Slow Going: Still Looking for Clarity on the 413

Tired producers search for answers on the fate of their farms.

By Emily Croft

Frustration grows and confusion continues as farmers continue to wait for news of the fate of Highway 413 – with limited communication and clarity since the resumption of environmental assessments in 2019.

While opposition is still being expressed by some groups, the continuation of highway development appears to progress slowly, drawing out the process for the affected residents of York, Peel, and Halton regions.

Many producers are still looking for a concrete decision on whether construction will proceed, determining the future of their farms.

In May 2021, Better Farming shared the feature “Superhighway Strife” which examined the potential impact of Highway 413 on agriculture in the Greater Golden Horseshoe. After development of the highway was suspended in 2015, Stage 2 of environmental assessment was resumed in 2019 by Doug Ford’s Conservative government. This involves the creation of preliminary designs for the transit corridor, including determination of the preferred route and investigating the environmental impacts. Although a specific preferred route has not been decided, the proposed highway would span 52 kilometers from Highway 400 to the Highway 401 and Highway 407 interchange.

Rick Bonnette was the mayor of Halton Hills for 19 years before deciding to not run for re-election in 2022, and through that time he has been vocal about his opposition to the project, which has also been called the GTA West Corridor.

“Where the highway is going to join up with Highway 401 and 407 is prime future industrial land for Halton Hills. This industrial land will just be paved over with no compensation for Halton Hills,” says Bonnette.

Procession of protestors walking down road
    Ontario Green Party leader and MPP Mike Schreiner led a walk in Brampton after calling for the cancellation of Highway 413, Fred Carter Green Party of Ontario photo

“Farmland and wetlands are also a big concern. Nine species in wetlands around Halton Hills will be endangered by this highway.”

Construction of the highway aims to address rapid population expansion, which is causing climbing commute times around the Greater Toronto Area. By reducing congestion on current roadways, time savings for commuters who would use the 413 have been predicted to be anywhere between 30 seconds to 30 minutes per trip.

Bonnette does not believe that the development of more highways will solve the transit issue, noting that increased development around the highway after construction will continue to contribute to the problem.

“Name one empty acre on the Queen Elizabeth Way, Highway 401 or 407 in the GTA. They are all developed. This will be the same,” says Bonnette.

“At a cost of potentially $10 billion – that money could go into public transit or hospitals.”

Since the publication of “Superhighway Strife” in 2021, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, led by Doug Ford, has been re-elected. Throughout the election, the fate of the transportation corridor was a hot topic for discussion. Ford advocated strongly for the continuation of the project, with a press release from the party stating that “only Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs will build Highway 413,” noting resistance from Liberal, NDP and Green Party candidates who stated concerns about environmental and agricultural implications.

Jamie Laidlaw, a dairy farmer in Halton, says that he expected the construction of the highway to begin quickly after the election but hasn’t seen much action yet.

“We recognize they are likely waiting for federal environmental review to move forward, but it seems like the environmental assessment has gone on a lot longer and we haven’t heard of any progress,” says Laidlaw.

The project is contentious within the agricultural community, as the highway itself, along with continued urban sprawl, poses a threat to farmland in the region. According to a release by Farmland Trust in 2020, the highway will result in the loss of thousands of acres of Ontario farmland, including 1,000 acres protected by the Greenbelt.

Tom Dolson, a farmer in Caledon, has one of his farms directly in line with the proposed corridor.

“They have been here seven times in the last year for different environmental studies,” shares Dolson.

Dolson explains that as the environmental assessment has moved onto the archeological investigation, he has recently been requested to plow the fields on his farms that are within the corridor.

“One of the problems is that not many people plow any more. I asked if it could be worked with a Soil Saver or disced, but they said it had to be plowed,” states Dolson.

“My farm was planted in soybeans, and they now want it plowed and inspected over a couple of rains. How do I get wheat in after that?”

Dolson explained that farmers are now approaching OFA to ask to be represented in requesting compensation for the crop losses related to these studies.

Drew Spoelstra, a vice-president of OFA, shares that although OFA has not taken an official stance either way on the development of the highway, they would like to see some more certainty in the direction of the project to be able to better support farmers in the area.

“We are pretty involved in farmland preservation, but on the other hand we are also heavily interested in discussion about continuing to invest in infrastructure around the province,” says Spoelstra.

“Ultimately we are wanting to see more information on agricultural impact assessments in the area around the proposed highway.”

The extended duration and the uncertainty regarding the precise route of the highway has left producers frustrated and unable to plan for their future.

“We don’t want to delay this project any more than it already has been. We’ve already struggled for 15 to 20 years with delays,” says Dolson.

“We are confident we will need this road. If it’s not this road it will be another at some point. We need some higher order roads to get traffic off our local ones,” states Dolson, also suggesting that construction of the highway may lead to safer transportation of farm equipment on current roads.

Laidlaw shared a similar opinion, saying that due to their location even if the highway development were to be cancelled, pressure for urban development would soon reach their farm.

The dairy farmer feels that lack of communication from the government and developers is the greater issue, as they are uncertain how many months or years they may have on their farm.

During the initial environmental assessment stage of the project, developers emphasized that the preferred route would minimally affect fields and farms in the area. Laidlaw shared that the proposed highway would cross over their farm, despite being the only local dairy producers.

An agricultural impact assessment would be valuable in clarifying both the benefits and complications that the construction of this highway will bring to producers in the York, Halton and Peel regions. OFA’s Spoelstra shared that to his knowledge there has been no progress on an agricultural impact assessment.

Phase 2 of field investigations for environmental assessment is predicted to be completed this month (December), but the overall timeline for the development of Highway 413 is still uncertain.

The general lack of communication has led to growing frustration for producers in the region, who say they feel neither the developers nor opposing parties have directly spoken to the farmers themselves about the impacts of the highway.

“Last year they held a lot of stakeholder and community input sessions in towns around us, but no one has directly asked us about how it affects our families and our operation,” says Laidlaw.

“We haven’t been represented transparently by either side.” BF

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