The Ontario government plans to move ahead with the construction of a four-lane highway stretching 16.2 kilometres over existing farmland, green spaces and wetlands. Proponents of the project have been calling it the “Bradford Bypass”. However, many environmental groups against the project have been calling it the “Holland Marsh Highway” after the marsh land that the highway would be built over.
A demand for the project has been called for since 1979 and an environmental assessment was eventually conducted by 1997. The current Ontario government is planning on using these twenty-four year old findings as a ‘green light’ to move ahead with the project and has applied for exemption from the ‘Environmental Assessment Act’.
The importance of urban green spaces
The ‘Green Belt’ was established in Ontario to protect sensitive land areas such as farmland, marshland, and wetlands. However, the project is set to run straight through the belt. The 1997 assessment does not take into account the importance of such a green space in rapidly changing climate.
Studies have shown the importance of green spaces around urban settings, not just to wildlife but to people as well. In 2018 in Montreal, 66 people died over six days during the June-July heat wave due to the extreme heat island effect. Lower income areas that had less green spaces were more greatly affected by the heat. Green spaces do not heat up as fast as pavement and therefore reduce the over all heat of the area or what is known as the urban heat island effect. Green spaces around the city can be especially beneficial during summer heat waves that we see more often due to climate change.
Furthermore, the wetlands within the Holland Marsh can reduce flood risk in the area as a natural water storage sink. This water storage ability “lowers flood heights and reduces erosion” according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).
Green Party speaks out:
Dans un déclaration release by the Green Party of Ontario, Green candidate for Dufferin-Caledon, Laura Cambell, has spoken out on the matter par saying that the project would not reduce traffic as intended. She went on to explain that the project would overall increase pollution from “carbon emissions we simply can’t afford anymore”. She highlighted the impact that the project would have on the water quality of the areas on top of encouraging further “urban sprawl that would follow for decades to come”
On June 24th 2021, locals who were against the project took part in the “No More Highways” demonstrations across Ontario. Cambell took part in the event in her riding of Dufferin-Caledon.
Provincial Party Leader, Mike Schreiner was also quoted in the statement by the Greens suggesting alternatives to the project such as investing in more public transit and recommended for the Ford government to “protect the Greenbelt”. Cambell also suggested that this money could be invested elsewhere in the community such as creating “safer schools” or subsidizing more health services that are not covered by the government at this time.