Mid-pen has potential to be issue in 11 ridings

J. P. Moczulski, the Canadian Press

Premier Ernie Eves' election platform calls for building the mid-pen and other highway projects 'as quickly as possible.'

September 9, 2003 - The Hamilton Spectator - Carmela Fragomeni

The Conservative party's plan to build a mid-peninsula highway from Fort Erie to Burlington

could emerge as a significant issue in some local ridings.

The controversial highway has the potential to affect 11 ridings: Burlington; Halton; Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot; Hamilton East; Hamilton Mountain; Stoney Creek; Hamilton West; Erie Lincoln; St. Catharines; Niagara Centre, and Niagara Falls.

Voters from Ancaster to Burlington are opposed to it and local Liberal candidates say the highway is very much an issue being raised by the public.

But their Progressive Conservative counterparts disagree, saying it's not.

The plan seems to be getting little discussion in Niagara Peninsula ridings, where there is general support for the highway.

The Conservative party's election platform, The Road Ahead, promises to build the mid-pen and other highway projects "as quickly as possible."

But three days before the election was announced, Transportation Minister Frank Klees agreed at a meeting with Hamilton, Burlington and Niagara to seriously study alternatives.

At least this is the way the City of Burlington and the ministry's own staff understand it.

To clear up the discrepancy between party platform and looking at alternatives, Klees said yesterday he only agreed to look at alternative routes, not alternatives to the highway.

"I'm not sure how serious the ministry is about looking at alternatives," says Dave Eckersley of Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment, a large grassroots group formed after plans showed the highway cutting through the escarpment and north of rural Burlington to join the toll-charging 407.

Studying alternatives is one component of a full environmental assessment, which Burlington residents and the city have been clamouring for.

A full EA means examining social, economic and natural land effects of the highway. It also means studying alternatives, such as widening existing highways or creating superior rail and public transit systems. The ministry's shortened EA, called a "scoped" EA won't do this.

The Liberal and NDP parties are committed to doing a full EA study.

Burlington Liberal candidate Mark Fuller said health and education are the top concerns, but about one in five people talk to him about the mid-pen. They are overwhelmingly against it and frustrated because Klees has flipped-flopped on the issue, he said. Burlington MPP and Conservative candidate Cam Jackson, who supports the city's stand, said no one is bringing up the mid-pen to him as an issue.

Ted Chudleigh, MPP and Conservative candidate for the Halton riding, where the Burlington part of the highway is slated to go, said he's had about 10 phone calls from people concerned about the mid-pen, but said it's early days yet.

Liberal opponent, Barbara Sullivan, echoed Fuller's top concerns of health care and education, but said the mid-pen is a big deal and it's raised enough to be significant.

In Lincoln Erie, MPP and Conservative candidate Tim Hudak said a significant majority of those who talk to him are "looking forward" to the new highway, believing it will be "an artery for investment and tourism." And NDP candidate and MPP for Niagara Centre Peter Kormos said no one has mentioned it to him.

Burlington, in its frustration over the ministry's original hardline stand, recently went so far as to take the province to court to protect the escarpment and to force comprehensive study. But in good faith, Burlington put the court action on hold after Klees promised to try to meet its concerns.

Now, it appears that what the city believes it was promised is not what the minister agreed to. A surprised Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac said the city will not drop its court action until satisfied its interests are secured.

"There is too much at stake," he said. "I'm just going to wait and see what's in writing. That's all I can do."

Ministry spokesman Bob Nichols said the city will get it in writing today.

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