Rivers: The Apple and the Tree - one tends not to fall very far from the other.

By Ray Rivers

December 1st, 2021



“The premier thinks the road to recovery from COVID-19 is paving over paradise,” – Ontario Green Party leader Mike Schreiner

How far from the tree has this apple fallen?

Brian Mulroney can’t be happy. He was once proclaimed Canada’s greenest prime minister. And here his own daughter Carolyn Mulroney, as Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, is opening up the province for even more environmentally unsustainable and costly urban sprawl.

It was bad enough that as former provincial attorney general she declared war on the federal government’s carbon tax, widely considered one of the most efficient ways to lower society’s carbon footprint. But now she has begun paving over parts of Ontario’s greenbelt with even more highways.

The new 413 highway would be 59 km long and would take up over 400 acres of the Greenbelt and more than 2,000 acres of Class 1 and Class 2 farmland – among Ontario’s most productive farmland. Impacts include cutting through 85 waterways, damaging 220 wetlands and disrupting the habitats of 10 species-at-risk. And the kicker – it is estimated to cause over 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 resulting in more than $1.4 billion in damages from that pollution.

Justification for this highway has never been made – is there one?

The previous government had convened an expert panel which ended up dismissing the 413 concept on the basis that it would save the average commuter only 30-60 seconds, less than a minute, in commute times. In fact this highway, estimated conservatively at around $10 billion would mostly serve drivers wanting to get up to their cottages. And the government is claiming it’ll also be toll free for them.

Doug Ford has made new highways the centre piece of his campaign for re-election as premier of Ontario. A second highway, the Bradford Bypass, joining highways 400 and 404 and running through the heart of Ontario’s primary market growing land has already started accepting bids for construction.

The province estimates that some drivers could save as much as 35 minutes using this bypass, but again that would largely be people travelling into cottage country. If built, its four lanes would cut through 27 waterways, nearly 11 hectares of sensitive wetlands and the Holland Marsh, a region of the protected Greenbelt nicknamed “Ontario’s vegetable patch” for its fertile soil.

But even as the Premier is planning a new highway, a current high capacity highway, designed specifically for commuters in the GTA’s urban sprawl is sitting nearly empty given its capacity. The contract with highway 407 allows for the company to raise its tolls whenever traffic reaches a pre-determined threshold – something it has done repeatedly. The reverse also applies – that tolls should come down when usage falls.

How come the toll rates never come down?

But for the last two years traffic on the 407 has been considerably below levels to justify the high tolls they are charging. So under its contract, the 407 should have been fined a billion dollars. But the government has given 407 a free pass, a get out of jail card. 407 is not even required to lower the tolls to match traffic volumes. It was like an officer stopping you driving 140 kms in a 40 km school zone and telling you to be careful.

Mr, Ford complains about traffic congestion for daily commuters. Make no mistake, the single best way to reduce that traffic congestion on the 401 would be lower tolls on Hwy 407. Why build another highway way the heck out in farm country that will also sit mostly empty?

So why is the government so determined to build these new roads? Well the Toronto Star and Canada’s National Observer have identified a good reason. Their investigation found over 3,000 acres of prime real estate near the proposed route that is owned by large developers and would be expected to increase dramatically in value. Five of these developers have close ties to Premier Ford’s government including one who was the chair of Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney’s 2018 PC leadership campaign.

And it only gets juicier when it appears that Minister Mulroney’s office got its hands dirty redirecting the highway Bradford Bypass highway routing away from the second, third and 11th holes of a golf course owned by the father of another Conservative MPP.

Golf course locations appear to be a determining factor in highway locations.

The federal government has claimed that it will intervene with its own environmental assessment (EA) of the Hwy 413, because the Ford government had virtually disassembled and gutted Ontario’s EA process after taking power. The feds have not yet said they will require an EA for the bypass, however, though the current assessment is stale dated, having been undertaken some twenty years ago.

And it’s not just environmental assessments that have been subject to Mr. Ford’s my way or the highway management philosophy. Doug Ford has issued 57 MZOs, more than triple the number that the last Liberal government issued over its 15 years in power. He has expanded his powers three times and has bulldozed his pet developments over the rulings and wishes of local municipalities, the Greenbelt and conservation authorities.

The Auditor-General, Bonnie Lysyk, in a recent report noted that the province is failing to protect wildlife from developers and resource industries, and that the Environment Ministry is “essentially facilitating development rather than protecting species at risk.” Building another highway will just add to the toll of killed and injured wildlife. According to one study, today there are an estimated 14,000 wildlife-vehicle collisions a year – 5 to 10 per cent of all accidents in the province.

In that part of the world this might be seen as an election sign.

When Carolyn Mulroney told the world that she had decided to relocate to Ontario and enter provincial politics there was a sense of optimism in the air. After the dirty tricks the party had engaged in to politically assassinate their former leader, Patrick Brown, a fresh face and mind would be welcome in Ontario’s traditional ruling party.

But that was not to be. While she and her dad may differ on the environment and climate change, they share a passion for political favouritism and its dirty laundry. A two-year inquiry into Brian Mulroney’s dealings with German-Canadian arms lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber concluded that the former prime minister acted in an “inappropriate” way when he accepted large amounts of cash from Schreiber. According to the judge, Mulroney had “failed to live up to the standard of conduct that he himself adopted in the 1985 ethics code.”

Carolyn Mulroney hasn’t been caught with her hands in the till yet, but her role in building highways to the benefit, primarily, of her development friends and political colleagues doesn’t look good on her. She’ll never be seen as an environmental steward, as her father was, but when it comes to the darker side of politics, it’s what they say – the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Ray Rivers, a Gazette Contributing Editor,  writes regularly applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Mulroney Honoured –   Hwy 413 –   Bradford By-Pass –   407 Free Pass

Developer Friends –   AG’s report –   Wildlife and Road Traffic-

Mulroney – a different view 

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10 comments to Rivers: The Apple and the Tree – one tends not to fall very far from the other.

  • Phil Waggett

    A number of posters to this story have denounced the new highway development but seem to have ignored the need for new highways created by LIBERAL policy. Federal Liberal policy it to create significant increases in immigration with much of this arriving in the GTA–more people gives rise to more gridlock and hence the need for new highways. And of course the development of the CN Container Transfer south of Milton will again add significantly more transportation congestion–another Federal Liberal play. Additionally, the former government of K. Wynne was responsible to the shift to intensification in the GTA–again, a greater need for transportation. And the rapid increase in housing costs since 2015 has resulted in more people being pushed out into the suburbs and small towns away from Toronto, again resulting in the need for more transportation. And yet all these posters think this is Doug Ford’s fault? I don’t like where the new highway is being positioned but the reality is that this is one of more developments to ease the congestion in transportation.

    • perryb

      the job of any government is to deal with today, not blame the past. The next government will have to deal with the mess created by this one, no excuses.

      • Phil Waggett

        Perry, the Ford government is dealing with congestion today but it has been caused by PAST policies. Or would you rather just turn a blind-eye to the causes of the current transportation gridlock around the GTA?

        • perryb

          I did not say the problem was Doug Ford’s fault. I said it is his problem to solve, in light of current conditions. All experience to date says that building more highways is at best a stopgap for a few years, unless they are toll roads. The problem can be laid at the door of generations of “planners” going back before Mike Harris and Brian Mulroney, who believed that population growth could be managed without fundamental changes to how we use our resources of all kinds, including land. Doing more of the same is not going to help, but innovation appears to be a foreign concept to the current government.

  • Follow the money always seemed like good advice, and in this case it is certainly the key to understanding these backroom deals.

    • Hans Jacobs

      It is good advice but there are other ways besides cash to reward cooperative politicians; e.g., board appointments after leaving office. There may be no way to prove that there was anything unethical or illegal taking place.

  • Larry

    Let’s just hope they lose the next election…..

    • perryb

      It is easy to grumble and hope they lose, but that is not enough. Who will we elect in their place? Liberals have yet to show up, and have only a few months to do so. They need to come out strong with good candidates and good policies and specifically to repair the destruction being crassly pursued by the PCs, on housing, environment, and municipal governance. Maybe the NDP? Same problem, and they’ve had s long time to try. Big risk of splitting the vote. As for Burlington, a history of generally lackluster candidates and indifferent voters is discouraging.

      One thing for sure is that a “United Democratic Party” would be a game changer if anyone had the guts to try.

  • Fred

    Dont forget the conservatives could have imposed a 1 Billion penalty on the 407, but instead looked the other way, while the 407 screw consumers. Shameful incompetence by ford government,

  • Hans Jacobs

    If the new highway “cannibalizes” business from #407, it should be no surprise if the latter sues for damages and removal of any contract penalties related to the resulting reduced traffic.