Statement by Phil Pothen, Ontario Environment Program Manager on the Ontario government’s Application for Judicial Review of the federal Impact Assessment Act
Toronto | Traditional territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat – The Ontario government’s attempt to have the Impact Assessment Act and its regulations invalidated before the Federal government has completed the amendments required by the Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision is a threat to environmental protection and protection of the public interest. It is intended to create a temporary unregulated “no-mans-land” in areas that remain squarely within federal jurisdiction.
The specific grounds relied upon to designate the Highway 413 scheme for a federal impact assessment are not those the Supreme Court of Canada took issue with. This means that the Impact Assessment Act can easily be amended to comply with the Supreme Court’s decision without undermining the federal government’s ability to move forward with a full and thorough impact assessment of Highway 413. However, because the Ontario government now has no effective assessment or safeguards of its own that cover key environmental and social necessities, a declaration that the current language of the Impact Assessment Act is invalid could, theoretically, create a temporary gap in the law. It appears that the Ontario government is seeking to rush through that gap and make some of the environmental damage that’s at issue a fait accompli before an amended Impact Assessment Act can come into force.
The good news is that the federal Parliament can amend the Impact Assessment Act on an expedited basis – fast enough to prevent the Ontario government from causing any damage, regardless of the outcome of this judicial review application. We call on Minister Stephen Guilbeault and all federal MPs to deliver an urgent legislative fix.
It is important to remember that the Ontario government’s framing of the Highway 413 scheme as a solution to gridlock – repeated in its press release today – is false. Research shows that building 413 would have trivial impacts on travel times for existing GTA residents. In reality, the Highway 413 scheme is just another part of the same larger real estate and land speculation scandal that led to the Greenbelt removals has already caused two cabinet ministers and multiple political staffers to resign. Just like the Greenbelt removals, the Highway 413 scheme would divert what belongs to the public – in this case over $10 billion of public funds – to benefit a few politically-connected billionaires who would profit from an increase in land value. Just like the government’s corrupt Greenbelt attacks, it would divert scarce construction capacity to Highway 413 and would slow down urgently needed home building in Ontario, when the focus should be on building low-cost, compact homes in existing neighbourhoods where resources won’t be wasted building infrastructure from scratch.
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