Burlington must come first in mid-peninsula highway debate

Cam Jackson, My View July 2, 03

The significance of the Niagara Escarpment is abundantly clear to everyone in our region and that's why the placement of the Mid-Peninsula Transportation Corridor has sparked so much interest in Halton.

Throughout my cabinet and Queen's Park career I have consistently supported and upheld recommendations from the Niagara Escarpment Commission (NEC). At the first public meeting held last September, I publicly stated "the highway should not cut through the escarpment." My position, shared by city staff, was that alternate routes should be studied and the escarpment route be rejected.

It was also clear that Niagara region had more input than Halton region. Our citizens deserved equal input into the process. Mayor Rob MacIsaac, Halton Region, Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE), CONE (and recently, the Burlington Chamber of Commerce) and I supported more public consultation, more in-depth study of alternate routes and splitting the environmental assessments into two separate study areas -- Niagara-to-Hamilton and Halton.

Former transportation minister Norm Sterling agreed to our request for more public consultations and consideration of three alternate routes.

Following a series of six public meetings, our concerns remained with this process. I agree with Mayor MacIsaac's comments -- this is not a question of whether there's a need for a highway; this is about due process.

Current transportation minister Frank Klees granted our request for a 30-day extension of the Environmental Assessment Terms of Reference (EA) review, allowing the city time to prepare its case. Klees wouldn't agree to a separate environmental assessment for Halton.

On June 16, the City of Burlington and Halton filed an application for judicial review of the highway planning process. The next day, Ontario's Divisional Court ruled on a precedent-setting case determining that the minister of the environment does not have the authority under the amended Environmental Assessment Act to approve a pared-down EA (essentially the city's case). Having done my homework, I advised the minister's staff and rose in the legislature asking minister Klees to read this new court ruling before proceeding.

"My community and I continue to hold the belief that the province hasn't sufficiently examined the environmental impacts of building a new highway along the escarpment. We argue that the province is breaking environmental law by moving forward with this EA. I have consistently supported the concerns of my community and the concerns of COPE and CONE. I again ask the Minister to reconsider proceeding with this mid-peninsula EA and get back to the table with the City of Burlington and Halton."

Minister Klees has publicly stated the city is going to lose its court case before he even read the recent court ruling. My defence of the escarpment is well-known amongst the NEC, my community and colleagues. Minister Brad Clark's personal attack on my comments in cabinet and attempt to discredit my position is both inappropriate and inaccurate.

This transportation corridor won't be built for 10-12 years. We owe it to the citizens of Halton and our environment to ensure it's done right.

Cam Jackson is the MPP for Burlington.

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