Next time, let's get the highway planning process right

The Burlington Post, Wed., July 16, 2003. Byline: Ted McMeekin, My View

Over the last year, we have been exposed to what can only be described as an absolute charade of a Ministry of Transportation-led planning process, known as the Mid-Peninsula Corridor Study.

Along with thousands of concerned citizens, I attended public meetings on this issue. In fact, I've participated in at least 10 of these meetings.

With the exception of a special meeting organized by my office to plan how best to respond to the jaded MTO process, the meetings were generally a pretty frustrating experience.

As the MTO process unfolded, it became tragically clear that there was very little integration of the Mid-Pen study with the important work of the government's own Smart Growth panels. In fact, the process became so distorted that the City of Burlington, with the support of Halton Region, were forced to commence legal action against the provincial government over its proposed, narrowly scoped and quite possibly, illegal environmental assessment.

In the midst of a poor process, I can only salute the hardworking volunteers of the Coalition For the Niagara Escarpment (CONE) and Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment (COPE) who are both dedicated to protecting this natural treasure. They do not want a mid-peninsula highway to cut through the escarpment.

Sadly, what should and could have been a great dress rehearsal on how best to undertake transportation planning quickly became a dressing-down of important aspects of our environmental planning process.

Additionally, many citizens I represent were horrified to learn that legislation proposed by the government -- namely Bill 25 -- the so-called Smart Growth Transportation Act was about to be rushed through the legislature. It would have the impact of eliminating the important oversight of the Environmental Assessment Act from highway and transportation planning.

It is offensive in the extreme that the efforts of Smart Growth panel members from across Ontario were sullied by Premier Ernie Eves' and Transportation Minister Frank Klees' twisted version of Smart Growth as evidenced by Bill 25.

Facing massive and well-organized opposition from a broad range of stakeholders including, thankfully, the prudent and principled Burlington city council, the provincial government pulled the inadequate Environment Assessment Terms of Reference and Bill 25.

Now there will be more consultation and discussion.

Let's hope the province finally gets it right. They could begin by doing the right thing and issuing an immediate apology to all of the volunteer Smart Growth panel members across Ontario for the tragic insult to their commitment and efforts.

Ted McMeekin is the Liberal MPP for Ancaster-Dundas-Flamborough-Aldershot.

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