Stop the 413 highway. Image: Doreen Nicoll
Credit: Horeen Hassan

Before sunrise on Friday, October 22, concerned citizens gathered at the Mount Alverno Luxury Resort in Caledon, Ontario. Inside, Caledon Mayor Allan Thompson was hosting his “Annual Mayor’s Business Breakfast,” and Premier Doug Ford was the keynote speaker.

Outside, Michelle Tom of Stop Sprawl HamOnt, was joined by a coalition of groups including StopThe413, Ontario Disability Justice Network, Grand(m)Others Act to Save the Planet (GASP), Wellington Water Watchers (WWW), Climate Justice Guelph and the Central Students Association University of Guelph. Tom was part of the protest there to let Ford and the other business breakfast-ers know that there is a growing cross-section of Ontarians opposed to the construction of Highway 413.

“We’re here today because we don’t understand why our premier wants to ruin our environmental land, our farmland, our water, and forested areas and increase gas emissions. We’re in a climate emergency,” Tom said at the event.

The proposed Highway 413 carves into the greenbelt and will consume 55 kms of prime farmland, conservation lands and protected areas in Caledon, Halton and Vaughan townships. Also known as the GTA west corridor, the highway would connect Highway 400 with Highways 401 and 407.

The groups came together to stop the sale of valuable farmland to developers as well as pre-empt the devastating climate and environmental impacts new highways, urban sprawl, aggregate extraction and expansion of industrial land will have on current and future generations.

In August 2020, land-use planning policies changed from using a climate lens to a market lens, making it easier to build low density homes on some of Ontario’s best greenbelt-adjacent farmland. Highway 413 fills the need for car-centric access to these new monster-home subdivisions as well as future massive industrial facilities planned for the area.

At a projected cost of $10 billion, Highway 413 comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how and where people work. With more people planning to continue to work from home, demand for a massive new highway has never been lower.

At the same time, COVID-19 laid bare the need to ensure and increase local food production in order to establish sustainable food security and eventually, food sovereignty. Truth is, an Agricultural Impact Assessment of the farmland involved in this super-sprawl project has never been carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Farmland currently sells for $18,000 an acre. Rezone Farmland to development land and the price increases to $1 million per acre. That is exactly what is happening to the farmland along the proposed super highway route. Local councillors and the Mayor of Caledon are profiting from these sales. Thompson, a proponent of the super highway plan, sold his farm for $10 million.

“Groups are starting to coalesce around these issues as we see the relationship of profit motive for land speculators. We know the cost of sprawl is higher than building within our urban boundaries. The Ford government is forcing the cost of sprawl onto taxpayers,” said Tom.

“If we build within current urban boundaries, we can gently increase densities to ensure high active transportation modal share. Folks will have efficient transit and walkable neighbourhoods.”

At the business breakfast, Ford’s speech was peppered with accomplishments from his time in office, including the $7 billion in tax cuts he has produced — not altogether, but year after year.

According to Ford, these tax breaks cut through the red tape and regulations and help companies like Ford Motors stay in the province. Ford also cited cuts to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board premiums, lowered electricity rates and decreased small business taxes for creating the conditions under which companies can thrive, prosper and grow — which of course, he claims, trickle down to their employees.

Ford gave a nod to the massive agricultural centre where the business breakfast was being held, then went on to outline his plan for industrial intensification on that same farmland. Ford referenced hundreds of phone calls made to him personally from business people wanting to open businesses in the area. Included among the calls was one from an undisclosed business person who would like to build a seven million square foot battery facility on prime agricultural lands and wetlands.

This proposal is reminiscent of plans Ford and Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Steven Clark have for Cambridge, Ontario. A Ministry of Zoning Order (MZO) was issued in April 2021 at the request of Mayor Kathryn McGarry. That allowed the fast tracking of a 2.2-million square foot warehouse distribution centre for Amazon despite the lack of consultation with Six Nations of the Grand River and local residents.

In his speech, Ford failed to mention the plethora of viable alternatives that would prevent the environmental and climate devastation he is generating.

The $10 billion in government funding going towards Highway 413 should be re-directed to create well-paying green jobs by funding retrofitting of existing housing and buildings; new affordable housing projects within existing city limits; mass public transit projects; training and land for young urban farmers; land purchases for marginalized people historically kept out of farming; eco-friendly tourism and recreational initiatives.

All of these ventures generate sustainable, well-paying jobs with low carbon footprints that ultimately facilitate connections between urban centres, residential and employment lands while fostering economic vitality in line with land preservation and lower environmental and climate impacts.

In a tweet posted by Stop the 413 organizer Jenni Le Forestier, Cheryl sums up the reason this coalition came together and why it will continue to fight Ford’s highway project:

“I’m here because I’m mad; I got here early; I got up in the dark; it’s freezing cold, to send a message to Doug Ford and the town of Caledon council that we’re going to be here next year during the election to make sure they’re not re-elected. We care about the climate crisis. My son is going to have a future. And, if I have to get up at four o’clock in the morning every day for the next year, we’re going to make sure this is the end of Ford Nation and we’re going to put in a new Caledon Council that cares about the people and the land we live on.”

For more information on how Highway 413 will spawn super sprawl, read Pamela Blais book, Perverse Cities.

Editor’s note, Oct. 26, 2021: A previous version of this story referred to Michelle Tom as the organizer of the protest; in fact, the organizer was Jenni Le Forestier. The story has been updated.