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Ontario Liberal Party Leader Steven Del Duca speaks during the Ontario party leaders' debate, in Toronto, on May 16, 2022.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

A Liberal candidate has said party leader Steven Del Duca “doesn’t have any objections” to going ahead with the controversial Highway 413, contradicting the Ontario Liberal Leader’s position on the issue. Jannat Garewal, Liberal candidate for the Brampton East provincial riding, made the remarks in an interview to Punjabi news media last week. On Monday, the clip was circulating widely on social media, with the NDP slamming the Liberals for the contradiction. Soon after the NDP’s attack, Mr. Del Duca reiterated his opposition to the project.

“He doesn’t have any objections to building this highway, but during the pandemic the Ford government cut a lot of funding for education,” Ms. Garewal said about Mr. Del Duca in the interview. “Our kids have suffered a lot during the pandemic. Parents also suffered. So we are asking this: Will you spend $10-billion on building a highway or on education?”

When the host asked Ms. Garewal whether she meant the highway should be delayed, she said: “Exactly, we will definitely build this highway but we need to focus on education.”

The Liberals, NDP and the Green Party have all said they will scrap the highway, which has been one of Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford’s flagship election promises. Mr. Del Duca has promised to cancel the project altogether and spend the $10-billion on repairing schools instead.

On Monday, Mr. Del Duca was pressed on Ms. Garewal’s remarks. While he did not comment on the candidate, he said he remained committed to cancelling the highway.

“My position on Highway 413 has been crystal clear. Let’s remember while many other party leaders, like Ms. Horwath, talk about Highway 413, you’re looking at the guy who, when he was minister of transportation, stopped it the first time. We, as a government, stopped it back in 2018. Doug Ford revived it. As the government, this will be one of the first things I do as premier. I will, once and for all, kill Highway 413,” Mr. Del Duca told reporters.

The NDP slammed the Liberals over the controversy on Monday. “Steven Del Duca says one thing to some audiences while he and his candidates say the opposite somewhere else. Del Duca can’t be trusted to fix the Conservatives’ deals for their buddies. He’s got backroom deals of his own. He needs to come clean with Ontarians,” NDP MPP Taras Natyshak said.

The proposed 60-kilometre Highway 413, which would connect Toronto suburbs Milton and Vaughan and is estimated to cost anywhere between $6-billion and $10-billion, has caused heated debate on what is the best way forward to unclog Southern Ontario’s traffic jams. Environmental activists have said the highway would pass through 400 acres of the protected Greenbelt and 2,000 acres of farmland. Reports suggest it would cause damage to wetlands and habitats of at-risk species. According to Environmental Defence Canada, it would add more than 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

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