John Taylor, probably the most vocal and persisitent person on Council when it comes to the Escarpment and how to defines the city makews a point at the Roundtable held in Burlington recently.

Burlington Councillor John Taylor, probably the most vocal and persisitent person on Council when it comes to the Escarpment and how to defines the city makews a point at the Roundtable held in Burlington recently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taylor said in an interview that he has met with the Minister on previous occasions and believes what she has to say. “She gets it” said Taylor but he added that to the best of his knowledge the Minister has never actually driven through the area.

One of the ideas the SEHC people had was to arrange for bus tours through the Escarpment for people who live in Burlington but don’t fully realize how magnificent a piece of geography we have and the damage that a highway would do to that part of the city.

Taylor, who has been fighting to ensure that urban development doesn’t take place north of Highway 5 (Dundas) had to give in a bit when the 407 was put through in 2000 and live with development between Highway 5 (Dundas) and the 407. He believes fervently that if there is an NGTA highway, development will go up so fast between the existing 407 and wherever a new highway is built that the Burlington we know will disappear before our eyes. NGTA is the acronym for Niagara Greater Toronto Area highway that has in the past been called the Mid Peninsula highway.

Developers salivate when they think about the opportunities to build homes should a road cut through the Escarpment. Local farmers would think they were on their way to heaven and able to think of retiring to the sunny south with nary a winter driveway to be cleared. Ward 1 Councilor Rick Craven argues that much of the land north of the 407 is already in the hand of patient developers.

Looks do tell and it doesn’t look at if Mayor Goldring on the left is buying what Minister Kathleen Wynne is selling.  Karmel Sakran, in the middle, is just delighted that the Minister is in the riding mentioning his name.

Looks do tell and it doesn’t look at if Mayor Goldring on the left is buying what Minister Kathleen Wynne is selling. Karmel Sakran, in the middle, is just delighted that the Minister is in the riding mentioning his name.

Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring liked what the Minister had to say but if the photograph is any indication of what Goldring really thinks – well you can almost see the grains of salt he is taking with the words he is hearing. Goldring makes the comment that the announcement is nice but adds that there was nothing in the way of an announcement from the Ministry of Transportation about the highway. What we got was a politician rolling through town handing out promises. And keep in mind that this will be the last election for Premier Dalton McGuinty – which means a leadership contest when he decides to resign – and Kathleen Wynne is being talked up as a potential for the Office of the Premier

SEHC has chosen to celebrate what Transportation Minister Kathleen Wynne had to say – that Ontario’s Liberal government will not move forward with a highway that would cut across the Niagara Escarpment and Halton Region’s Natural Heritage System to connect Highway 403 in Ancaster to North Burlington.

“Ontario needs a modern, multi-modal transportation system if we want to stay economically competitive and decrease commuting times,” says SEHC spokesman Geoff Brock. “We are pleased the Province recognizes this and is willing to take another look at its transportation plans.”

These signs popped all over North Burlington in February – Do they represent the feelings of the people south of the QEW?

These signs popped all over North Burlington in February – Do they represent the feelings of the people south of the QEW?

The 11-member SEHC, composed of citizens’ groups from Niagara to Oakville, worked with the City of Burlington, the Region of Halton and MPP Ted McMeekin, to oppose to the highway. The SEHC also commissioned a Natural Capital Study to highlight the $912 million value of green infrastructure services that would be lost if the highway were to be built.

“The quality of the Natural Capital Study and the value of its analysis certainly deserved the attention it received from the Minister,” said Susan McMaster of Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment, a Member of the SEHC.

“We are pleased that Minister Wynne saw the logic in our group’s position: a highway isn’t needed now and, with gas prices rising rapidly, certainly won’t meet Ontario’s needs in years to come,” said McMaster.

SEHC – the Stop the Escarpment Highway Coalition is made up of 12 groups with a combined membership of 7,000 people. Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE), Oakvillegreen Conservation Association, Lowville Area Residents Association (LARA), BurlingtonGreen, Coalition of the Niagara Escarpment (CONE), Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (PERL), Milton Green Citizens Group, Environment Hamilton, Preservation of Agricultural Lands Society, Sidrabene Latvian Camp, Cedar Springs Community.

The organization came together during an early February meeting when the city and a mixed group of local activists met to talk about a joint response to the surprising announcement from the province that it wanted certain data inserted into both the Regional Official Plan and Burlington’s Official Plan. Councilor Taylor spear-headed a public meeting that brought some 800 + people out to a local arena and more than a couple of dozen to their feet to protest against the idea of a road cutting through the Escarpment. That public meeting saw both the MPP from Burlington, Joyce Savoline and the MPP from Halton, Ted Chudleigh, troop to the front of the room and mumble a few words about listening to the community.

View from Mt Nemo - If there is ever a highway cut through Escarpment land it will open up land like this to housing developments – and tear the heart out of what Burlington is as a city

View from Mt Nemo - If there is ever a highway cut through Escarpment land it will open up land like this to housing developments – and tear the heart out of what Burlington is as a city

Flash fast forward to Mayor Goldring’s office last week, a day before he left for vacation and hear him say that “this issue is a hill he could die on”. The Mayor has a fine print of the Escarpment on the wall of his office.

In sharp contrast to the Liberal’s position, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak promises to build the highway if elected. The Niagara to GTA (NGTA) highway is expected to cost up to $6 billion. SEHC says the price is too high, not only in terms of destruction to valuable agricultural land and natural areas, but also because it will impair the Province’s ability to invest in the sustainable, multi-modal transportation system that citizens and businesses really need.

 

For the SEHC people this as a pivotal issue in this fall’s Provincial election. The group is working to understand, and publicize, the position of all local provincial candidates on the highway as part of this year’s election so voters can make an informed decision on this issue.

The group is also looking to the Federal government to step up to the plate on transportation planning. Rail plays a major role in sustainable transportation planning and the Province can’t do it alone. So far the Federal government has been absent from the conversation. SEHC thinks this is unacceptable since rail is their responsibility. “Putting rail and a National Transport Policy on Ottawa’s agenda is a high priority for us,” said Brock.

Mayor Goldring and John Taylor at the Roundtable on the Escarpment. The Minister of Transportation certainly heard their words – did she feel the passion?
Mayor Goldring and John Taylor at the Roundtable on the Escarpment. The Minister of Transportation certainly heard their words – did she feel the passion?

A number of people point out that the NGTA corridor has three parts to it and while the province might stall and hold back with the portion that was being planned for the Escarpment, if the other portions get built – they would then say they “have” to build the final portion. Thus Geoff Brock of COPE says “we have to be ever vigilant” and make sure that the Environmental Assessment never gets completed. Mayor Goldring is of the same mind. He says he will feel much better when he hears that the Environmental Assessment has been cancelled. At this point – it is still a task being done.

 

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