The road to Queen's Park: parties divided on highways, united on transit

WATCH: Ontario’s party leaders have hit the campaign trail for the province’s 43rd election. Focus Ontario has what you need to know as parties make promises to voters. Darrell Bricker of Ipsos joins the show with insight into Ontarians’ opinions. And, sports fandoms bring out the best and worst in us.

Ontario’s political parties have identified the transport promises they hope will propel them into government at Queen’s Park after the provincial election on June 2.

Parties and their platforms offer a range of contrasting highway promises, but share a close vision for Ontario’s transit, experts have noted.

Doug Ford’s PC Party has promised massive infrastructure projects, notably the construction of new roads like Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.

The Ontario Liberals rolled out a buck-a-ride transit fare pledge for the party’s first 1.5 years in office and the NDP promised significant spending to improve transit reliability.

At the heart of the campaign conversation is one mega-project: Highway 413. Through the beginning of the election run, it has become symbolic of where the different parties stand on transportation.

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“It’s being used as a class political wedge issue — it’s laser-focused on the geography of the province where elections are won and lost and that’s in the 905 region,” Matti Siemiatycki, director of the Infrastructure Institute at the University of Toronto, told Global News.

Ford’s PCs are the only party that has committed to building the project, slated to run through Peel Region from Milton to Vaughan.

The proposed highway was scrapped by the Ontario Liberals in 2018 after a panel of experts it had appointed found the road would save just 30 seconds for commuters.

After Ford won power, his party moved to restart work on the route’s environmental assessment. The PCs claim work shows the highway would save 30 minutes for commuters travelling from one end to the other, not 30 seconds.

The debate has played out between activists, municipalities and the province so far. Various cities along the route, including Mississauga and Vaughan, are no longer in support of the project.

June 2 will be the first time voters are given a direct say.

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“At the municipal level there was a fair amount of opposition actually for some of these highway projects and this is the first time where it is going to the voters,” Siemiatycki said. “It’s interesting that we’re now going to the electorate with these two very different visions.”

According to Shoshanna Saxe, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Toronto, Highway 413 is the epitome of bad planning.

Decades of evidence shows that new highways create more demand for driving and, as a result, more gridlock, she said.

“People are very susceptible to making choices based on what the infrastructure is telling them to do,” she told Global News. “The more highways you build, the more you are encouraging, incentivizing people to drive. The more you’re telling them the way to get around in this area is driving, the more people drive.”

“This is an experiment we’ve tried  for more than 100 years with the same results over and over again.”

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While the PC Party put the project at the heart of its re-election bid, opening its first day of the campaign along the site of the proposed route, Ontario’s other major parties are united against the project.

The Ontario Liberal Party has promised to scrap the route and invest the money in other projects, particularly schools. The Ontario NDP also said it would cancel “wasteful” projects like Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass.

The Ontario Greens made a similar promise — also pledging to create lanes dedicated to commercial trucking on the privately-tolled Highway 407.

“I think there’s a pretty wide swathe of opportunity between when the Conservatives are offering — sort of a 1950s cars, highways, sprawl — to what the Greens are offering — very ambitious in terms of no new highways, much more investment in public transit and active transit,” Saxe said.

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Despite promising to drop Highway 413 and “reassess” the Bradford Bypass, the Ontario Liberals have still committed to highway expansion.

The party’s platform promises to widen Highway 401, build “a new Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph” and construct a four-lane Highway 3 from Windsor to Leamington.

There are also broad areas of agreement.

“The four elected parties are all in agreement about the need for our transport and particularly transit infrastructure to catch up with other global cities and to catch up with our own growth,” Jonathon English, director of transportation policy for the Toronto Region Board of Trade, explained.

The Liberals and NDP, along with the PCs and the Greens, have common ground on transit. All four have committed to action to integrate transit fares around Toronto and they all offer major transit spending packages.

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In the budget, which doubles as the PC campaign document, commitments were made to the Ontario Line and extending the Eglington Crosstown LRT. The NDP promised to lengthen the Hurontario LRT from Mississauga to Brampton and cover 50 per cent of the costs municipalities pay for transit.

The Ontario Liberal Party has promised one-dollar rides until the beginning of 2024 if elected. The policy, Siemiatycki said, is “gimmicky” but has cut through the noise.

Which party has the most appealing set of transportation promises — and a reckoning on highways — will be clearer when voters cast their ballots on June 2.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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