Critics slam Mid-pen legislation
Say Bill 25 gives transportation minister too much power

Dan Nolan The Hamilton Spectator Jun. 3, 03

The Ontario government is being accused of trying to bypass environmental laws and local planning in the routing of the Mid-peninsula highway and other major throughways.

But the government says the proposed Bill 25 -- which would give the transportation minister power to designate future transportation corridors -- is simply good long-term planning and that if a corridor is ever selected, the actual highway route would still be subjected to environmental rules.

A coalition of environmental groups and opposition critics charged yesterday that the bill introduced into the legislature last month by Transportation Minister Frank Klees gives the minister power to exempt such corridors from the province's Environmental Assessment Act and the planning desires of a community.

Some, like Mayor Rob MacIsaac, are worried a minister may designate a corridor for the superhighway (the mid-peninsula corridor) through north Burlington. The city opposes that route and has voted to take the province to court, arguing Queen's Park has short-circuited the planning process.

MacIsaac has also filed a complaint with Ontario Environmental Commissioner Gordon Miller over the implications of Bill 25, which is called an Act to Enhance Public Transit and Provide for a Smart Transportation System in Ontario. The mayor called the bill "an appalling piece of legislation that is highly disrespectful of town's and cities' authority and the public's rights."

MacIsaac is scheduled to meet with Klees today to talk about his city's aim to appeal the Mid-pen in court.

"Bill 25 is a very nasty piece of legislation," said David Eckersley, vice-chair of the Coalition Opposed to Paving the Escarpment, one of half a dozen groups and Liberal MPPs who held a press conference at Queen's Park to denounce the bill. Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin also attended.

"It takes all the power away from the transportation and environmental ministry bureaucracy and zaps it right to the transportation minister," added Eckersley. "He has total discretion ... He can jam a highway through your town."

Labour Minister Brad Clark called the criticism from the groups and opposition critics "a pretty big stretch." The Stoney Creek MPP was transportation minister before being named labour minister last year.

"(The corridor) could be 10 or 20 miles across," Clark said. "We're talking about a corridor. The minister, should he believe there's a need, will identify a corridor, not a route."

Clark reiterated the route will still be subjected to environmental assessment rules, but he also noted corridors will be reviewed every 10 years to see if they are still needed. Clark said the province was moved to bring down the legislation partly because municipalities complained areas looked at as transportation corridors had already been touched by development.

-- With files from Canadian Press

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