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Ontario Premier Doug Ford prepares for Question Period at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The premier has just finished a quarantine due to a COVID-19 exposure. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank GunnFrank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Last March, as opposition grew to a proposed superhighway that would cut across thousands of acres of farmland, waterways and the protected Greenbelt northwest of Toronto, the government of Ontario alleged the project was far from a done deal.

“There’s still a tremendous amount of work that needs to be done here. Some consultations that have to happen with our partners in the area, an environmental assessment,” House Leader Paul Calandra said. “If it makes sense for the highway to proceed, it will; if it doesn’t, we won’t.”

That was then; this is now. And right now, the Progressive Conservatives are paving a path to re-election next year out of the $6-billion ribbon of asphalt called Highway 413.

In an ad released last week, Premier Doug Ford positioned the PCs as the only provincial party that will say “yes” to growth in the Greater Toronto region by building more highways – the 413 included.

But nothing has changed since March. There have been no new consultations, no environmental assessments, nothing to suggest the project ought to move ahead.

On the contrary, the day after Mr. Calandra spoke last spring, city councilors in Vaughan – one of the municipalities through which the 413 would run – voted against the project, over environmental concerns.

The two largest affected municipalities, Mississauga and Brampton, are also opposed. And in May, federal Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said there might be cause for a federal review, based on the fact the project could affect endangered species and increase greenhouse-gas emissions.

This page has criticized the project as a sprawl-spreading boondoggle. The planned route, which would connect the juncture of two 400-series highways – the 401 and the tolled 407 – in the west with Highway 400 to the east, with 11 interchanges along the way, would open up vast swathes of farmland to development. It’s suburban planning from the 1950s.

Ontario’s previous Liberal government killed the project in 2018, after an expert advisory panel found it was not the best way of addressing the region’s growing population and transportation needs.

The panel found that the proposed route would reduce travel times for commuters and truckers by no more than 30 seconds, and that other, less expensive options could better help ease congestion. Those included lowering tolls on the 407 to make it more attractive to drivers, expanding existing highways, bringing in congestion pricing, and – best of all – not creating new commuters by adding to sprawl.

Yet in spite of these drawbacks, Mr. Ford is making it clear going into next year’s election that a vote for his party is a vote for Highway 413.

It’s a wedge issue, one Mr. Ford believes will help him win seats next June. The other provincial parties oppose the 413, but commuters from the more suburban parts of the GTA are a large voting bloc that in the past have supported the PCs and their religiously pro-car leader. For these voters, a promise of more asphalt could be ballot-box gold.

They should be wary, though. Mr. Ford says Ministry of Transportation figures show that the new route could cut commute times by 30 minutes, not 30 seconds, for people travelling one end to the other.

It’s an implausible claim, given that the new route would be 59 kilometres long, while the trip from the proposed starting point to the proposed end point of Highway 413 along existing multi-lane highways is about the same distance.

According to Google Maps, the one-way trip from point to point would take about 50 minutes using the tolled Highway 407 during Monday rush hour. How that could be cut to 20 minutes is hard to see – unless Mr. Ford imagines cars traveling at 180 kilometres an hour.

At best, the project might save someone determined to avoid tolls a few minutes, assuming no congestion on the 413. But the 413 will create its own congestion. More highways means more development of car-based communities, which means more people who want to drive, and who have to. It’s called induced demand. If you build it, they will come.

Rather than shorten commute times, Mr. Ford’s unnecessary highway would create a whole new generation of suburban homeowners condemned to a life in their cars, while paving over valuable farmland and plowing through the Greenbelt.

No one should say yes to that.

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