Reporters Isaac Callan and Colin D’Mello from Global News revealed on November 7, 2023, that the Ontario government, led by Premier Doug Ford, is postponing the presentation of its environmental assessment for the contentious Highway 413 to the federal authorities until late 2023.
In an ongoing dispute that has persisted for over two years with the federal government, Ontario is compiling additional justification for the Highway 413 project, which is planned to cut through the environmentally sensitive Greenbelt.
The provincial government’s initiative has been on hold since 2021 when the federal government exercised its regulatory authority to halt the construction, citing environmental concerns. This standstill has propelled the province to challenge the decision in court.
Current federal regulations require Ontario to demonstrate that the highway construction will not adversely affect the habitat of several endangered species before proceeding. However, the Ford government has stated that if it is successful in its legal challenge to overturn the regulation that paused the project, it may not need to submit the environmental assessment at all.
Government documents accessed by Global News through freedom of information requests indicate that provincial officials initially aimed to present the required environmental documents to Ottawa by fall but have now shifted this goal to later in the year.
This submission is crucial as it will detail how Ontario proposes to mitigate the federal government’s environmental concerns, including the preservation of endangered species along the proposed highway’s path. Draft versions of the initial project description have been exchanged but have not yet reached their final form.
Once Ontario submits and the federal government accepts this initial description, a statutory period will commence, giving the federal authorities 180 days to decide if the province can proceed with construction or if a full impact assessment is necessary.
Should a full assessment be mandated, Ontario will have three years to conduct further studies, after which the federal government will have 300 days to finalize a report and decide the highway’s future.
The Ontario government is currently barred from starting any construction due to the federal freeze but is actively working on the detailed planning of the highway.
Adding to the project’s complexity is a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling that has cast doubt on aspects of the Impact Assessment Act, the same legislation used to halt the highway. Ontario has requested the judicial system to uphold the Supreme Court’s opinion, which is distinct from a formal ruling, and to nullify the act.
The provincial spokesperson emphasized that striking down the act would eliminate federal barriers to essential infrastructure projects and would provide the certainty needed to begin work on Highway 413, which they argue is vital for reducing congestion, supporting jobs, and improving transportation in Ontario.