Ontario, federal governments reach deal allowing Highway 413 project to proceed

TORONTO — Ontario has struck a deal with the federal government to proceed with the province’s Highway 413 project while working together to mitigate the effects on species at risk.

The two governments say they have signed a memorandum of understanding that establishes a joint working group to minimize the planned highway’s environmental impacts in areas of federal jurisdiction.

They say that at their request, the Federal Court has ordered that the Highway 413 project’s designation under the Impact Assessment Act be set aside.

The province had accused Ottawa of overreach when it marked the planned highway for a federal review under the act, and had asked the court to stop the federal government from applying the impugned legislation to the 413 project.

Last fall, the Supreme Court of Canada found parts of the Impact Assessment Act to be unconstitutional, ruling it was written in a way that could allow the federal government to make decisions about projects wholly within provincial jurisdiction.

The proposed 52-kilometre Highway 413 connecting the regions of York, Peel, and Halton has been touted as part of the province’s plan to fight gridlock and expand public transit, but environmental groups and other critics say it would encourage sprawl into the protected Greenbelt, pave over prime farmland, and jeopardize the health of at-risk frog and fish species.

In a statement Monday, federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault said the agreement shows the two governments can work together while recognizing their shared jurisdiction on environmental protections.

“It also ensures federal interests will be maintained on the protection of species while offering Ontario, in light of the recent Supreme Court’s decision, a greater level of clarity around the review process for the Highway 413 Project,” the statement said.

Guilbeault has previously said the top court’s decision left the Impact Assessment Act standing, but the government would work to tighten the parts the court found were too broad. He said that included powers the law gives the environment minister to designate projects for review under the act.

The province thanked the federal government Monday “for meeting us at the table” and said it will work on procurements to “get shovels in the ground on key interchanges of the project” in the coming months.

“Our province is in the middle of a period of unprecedented growth, with gridlock costing our economy upwards of $11 billion every year and we need our infrastructure to keep up,” Transportation Minister Prabmeet Sarkaria said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2024.

The Canadian Press