‘We have seen Vaughan withdraw their support from the local level. I think it’s vital to stand up with our local communities, our neighboring communities, and stand up for what they believe in, ”says Aurora Mayor Tom Mrakas
A formal objection to the provincial plan for the GTA West Corridor – the proposed Highway 413 – may be twirled around the regional council table, but Aurora lawmakers have joined the ranks of Caledon and Brampton, moving the project to a federal evaluation postpone.
The Aurora Council unanimously approved a motion by Councilor Wendy Gaertner calling for just that, highlighting the potential impact that the highway proposal – which, if carried out, would cut large swaths of the Peel region into the city of Vaughan would – could have on the environment.
“The proposed GTA West corridor, Highway 413, was created as part of the Places of Growth Act of 2005, which set population, density and growth targets for communities while diverting growth away from agricultural and environmentally sensitive areas,” said the town councilor Gaertner in their movement. “The proposed highway will pave more than 2,000 hectares of land, including important agricultural and environmental land that is in violation of the mandate of this law.”
She also noted that a collective bill passed by the province last July, Bill 197, “eliminated many environmental regulations and instituted a” streamlined “environmental assessment process, skipping portions of Ontario’s assessment system and eliminating the requirement for a comprehensive environmental assessment.”
Prior to Councilor Gaertner’s motion, King Township Mayor Steve Pellegrini made similar efforts to have the regional council withdraw its support for the 413. According to Mayor Tom Mrakas, this fell 8 to 13 votes. Although a formal withdrawal was denied, the York area went a step further to request a federal impact assessment.
“An environmental review is definitely required,” Councilor Rachel Gilliland supported Councilor Gaertner’s proposal. “This is an important message to the province and also to the federal government, where we stand, show our support and where the work should be done to ensure that when and if the highway is built, the intentions are right for our environment and climate . “
Councilor Harold Kim agreed and said it was important for communities like Aurora, particularly as part of the York area, to “give our voice” to the cause.
“I remember Highway 413 was built in the early 2000s as part of the Places to Grow Act,” he said. “I think back in 2012 … a panel came out and they saw that the regional goal was essentially to find an alternative way to get from east to west in the GTA while this highway was in the northern extremes of the GTA … and really the time saved was 30 seconds. In relation to this impact assessment or report, they will certainly highlight that and if that happens it will lead to and stimulate more car-related housing, and that is certainly a problem too. “
Mayor Mrakas also shared the view that it was important to request a federal impact assessment.
“To be honest, the province’s environmental impact assessment has been tightened [and] I’m a little nervous that things are being missed at the provincial level because of this streamlined process. We saw what the province did about zoning changes [and] I’ve seen what caused this under certain circumstances. I think that’s why it’s passed down the line. We have seen Vaughan withdraw their support at the local level. I think it is vitally important to stand up with our local churches, our neighboring churches, and stand up for what they believe in.
“It’s not straightforward [cutting] Through Aurora, our neighboring communities have stood up and said we are against it and want a federal impact assessment. I think this is a good opportunity for us to demonstrate our partnership with our neighboring communities and to say, “We will be at your side on an important issue.”
Brock Weir is a federally funded reporter for the Local Journalism Initiative at The Auroran