Regional Chair, Burlington Mayor and coalition opposed to highway being built through Escarpment get ready for long battle.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON September 22, 2012.   The provincial government is getting close to the point where they will make some kind of decision on the recommendations that are expected very soon from the Ministry of Transportation (MOT) on what kind of a road might get built north of Dundas Road  – these are the people burrowing away over their tables drawing lines on maps to show where a new road through the Escarpment might go.

The Region and the city of Burlington are not at all keen on any kind of road going through the northern part of the city and they want to keep the pressure on the provincial government to just forget about the idea of a new highway – we don’t need it and we don’t want it, is the refrain from our part of the province.

The green arrow on the map was a shock to everyone opposed to any kind of road cutting through the Escarpment. That arrow motivated the community to realizing it might have a battle on its hands and resulted in the creation of SEHC – Stop the Escarpment Highway Coalition – a collection of 14 different community organizations.

During the municipal election in 2010 the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MMA) sent a thick envelope to the Regional government saying they wanted some changes to the Region’s official plan that would add in some green arrows showing where a new highway might go.  That green arrow was a sharp punch to the solar plexus of the city as well as the Region.

THAT put the fat in the fire and resulted in a large public meeting at the Mainway arena where hundreds of people showed up to protest.

The province sort of blinked and backed off a bit – then there was the provincial election in May where everyone, except the truckers, said publicly that a highway should not be rammed through Mt. Nemo.

Those grey shaded areas represent the six option the Ministry of Transportation are putting forward. These will go to the Minister in the very near future. There will then be Public Information Centers set up for public input. The hope is that these aren’t snuck in on Friday afternoons a few weeks before Christmas. SEHC wants a full public discourse on this issue.

But those bureaucrats with the MOT, who work out of offices in St. Catharines, met with Region two months ago and offered up new plans – which didn’t have the green arrow that scared the daylights out of everyone.  This time they gave a range of optionssix of them – that ranged from widening highway 6 and connecting it more solidly to the 401,  to a road that would still cut across a significant swath of lower Burlington.  This is land that Burlington sees as close to sacred ground.  Run a highway through any part of the Escarpment and Burlington doesn’t have much of a reason for being – we might as well amalgamate with Oakville, or worse, with Mississauga.

This is an ongoing battle that Burlington has to continually wage.  If the citizens of the city ease up, if the Region slacks off or if Burlington’s city council decides ‘you know, it wouldn’t be that bad’,  there will be bulldozers out there in close to a flash, property values north of Dundas Road  will skyrocket and the streams and creeks that run into Lake Ontario and provide our water supply will be contaminated.

Councillor John Taylor, the longest serving member on Council and a tireless fighter to keep any kind of road from going through the Escarpment. Taylor knows this battle is going to last long after he is gone.

It is a battle that will last for as much as twenty years.  “We will be having this fight long after I’m gone” said Burlington Councillor John Taylor who is perhaps the most tireless fighter on city council when it comes to the Escarpment.

The last round in this three way fight was between the Region and the province when the MOT types appeared at a meeting with yet another map.  This one – shown below, suggests a number of places a highway could be built.  There were six options put before the Regional Council – the one Burlington wants to keep away from is the road that runs through a section of the city and just too close to Escarpment land for comfort.

The sign, that you see throughout the Escarpment represents the thinking of the 14 organizations that came together to form the Stop Escarpment Highway Coalition

While the regional government and the city of Burlington make the official protests – there is a coalition of 13 organizations (they recently approved a 14th) that formed as the Stop Escarpment Highway Coalition – have been tireless in their battle to ensure that the governments don’t sell everyone out.

SEHC has worked with Cogeco Cable on a two hour program that will air October 4th from 7 – 9 pm.  The first hour, unfortunately, will consist of talking heads giving prepared and already known positions.  What one shouldn’t expect is anything new or revealing unless something comes out of a meeting that Regional Chair Gary Carr and Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring expect to have with Minister of Transportation Bob Chiarelli sometime this week at Queen’s Park.

Carr and Goldring are sort of on call for a dash into Toronto to meet with the Minister of Transportation who can’t leave Toronto.  The provincial Liberals are a minority government and things are kind of tight and tense at Queen’s Park these days – so none of the Liberals are allowed to leave town.

Carr and Goldring are taking their positions to Toronto and will, once again, work the Minister over and ensure that he fully understands the feeling of both the Region and the City.

Then, on October 23rd  there will be a large community meeting at the Mainway Arena.  The city is going all out again on this one, with mail drops to every dwelling north of Dundas, supported with advertising in the local media.  With no hockey on television there should be a really solid turnout.

The politicians, along with SEHC, want to up the volume on the protest and ensure that Queen’s Park gets the message.

There is one sure way to block any highway and that is find a job that the government can offer Burlington’s MPP Jane McKenna.  That would open up her seat to a by-election during which the Liberals would promise to ensure that a highway is never, ever going to be built through the Escarpment – which would win them the election and give them a majority government (they are currently one seat short) and all would be well.  Oh – they tried that in Kitchener-Waterloo and it didn’t work there.  Maybe that’s not such a good idea.  Besides what would they offer McKenna and would she be smart enough to take it?

The last time there was a public meeting on the Escarpment, there was a sense of panic due to the province requiring a change in the Regional Official Plan that showed a road through the Escarpment no one had ever seen before.  That meeting brought out hundreds of people and resulted in the creation of SEHC – the Stop the Escarpment Highway Coalition.  They have become a very effective advocacy group for this issue and have managed to both keep the pressure on the politicians at every level and at the same time serve as a form for the exchange of ideas and information.

Two dates to keep in mind – watching the Cogeco Cable show on the 4th and getting out to the community meeting at Mainway arena on the 23th.  This is an issue that matters.

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2 comments to Regional Chair, Burlington Mayor and coalition opposed to highway being built through Escarpment get ready for long battle.

  • Lynne and Hal Mayer

    As residents of North Burlington for more than a quarter century, and living within the Niagara Escarpment area, we strongly feel that the 407 was quite enough encroachment on this beautiful and unique area. We are also of the opinion that a decision to cut across the area with another highway should not be made without a vote from the constituents and/or input from all interested parties. A preliminary look at the options would suggest that widening and improving Highway 6, an existent highway which is already well-known and well-used, would make the most sense and create the least impact. However the close involvement of those who live and work along that highway is essential. This is, after all, a UNESCO heritage site we are talking about; a green treasure which should not lightly be thrown away.

  • It is interesting to consider the history of the ‘Consultants’ working on this transport scheme. Their time-lines are, on average, 10-20 years, for a wide range of global clients.

    What needs investigating is the CONTRACT that these consultants have with both the feds and the provincial governments.

    Party lines don’t mean much if it’s a ‘locked in’ deal.