By Doug Draper
Posted August 14th, 2016 on Niagara At Large
For a while there, Patrick Brown actually had me wondering if he just might be more open than his Tory predecessors were to charting a political course that takes the protection our environment into consideration.
But not anymore. Now he has lost me.
After 15 months of trying to convince the rest of us that the word truly “progressive” belongs back in the “Progressive Conservative Party” name after Mike Harris and Tim Hudak took a cudgel to it, he has dialed right back to the Harris/Hudak era with his declaration to a business group that he is open to resurrecting the idea of constructing a multi-lane highway through the middle of the Niagara Peninsula between the Hamilton-Halton area and the Fort Erie-Buffalo border crossing.
It was just last March – barely nine months after he was chosen leader of Ontario’s PC Party after Hudak resigned the post following the party’s failure to win the 2014 provincial election – that Brown delivered a keynote address to a general meeting of party delegates that gave reason to believe he wanted to strike a significantly different tone than Harris and Hudak, and former federal Tory leader Stephen Harper when it comes to environmental issues.
Here is one particular passage from Brown’s address that had me wondering if this guy might finally take the Ontario wing of the party back to a time more than four decades ago when then Tory premier Bill Davis say the creation of a Ministry of Environment and set some of the first regulations for protecting our waters, air and lands from man-made pollution.
I once wrote a letter to (Canadian) Prime Minister Mulroney about acid rain for a school project I was working on,” recalled Brown of a time some three decades ago in his address. “He responded…and I remember being surprised that a politician would take the time to reply to a student about a school project on acid rain.”
“So, I started to like politics because of the acid rain treaty,” Brown added. “I became a Progressive Conservative because of the environment (and) let me say this as clearly as I can – Climate change is a fact. It is a threat. It is man-made (and) we have to do something about it. And that “something” includes putting a price on carbon.”
Sounds pretty encouraging, doesn’t it. Could you ever imagine Mike Harris or Stephen Harper saying that?
They wouldn’t come close to saying anything like that if flames from the wildfires that charred the tar sands regions of Alberta this spring were nipping at their heels.
So I know I wasn’t the only citizen in Ontario with concerns about the lack of government action on climate change and other environmental issues to date who wondered if Brown might be a leader who would move the province forward on these issues.
Then I opened up newspapers to stories about a talk Brown gave to members of a Chambers of Commerce group in nearby Flamborough, Ontario earlier this August. According to the stories, Brown told the group he’s willing to reach way down into a handbag of ideas left over from the last century and pull out a two-and-a-half decade old plan to build a 400-series highway like the QEW – this one through the rural heart of Niagara south of an internationally designated biosphere area we know of as the Niagara Escarpment.
“It’s something that our party would look very serious at,” Brown was quoted saying in August 4th editions of the Metroland weekly Niagara This Week. “I do see the arguments made by (Haldimand-Norfolk Tory MPP) Toby Barrett and (Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP) Tim Hudak, and I would have a lot of empathy for that advocacy (in favour of the highway.)”
I read this, shaking my head and asking myself ‘why’? Here’s an old toilet that’s been plunged over and over again, and now this guy’s going to back it up again.
Indeed, the current Ontario Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty and now Kathleen Wynne, which has never shown all that much interest in environmental issues compared to the David Peterson Liberal government of 30 years ago, at least had the good sense to place any plan to move forward with a mid-peninsula highway under a full environmental assessment review – a move that raised the ire of Hudak and other supporters at the time the Liberals did it some 10 years ago.
It was a move that also raised even more doubt that such a scheme would ever get through what is a far more rigorous and costly and time-consuming (as in tens-of-millions of dollars and possibly as long as 10 years) review process.
After all, we are talking about cutting a multi-lane highway through many miles of farm country and through watersheds that flow to Lake Ontario to the north and the Niagara River to the east.
We are also talking about a highway that, like almost any other highway ever built in North America, would encourage even more low-density urban sprawl. In this case, it would happen in a major food basket area of Niagara, at time when in regions across Canada and the United States, there is a citizen’s push to eat as much food as possible grown locally.
Then there is the not so little question of who is going to pay for this highway. More than a decade ago, Ontario Ministry of Transportation officials estimated the cost at $1.5 billion and counting.
Yet, Niagara’s current regional government regime still has the highway scheme on a list of options for a growth plan drafted for the region for the next 25 years. That makes sense given the lack of imagination and vision we now have at work at the regional level.
But why would Brown be interested in dredging up something that works against doing something, as he claims he wants to do, to address climate change and other environmental issues.
I’ll be blunt, Mr. Brown. It leaves me believing the words you delivered to your party’s general meeting last March about as much as I believe that two plus two equals five.
It is the wrong answer, and if it is any reflection of the platform you bring forward prior to the next provincial election, I expect you will do as well as Tim Hudak did in the last election.
This is the second decade of the 21st century, Mr. Brown. It is not 1956. And with each passing election cycle, you may very well find that fewer and fewer of us think it’s a good idea to go back there.
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