Ontario, shorter environmental assessments for highways

TORONTO – Once again, the environment is in the “crosshairs” of Doug Ford’s government: after the attempt – notoriously failed – to take land away from the Greenbelt to reach the goal of 1.5 million new homes by 2031, the Province returns to the fray with a new piece of legislation, the Get It Done Act, designed to speed up the construction of new highways in Ontario by shortening environmental assessment timelines. 

The bill, which made its official “debut” today during the resumption of parliamentary proceedings in Queen’s Park, is actually a set of laws, including measures completely unrelated to Ontario’s environmental laws, such as freezing renewal fees of the driving license.

But it is the “environmental” part that is the most “heavy”: in fact, a reduction in the time required for environmental assessments on large infrastructure projects such as new highways and hydroelectric transmission lines is expected; furthermore, the new law will allow the Province to expropriate land before such assessments are completed. The goal is to contain costs and streamline complex approval processes to complete major projects including Highway 413, which would cross parts of the “Green Belt” between Highways 400 and 401 that exist in the northern and western parts of Greater Toronto Area. The Ford government’s Get It Done Act would speed up environmental assessments by adding highways to the list of projects that Ontario classifies as “low risk” and therefore eligible for early environmental approval, which the Ford government says could reduce up to completion times for these projects are four years.

“I’m deeply concerned about this bill” Green Party leader Mike Schreiner told CBC. And, speaking specifically about Highway 413, “the billions of dollars they would spend – he said – would be better spent on our health care system, or building affordable housing, or maybe addressing the crisis in our education system”.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles also called it “concerning” that the government is “tinkering” with the process of approving major projects. “This government can’t be trusted with this kind of thing” Stiles said.

The Ford government, however, is pushing ahead also because it must start keeping the promises made in the last electoral campaign (using the same slogan: “Get It Done”) in order to best position itself for a possible re-election in 2026.

In the pic above: the Premier of Ontario, Doug Ford, during his speech at an event of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association, where he also spoke about the 413 highway project (photo from Twitter X – @fordnation)