At a recent debate hosted by Just Recovery Simcoe, candidates in Barrie-Innisfil — from the three parties that took part — were divided on a major provincial issue in the area: the controversial Bradford Bypass project.
The debate featured Bonnie North from the Green Party, John Olthuis from the Liberals and Pekka Reinio from the NDP. Progressive Conservative incumbent MPP Andrea Khanjin was absent, with an organizer telling BarrieToday she had a scheduling conflict. Debate organizers only invited candidates from parties that have seats in the provincial legislature.
During a rapid-fire question portion, where the candidates were asked a series of questions to which they had to give a thumbs up or thumbs down, the Bradford Bypass was addressed.
One question asked if each candidate would stop the construction of the Bradford Bypass and other 400-series highway projects happening the Greenbelt.
All three candidates at the Barrie-Innisfil debate gave a thumbs up and at the conclusion of the questions, candidates were given a chance to rebuttal or question each other.
Reinio directed his question to Olthuis, adding he “heard the Liberals say they would kill (Highway) 413 as the rest of us have.” The NDP candidate said he had not heard Olthuis's thoughts on the Bradford Bypass, which is a four-lane, 16.2-kilometre link connecting Highways 400 and 404.
“I know I’ve gone on record, even through Twitter before I even decided to become a candidate, saying I actually encouraged the bypass,” Olthuis said. “My personal rationale was that living in Barrie and Innisfil, and if the area wants to develop properly with proper transit, that you would need a bypass to get around Bradford.”
On Friday, Reinio told BarrieToday explained his stance on the Bradford Bypass as well as Highway 413, which the PCs have touted the route as necessary to relieve traffic congestion in the regions of Halton, Peel and York.
“We are not in support of the Bradford Bypass or Highway 413,” Reinio said. “These proposed, very expensive highways will not reduce gridlock or commuter times. What they will do is destroy crucial wetlands, agricultural lands and put increased pressure on Lake Simcoe.”
Environmental groups such as the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition and the Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition have been very vocal in recent months with their opposition to both projects, saying the Bradford Bypass in particular would cut through some of the most significant wetlands in the Greenbelt.
Reinio says a provincial NDP government would immediately eliminate tolls on Highway 407 for all trucks and transport vehicles, reducing gridlock on 400-series highways, shortening commute times and making commuting less expensive for truckers.
Meanwhile, Green candidate Bonnie North says building new highways is a Band-Aid solution to deeper issues which she believes are what need to be tackled instead.
“Rather than destroying farmland, wetlands, threatening the health of Lake Simcoe, and contributing further to the climate emergency to build a highway which will be jammed with traffic in a few years anyway, let’s instead do now what should’ve been done a long time ago — build better quality, affordable, accessible transit throughout our region,” North said in an email to BarrieToday.
“The Ontario Greens and I urge whichever government is elected on June 2 to put money towards sustainable solutions which will protect our well-being, the health of the environment, and which will increase affordability and the quality of our lives, and cancel the Bradford Bypass project, as well the Highway 413 project," she added.
Should it be built, the Bradford Bypass would cross approximately 10.75 hectares of wetland.
BarrieToday contacted Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition executive director Claire Malcolmson, who said she couldn’t speak to the issue due to the province’s notwithstanding clause, which gives provincial legislatures or Parliament the ability to override certain portions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a five-year term.
“The reason I am not liking and sharing or doing a lot on social media right now is because I’m not really allowed to," she said. "It has always been that charities could not openly support a candidate, but now if you’re even going to talk about election issues, you have to register as a third-party. The consequence of messing this up is you could lose your charitable status.”
BarrieToday also contacted Margaret Prophet, executive director of the Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition, who said one of the issues being constantly addressed is politicians trying to do two things at once.
“You can’t have one foot inside the door and one foot outside the door," Prophet said. "If you want to build on transit, if you want to build walk-able communities, then you need to make a conscious decision to start investing in that. Investing in car infrastructure clearly takes away from investments in transit, because you can only spread money so far.”
Prophet says an updated environmental assessment for the Bradford Bypass would make a difference, but only if what is actually being asked is effective.
“Like anything else, what questions are being asked? Right now, environment assessments don’t consider climate impacts. That is not written into the legislation,” Prophet said Friday. “There is nothing within the MTO assessments that they have to consider Lake Simcoe. That needs to be written into it.”
In February, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada announced it would not revisit its decision to deny a federal impact assessment designation for the Bradford Bypass.
In early April, the provincial government announced it had awarded a contract to Brennan Paving and Construction to design and construct a bridge crossing for the Bradford Bypass at County Road 4 (Yonge Street) between the 8th and 9th Lines that will cross over the future Bradford Bypass. The scope of the project will also include the widening of County Road 4 from two to four lanes.
“A province that is growing as fast as ours needs a modern transportation system to support it and that is why our government is saying ‘yes’ to finally building badly needed highways like the Bradford Bypass,” Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, who is also the incumbent MPP in York-Simcoe where the planned highway is happening, said at that time.
Construction of the new bridge is expected to begin in late 2022 with an expected completion date by late fall 2024.
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Highway 413, in particular, would have minimal effect on provincial roads.
"We have been very clear that we will stop Highway 413, the Ford Conservatives’ project that would only shave an average of 30 seconds off of commutes while paving over important wetlands and farmland," Del Duca said in an email to BarrieToday on Friday. "Instead, we’ll invest the significant savings from this unnecessary highway into new and repaired schools, including upgraded ventilation systems."
Del Duca also said the Liberals would "pause any further work on the proposed Bradford Bypass until a new environmental assessment is done – since the current assessment hasn’t been updated since 1997. If this assessment fails to meet environmental and community standards, we’ll stop the Bradford Bypass just like Highway 413."
Khanjin, meanwhile, stated last year that "the Ministry of Transportation has already completed a comprehensive environmental assessment for the Bradford Bypass project and its potential environmental impacts are well understood."