The status quo is not an option but doing nothing is ? – confusion abounds at NGTA presentation. Bureaucrat is given a rough ride.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  July 5, 2012  For Gary Carr, chair of the Region of Halton the real problem seemed to be that when a Minister of the provincial government gets shuffled off to another department – they take all the promises they made with them.  It just isn’t the way a government can be run according to Carr, who has been in the government game for a long time.  He served as an MPP from 1990 to 2003 and Speaker of the Legislature from 1999 to 2003.  He’s been there and he has seen it all and right now – he doesn’t like what he is seeing.

The concern is Burlington’s Escarpment which is the rural part of the city.  The province has a growth policy which if met is going to require new roads to handle all the increased traffic.

The bureaucrats get told to do a study, which in this case is a full, detailed Environmental Assessment – which means they look at everything.  The bureaucrats don’t create policy – they just do the research and come forward with recommendations.  What is scaring the daylights out of Burlington is that those recommendations tend to become the only choice and Burlington has learned, from painful past experience, to get your two cents worth in while the thinking is being done.

This is the part of the province provincial bureaucrats are studying as they look for ways to create more capacity for road traffic. Their studies indicate that one of the ways to meet the demand for additional road capacity is to run a corridor through the Escarpment.  Other groups feel this isn’t necessary and the Regional government thinks it is totally wrong.

Chairman Carr had some difficulty understanding how very significant decisions made at the Regional level, communicated to the government and be known to the bureaucrats doing the research, but have no impact on that research – other than be “documented”.  Carr was close to aghast when he learned that the bureaucrats knew about the Region’s concerns which did not result in any comments to the study team from the Ministry. “Did it not occur to you to ask questions?”

The Region and the city of Burlington are focused on the west area.  And they don’t like the look of some of the plans that are being talked about.

The Regional people apparently don’t believe that the documented concerns were to have all that much impact.  Carr believes that the 22-0 regional council vote against any road through the Escarpment – a shut out as Carr put it – has to have an impact and not just be “documented”.

Mayor Goldring wanted to know if there was a matrix used to arrive at a decision.  There was: it involved transportation performance, the environment, the economy and communities.  Behind those four main points were a host of factors that impacted the recommendation the bureaucrats would make.

The nagging suspicion at the Region was that the EA recommendation would become a decision and Burlington would have a new road north of the current Dundas/Hwy 407 which would then be the new build to line – and with that, what the city has as a rural element would be gone.

The bureaucrats have developed a building block approach and are looking at all the existing options.  Group ! is made up of places where they think they can optimize the existing capacity.  If that doesn’t provide what they feel is needed to move up to Group 2 and consider new expanded NON road infrastructure.  If they can’t get the capacity they maintain they need the they move into groups 3 and 4 where they look at widening and improving existing roads and look at new transportation corridor.

All the bureaucrats do, explained John Slobodzian, is collect information and, as he put it “we document”.  The inference was that with all the documentation they are able to make recommendations that get passed along to the Ministry.  Fine – but is there anyone within the Ministry who would know the file well enough to seriously review and weigh the recommendations made?

It’s sort of like a trial – where there is no defense offered nor is there an opportunity to put forward a defense.  The prosecution, in this case a group of well-intentioned bureaucrats who have no skin in the game, collect evidence and then make a case.

The Region is going to have to change the way this “trial” is going and introduce some rules that allow them to make their counter case.  It would be unwise to expect the Ministry to invite the Region in and ask them to argue against the recommendations.

Chair Carr said this was a political decision – which it is.  And while the province is the senior level of government – the Region can, should, and will have to inject a different approach to how the decision is reached – or the Escarpment will get rolled over – just the way the Red Hill Expressway in Hamilton came into being.

The regional planning and public works meeting at which the latest maps were presented put the group at a distinct disadvantage.  All they had to look at was small 8.5 x 11 sheets of paper that did not show the level of detail needed to fully understand what was being proposed.

The bureaucrats advised that the maps were on the web site, which is a little on the shabby side in terms of sharing information.  The study team had an obligation to provide the best possible images and have them up on the wall in extra large format where they could be viewed and studied before there was a question and answer session.  The regional people really didn’t know what they were looking at and couldn’t make much of an assessment.  Perhaps that is the way the bureaucrats wanted it.?

Burlington and the other municipalities that make up the Region have learned to make a lot of noise early in the game and ensure that everything they say and do is “documented” – but that may not be enough.

Chair Carr, Mayor Goldring and Councillor Taylor are finding that large public meetings with 800 + people in the room while impressive, doesn’t seem to sway the people at Queen’s Park.

Do you get the sense that Mayor Goldring on the left believes a word Minister Wynne on the right is saying? She was delivering an election promise.

They find they get a rock solid promise from the Minister of Transportation during an election, who at that time was Kathleen Wynne.  After the election Wynne gets shuffled off to Municipal Affairs and takes her promise not to have a highway cut through the Escarpment with her.

All these comments came out at a presentation made by the Ministry of Transportation Environmental Assessment  Project Team that was telling a Regional Planning and Public Works Committee where they were with their Niagara to GTA Environmental Assessment study.

The presentation began with the statement from the leader of the Ministry project team that the status quo was not an option, certainly set the stage.  John Slobodzian, project manager for the Environmental study said “there will be more than 1.2 million additional passenger and commercial vehicle trips per day in the NGTA study area by 2031.   He added that “transit is an important part of the solution, and it is assumed that plans and investment in transit over the next 20 years will result in an additional 700 million transit trips being accommodated in the GTHA by 2031.  However, he added, we cannot assume that those coming to the region will travel exclusively by bus or rail.

New highway capacity was going to be required.  The study team was conducting more in-depth explorations of highway expansion options

With that many trips in the offing the Ministry of Transportation people believe a new highway is going to be needed. “Those involved in moving goods agree that while there is a role for every mode, transport by truck is and will remain dominant.”  New highway capacity is required and the Escarpment route is seen as one of the possibilities.

The Region was told shortly after the last election that there would be “one window” for them to work through with the provincial government and that would be Municipal Affairs which was fine by the Region – they always felt they were getting the run around from Ministry to Ministry.  The politician that made a promise as Minister of Transport got shuffled over to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs – which is supposed to be the Ministry the Region is to deal with.  Not a lot of trust between these players.

Add to that was the concern that with Municipal Affairs saying one thing, there would be no road through the Escarpment,  the people over at Transportation were still beavering away at the Environmental Assessment that had “more highways” written all over it and the Escarpment looking like it was a really good place to ram a road through.

Lurking behind all this is the fear that if a new highway is built it will just attract more traffic and that doesn’t sit all that well with Burlington..

The NGTA Environmental Assessment study team has spent just over $6 million to date on this project.  The options they put forward have continued to shift – whether this is the result of concerns voiced by the Region is doubtful for John Slobodzian says that he is aware of the comments the Region has made as well as stories in the media.  He adds that there is a lot of mis-understanding out there but Slobodzian has yet to invite the media in for an in-depth background session.

His position is that he is conducting a full scale Environmental Assessment and that to be true to the process, nothing gets taken off the table until all the data has been collected and all the evidence is in.  With the data in hand – the study team then takes their findings to the public for comment..

What does this more in-depth exploration of highway expansion options” consist of? John Slobodzian says they will be:

Assessing the relative merits of widening key highways such as Highway 403 and the QEW to determine if this option is preferable to constructing a new highway corridor

Considering a wide range of criteria and factor areas — from transportation performance, to natural and cultural environments.   The innovative ‘building block’ approach looked first at how best to use existing transportation facilities and expand transit/non-roadway infrastructure

The draft Strategy is based on full implementation of the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) by Metrolinx and GO 2020 Strategic Plan.  All the funding for that  RTP is not in place yet and, as Councillor Dennison pointed out, with the province facing a $16 billion deficit, and the Metrolinx plans estimated to come in at about $55 billion – there is clearly a challenge to be met.

The funding is going to be someone else’s problem.  John Slobodzian has to complete an Environmental Assessment and he wants to be true to that process.

He speaks of:

Adjustable speed limits (speed harmonization)

Transit use of highway shoulders to bypass congestion

Reversible (contra-flow) lanes and moveable barriers

Initiatives that support freight rail

Optimization and non-roadway improvements are a core part of the Strategy, but the focus of the additional analysis will be on the roadway elements.

An ongoing concern is with any recommendation to construct a new corridor connecting Highway 403 to the 407 ETR.

Assessment of the alternatives has been undertaken at too broad of a level, without adequate quantification of the impacts.  The primary objective at this stage is more focused analysis based on more refined corridors to identify and assess more specific impacts

Getting that done will generally involve:

Identifying new corridor alternatives connecting to Highway 401, 407 ETR, and other highways such as Highway 6.

Development of a conceptual plan for widening existing highways

Identification of a preferred new corridor alternative and a preferred widening alternative, followed by evaluation to identify the preferred alternative overall

The overall preferred alternative, will form the basis for Phase 2. There will be individual EA if the preferred alternative is a new corridor.  There will be a Class EA if the preferred alternative involves widening of existing highways.  A class EA is less intensive than a full scale EA.

Are you still with me?  The average tax payer will have a difficult time following and understanding all this.

There are some very serious questions to be asked about any recommendation to widen the QEW over a new corridor.  John Slobodzian will review the impact of an 8 lane cross section – 6 general purpose and two HOV – and ask how far beyond 2031 would such a cross section provide adequate capacity?

A Stage two look at the QEW options would look at a 10 lane cross section.

As one reads all these ideas and possible options you wonder if we are just going to pave it all so that cars and trucks can move from one place to another.

At some point some really basic questions have to be asked.  Have we got this right or are we heading down a path that leads to a place we do not want to go?  A question being asked is: perhaps a planning horizon of 2031 is not long enough?

All those grey wavy lines are corridors; places the EA study team think a new road could be built within. While the corridor markings are very wide the study team points out that any road would only be 170 metres wide. ONLY?  Each of the options shows increased traffic coming into the area.  W1 would be a corridor running up what is nowHwy 6.  W2 and W3 take a more easterly approach.  W4 is considerably south of the original road that would run through Burlington’s Escarpment.

Some are suggesting future freight forecasts are understated.  Some suggest getting trucks off the road all together and use rail or five some thought to loading trucks on barges and float them along the edge of Lake Ontario into the GTA..  We didn’t hear any out of the box, blue sky thinking being done.  It seemed to be the just pave over fields and drive along new roads.

Every planner in the world knows that if you build a road – cars and trucks will find it and use.  Stop building roads and people begin to look for other alternatives.

Environmental assessment studies are what bureaucrats do – they research and set out the options.  The Region and particularly Burlington would like to feel that their views are being heard and that there was some real dialogue between the bureaucrats and the citizens.

While we all enjoy the summer the bureaucrats will draw lines on maps and put together documents and present it to us in the fall at one of those Public Information events.  In the past these were not all that well attended, partially because they were held during the day.

The bureaucrats can expect a better community response this fall – we’ve learned a lesson.

Once the public consultation is complete the MTO people hope to put forward their final strategy late in 2012 or early 2013.  The time line the study team is working on shows construction as something that is eight years away.

Let us make sure we play an active, robust role in the determination of the recommendations that go to the Ministry.  The Region needs to work at getting stronger ties to the people that make the decisions at Queen’s Park.  As chair Gary Carr put it – this is a political decision.

Regional Chair Gary Carr told the provincial bureaucrats that the 22-0 vote against any new road being pushed through the Escarpment was basically a shut out. And Carr knows what a shut out means – he might have to lace up again to win this one. You want to hope that he does,

The bureaucrats are correct in the need to complete the environmental assessment and not to take anything off the table until they have completed their work; to do so would be against all the rules used to do a full environmental assessment.  The Region can probably live with that – what they can’t live with is the constant change in messaging and maps that come out with new corridors that were not seen before.

The most recent set of maps had one possible corridor shifting south of Dundas in Burlington,  between Brant and Walkers Line.  When Councillor Taylor pointed that out the response from the bureaucrats was – “that’s not supposed to be there – we will have to fix that”, comments like those don’t instill confidence.

John  Slobodzian was given a rough ride.  He will undoubtedly put his report together, discuss it with his superiors up the food chain.  Chair Carr suggested he go one better and have his “political masters” watch the web cast.

If you’d like to watch the web cast – it’s available at

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3 comments to The status quo is not an option but doing nothing is ? – confusion abounds at NGTA presentation. Bureaucrat is given a rough ride.

  • I still have newspaper columns from the period which illustrated just how out-of-touch the PC’s were with the real world of Hydro.

    One highly “shined” example from MP Ted Chudleigh which simply does NOT FIT with the tragic consequences of attempted privatization.

    ‘Enjoy the California weather at Ontario prices,’ says MPP

    Ted Chudleigh—My View—Wednesday, August 21, 2002

    It has now been several months since our government introduced competition to Ontario’s electricity market.

    Many of you are getting your first hydro bill since Ontario’s electricity market opened to competition on May 1. You are probably pleasantly surprised.

    The scare-mongering by the Liberals and NDP over Ontario’s hydro has been unprecedented.

    They promised that prices would sky-rocket. They promised rolling brownouts and blackouts and that the Americans would confiscate our electricity.

    None of it happened. The California blackouts promised by Howard Hampton never came. The Americans never confiscated our electricity.

    The Liberals and NDP then said to wait for the hot weather to kick in and then prices would sky-rocket.

    We’ve just come through a scorcher of a heat wave with some day-time highs not seen in more than a quarter of a century.

    The only thing to have gone south was the cost of electricity.
    After the first two months of competition in the electricity marketplace the average price for electricity was 3.24 cents per kilowatt hour. The price before we introduced competition into the marketplace was about 4.3 cents.

    That’s about a 25 per cent drop in the price of electricity.

    The taxpayers of Ontario told us they were uncomfortable with the government selling off one hundred per cent of Hydro One.
    We listened. The government will maintain control of Hydro One. As your Conservative government seeks to strengthen Ontario’s electricity market. Premier Eves has continuously promised four things:

    • Ensure sufficient supply of energy that is competitive for the people of Ontario and in the international marketplace.

    • Ensure the necessary capital to rebuild and modernize the transmission and distribution of power in Ontario

    • Bring market discipline to Hydro One and prevent the recurrence of staggering debts while at the same time eliminating the $38 billion debt.

    • Achieve these goals while protecting Ontario’s energy consumers.

    In the meantime, you can enjoy the California weather at Ontario prices.

    Ted Chudleigh is MPP for Halton.

  • More on Harris / Eves Hydro history

    Rising hydro costs spark online protest

    Consumers outraged by higher rates invited to sign Web site’s virtual petition

    Tim Whitnell—Burlington Post—Wednesday, October 23, 2002

    Darrin and Theresa Cahill look forward to eventually serving papers to Ontario Premier Ernie Eves—reams and reams of pages with the names of thousands of disgruntled hydro customers.

    The Burlington residents—like many people fed up with the soaring costs associated with the deregulation of hydro services—decided to take their frustration and channel it into a grassroots vehicle they hope will cause the Ontario government to re-think divesting itself of hydro control.

    The Cahills began a Web site a couple of weeks ago. On the site, below an open letter to the Ontario Legislature, the couple is encouraging anyone to submit their name and comments about hydro deregulation.

    The hydro protest Web site had about 15,000 signatories as of Monday. However a glitch resulted in the Cahills having to create an alternate site this week at


    The petition has garnered the attention of the media as the couple has been interviewed by CFTO-TV news, a Toronto daily newspaper and Hamilton radio station CHML.

    Theresa Cahill said the Web site proves people are concerned, yet she believes the protest has to go beyond simple words.

    “Thirty years ago people held public protests and some went to jail for what they believed in. I’m tired of Canadians complaining about taxes and such and nobody does anything about it.”

    Canadians are generally passive, she observed, but noted there have been times when dissent has changed the minds of government or big business.

    “Remember negative option (cable TV) billing? There was outrage and they got rid of it.”

    The inspiration for the Web site was the public outcry over the highly-publicized CBC-Hockey Night in Canada/Ron MacLean contract hassle.

    “If they (Coach’s Corner supporters) can get 10,000 signatures for Ron MacLean we should be able to get more,” she said.

    Cahill said she and her husband are doing their part to protest with the site, and plan to take all the names on their petition to Eves’ office later this year. She said it will likely cost them a few hundred dollars to have the names printed but they will willingly pay for it themselves.

    What she is less willing to stomach is the significant increase to electricity rates since the deregulation of hydro in May.

    The Cahills’ total electric bill for the hottest period of the year, July-September, rose to $411 this year compared to $265 for the same time last year, a 55 per cent surge.

    “This summer was hotter than last year but we actually kept the (air conditioner) thermostat between 70-72 (degrees) this year; it was 69-70 last year.”

    Cahill added she knows of co-workers who have been hit with far higher hydro bills than hers, some in the $650-$840 range for the summer months.

    Ministry of Energy communications director Dan Miles told the Post last week that consumers hadn’t been paying true hydro prices for years because the cost was frozen.

    However, there is supposed to be financial relief coming for some consumers as the government announced a rebate program.
    A message hotline at the Energy Ministry said a formula will be used to determine the average annual market price for electricity. It indicated that if that cost rises to 5.65 cents per kilowatt-hour, a typical residential customer using 10,000 kilowatt-hours per year will receive a rebate of about $130.

    When the rebate program will start has not been said.

    Hydro pricing is being monitored by the government. Concerned consumers can call a complaint line at the Ontario Energy Board at 1-877-632-2727.

    The following is a sample of comments from people who signed the Cahills’ Web site:

    “It’s bad enough that we have to pay seven additional charges (on the bill), but the one that really bugs me is the payback for the debt incurred by an independent company. If I supplied your hydro would you pay off my debts if something happened? I don’t think so.”—Pauline Snedden

  • I’ve said it numerous times. Chairman Carr is a truly unique and highly principled individual. We are very lucky to have him as Regional Chairman.

    He was badly mistreated by the Harris / Eves government. When the government, concluded its false study of ‘Who Does What’ only to then abandon responsibilities and download costs to the municipalities, Gary Carr was the first to indicate his total dissent with the idea. As a result, he lost his Parliamentary Assistant position with the Ministry of the Solicitor General. He was then, as they say, ‘sent off to Coventry’ as was the expression during the London bombing.

    Gary Carr rose, seemingly from the ashes, to successfully run for Speaker of the Legislative Assembly. Again, when Eves and Ecker decided to present the 2003 budget to ‘interested parties’ at Magna, Legislative Speaker Carr strongly vocalized the NO-NO … which was then supported by a majority of Constitutional experts who declared the action undemocratic.

    Coincidentally, during the period 1995 through 2003, 3800 Megawatts of nuclear generating capacity had to be taken off-line due to the need for critical maintenance. During the summer of 2003, the province was forced to station 10 portable generators across the province at a cost of $100 Million for 100 Megawatts as a hopeful stop-gap, accompanied by ‘moral suasion’ to get it past the potentially critical ‘brownout’ situation.

    During the first five years of the Harris era, customers enjoyed a false savings through a roll-back of hydro rates, thus bleeding the revenue stream, leaving Hydro flat on its back in terms of maintaining anything resembling proactive maintenance management. Customers then faced wildly escalating prices during the period when the government was attempting to privatize Hydro. I still have newspaper columns from the period which illustrated just how out-of-touch the PC’s were with the real world of Hydro. In fact, the customer revolt petition is still on the books, thanks to Theresa & Darrin Cahill.

    It sounds to me like Chairman Carr and Regional Council may be in need of Strong Citizen Support with a disapproving backlash against ANY government which seeks to destroy the pristine environment and sedate beauty of North Halton. We’re Ready!