Chapter 5: Policy Context

For two decades following the end of World War II, Ontario’s growing population and economy spurred the rapid expansion of its transportation system, including provincial highways. Provincial policies affecting transportation focused on building the most efficient and cost-effective network possible. Transportation planners were asked to direct their efforts primarily towards achieving economic goals, such as increasing highway capacity, reducing travel times and moving people and goods more efficiently. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, transportation planning was required to expand its scope. For example, in 1975, environmental assessment became an important requirement for new provincial transportation infrastructure. Similarly, during the 1990s, Ontario began to integrate infrastructure planning with land use planning and provincial policy.

The arrival of a new millennium coincided with renewed provincial interest in curbing urban sprawl in favour of smarter growth, and the embracing of broader economic, social and environmental goals for provincial transportation infrastructure. This resulted in the passage of a suite of legislative and policy reforms between 2004 and 2006. From today’s perspective, it is clear that the GTAW EA was launched at a transformative moment in Ontario’s policy history, with impacts for both transportation planning and the environmental assessment process

5.1 A New Planning Framework for EA

In 1983, the passage of the Planning Act laid the groundwork for a planning system that was directed by the provincial government, by requiring planners to have “regard for” policies approved by the Province. Twenty years later, the government initiated a second round of key reforms to strengthen provincial direction and policy. First, the requirement that decisions “have regard to” provincial policy statements was replaced by the stronger obligation that decisions “be consistent with” such statements (subsection 3(5)). Second, the province passed legislation and issued plans to set higher policy standards for specific regions of the province–including a new permanent greenbelt across several regions of southern Ontario and growth management across the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Decisions relating to planning matters were required to “conform with” these plans.

By the end of 2006, subsection 3(5) of the Planning Act required:

Policy statements and provincial plans

(5) A decision of the council of a municipality, a local board, a planning board, a minister of the Crown and a ministry, board, commission or agency of the government, including the Municipal Board, in respect of the exercise of any authority that affects a planning matter,

  1. shall be consistent with the policy statements issued under subsection (1) that are in effect on the date of the decision; and
  2. shall conform with the provincial plans that are in effect on that date, or shall not conflict with them, as the case may be. 2006, c. 23, s. 5.

As a provincial ministry, the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), the proponent of the GTAW EA, was thus obliged to conform with these plans and be consistent with the province’s policy statements.

The provincial government also provided guidance on the interaction between these new policy requirements. The PPS (2005), which provided policy direction for provincial interests, and provincial plans, which provided geographic-specific policies on planning matters, were intended to work in conjunction with one another. However, in the event of a conflict, provincial guidance stated that the provincial plans should take precedence over policies in the PPS (4.9). Another source of provincial guidance was the Places to Grow Act, 2005, which advised that in matters relating to human health and the natural environment, in the case of a conflict between the Growth Plan and either another provincial plan or the PPS, the policy that provides the strongest protection for human health or the natural environment must prevail. With this new planning policy framework, Ontario established a new foundation for land use planning, new requirements for adherence, and new guidance on resolving conflicts between policies.

Though guided by its own distinct legislation, Ontario’s environmental assessment process is referenced in and is part of the new policy-led foundation for planning. In its Implementation and Interpretation section, the PPS clarifies that, “In addition to land use approvals under the Planning Act, infrastructure may also require approval under other legislation and regulations, including the Environmental Assessment Act; the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 1992…” (4.8). The Greenbelt Plan (2005) states that existing, expanded or new infrastructure that is subject to and approved under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, or the Planning Act (among others) is permitted in the Protected Countryside, provided it meets the General Infrastructure policies and objectives of the Plan ( Finally, with respect to moving people and goods, the Growth Plan (2006) states that Schedules 5 and 6 provide strategic frameworks for future investment decisions, and that timing, phasing and alignment are subject to the environmental assessment process where applicable ( and

These policies demonstrate that environmental assessments do not take place outside the provincial policy framework. Rather, they are subject to and informed by the policies contained in the provincial plans and the PPS.

In the past, EAs in Ontario have echoed the traditional approach to provincial policy, having “regard” for many policy topics, but also having regard for a range of other considerations — technical, financial, etc. — that were not addressed by provincial policies. Under the new planning framework, however, the purpose of an EA undertaking, and the evaluation of alternatives and alternative methods, were required to conform with and be consistent with provincial policy set out in the PPS or specified provincial plans. To deliver policy outcomes through the EA requirements to describe, evaluate and compare alternatives, an EA thus had to focus on criteria that would give provincial policy priority over other criteria. Similarly, EA criteria would now need to screen out alternatives that are contrary to provincial policy and assign greater weight to effects and benefits that address provincial policy. In other words, a preferred project and the process for identifying such a preferred project were now required to conform with all applicable provincial plans and be consistent with the provincial policy statement.

To provide better insight into the new provincial policy framework that was applicable to the GTAW EA, the Panel has categorized the documents listed in the EA’s terms of reference in three tiers (Figure 5-1). First-tier policies include those that were implemented through statutory processes, and to which the requirements for conformity and consistency apply. Five documents provide policies that are included in this category: the Growth Plan (2006), the Greenbelt Plan (2005), the Niagara Escarpment Plan (NEP; 2005), the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (ORMCP; 2002), and the Provincial Policy Statement (2005).

Second-tier policies are those that are specific to MTO or Metrolinx, and are policies that the ministry and Metrolinx should follow, according to internal direction and the Metrolinx Act (2006), respectively. The third tier includes relevant policies from other ministries and planning bodies. In the diagram below, the Panel has illustrated this framework and highlighted policies that have been updated, replaced or released since the start of the GTAW EA.

Figure 5-1: Provincial Policy Framework

The diagram presents a conceptualization prepared by the GTA West Advisory Panel of how the provincial policy framework could apply to infrastructure planning. The framework is presented in three tiers. The first tier comprises of land use policies which are binding on the province (such as the Growth Plan, the Greenbelt Plan, the Niagara Escarpment Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, and the Provincial Policy Statement) in addition to environmental policies such as Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan, and the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act. The second tier consists of ministry and agency-specific transportation policies such as Metrolinx’s Regional Transportation Plan, and the Province’s Greater Golden Horseshoe Transportation Plan in addition to Strategic Transportation Directions for Central and Southwest Ontario. The third tier is comprised of relevant policies from other planning entities, including land-use policies such as official plans applicable to municipalities, and transportation policies from other governments, such as the federal government’s Straight Ahead – A Vision for Transportation in Canada.

5.2 New Policy Directions

In addition to introducing new requirements for adherence, Ontario’s new policy framework also marked a directional shift for the province, as the government embraced a more active role in managing growth and protecting valuable natural resources and cultural heritage. Three of the first-tier policy documents encapsulate this new approach and are particularly relevant to the GTAW EA: a new Provincial Policy Statement (PPS; 2005) and two major regional plans, the Greenbelt Plan (2005) and the Growth Plan (2006). This section highlights several key policy shifts which the Panel found to have a bearing on the GTAW EA.

Both the Growth Plan (2006) and the PPS (2005) introduced policies to encourage intensification and compact growth. For example, the PPS directed that “appropriate development standards should be promoted which facilitate intensification, redevelopment and compact form” ( The Growth Plan (2006) further developed this approach to managing growth for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, with requirements for municipalities to meet intensification and density targets. The plan also introduced the term “complete communities” to describe a pattern, density and mix of land uses that enable more people to fulfill their everyday needs within their own neighbourhoods.

With respect to the transportation system, the PPS (2005) and the Growth Plan (2006) emphasized the need to optimize existing and planned infrastructure.xii The PPS (2005) in particular directed that “The use of existing infrastructure and public service facilities should be optimized, wherever feasible, before consideration is given to developing new infrastructure and public service facilities” (1.6.2). Both the PPS (2005) and the Growth Plan (2006) also directed that the transportation system should be multi-modal (PPS 1.7.1; Growth Plan, and the Growth Plan (2006) further introduced requirements to prioritize certain modes over others.

For example, in planning for the development of new and expanded corridors, the Growth Plan (2006) states that the Ministers of Infrastructure and Transportation will “support opportunities for multi-modal use where feasible, in particular prioritizing transit and goods movement needs over those of single occupant automobiles” ( In addition, the plan emphasized that for moving people, “public transit will be the first priority for transportation infrastructure planning and investment” ( For moving goods, “the first priority for highway investment is to facilitate efficient goods movement by linking intermodal facilities, international gateways, and communities within the GGH” (

Regarding the environment, the Greenbelt Plan (2005) is intended to provide permanent protection to agricultural land and natural heritage and water resource systems in a broad belt across southern Ontario. The plan also supports strong rural communities, including their social fabric and economies, through policies that address the provision of infrastructure and the use of resources within the Greenbelt area.

This chapter focuses on how this new provincial policy landscape affects the GTAW EA. In the following sections, the Panel first addresses the policy framework in place at the time the EA was initiated in 2008. It then reviews policies that have emerged since that time. As part of its strategic assessment, these findings help inform the Panel’s advice on a path forward for the GTAW EA.

5.3 GTAW EA Approach to Existing Provincial Policy

5.3.1 EA Policy Framework

The GTAW EA’s terms of reference set out a policy framework that included nine documents, within which transportation problems and opportunities and potential solutions would be identified. Five reports followed, to make up the core of the Stage 1 assessment. Each report contained a different list of policy documents, with different descriptions of the relevant sections of policy. Overall, 19 different policy documents are listed in different places as relevant to the EA (see Appendix 5 for the full list).

The EA’s terms of reference distilled the policy framework into 14 policy principles, and stated that this list would be used to guide the assessment process and the selection of Alternatives to the Undertaking. Later in the document, both in its framework for “alternatives to the undertaking” and for “alternative methods of carrying out the undertaking”, the policy principles are summarized into two different lists of six principles each. Similarly, during Stage 1, the EA released a working paper titled, Area Transportation System Problems and Opportunities Report (July 2009, amended January 2011). After establishing an expanded policy framework, this report derived 10 “goals” for the EA, which it then related to 17 “study objectives”.

The Panel has a number of concerns with the EA policy framework that was summarized in multiple reports through “policy principles”, “goals” and “study objectives”. First, the EA did not give priority to the five first-tier documents whose legislated policies require conformity (provincial plans) and consistency (provincial policy statement). These five documents have greater importance than the other 14 documents identified by the EA.

Second, the EA did not refer to provincial guidance on which policy should take precedence in the case of a conflict. The EA’s terms of reference stated that the most recent policy direction would be used. However, as explained above, the province has provided guidance that, in most cases, the provincial plans should take priority. The one exception is that in the case of a conflict between any policy in a growth plan and policies in other provincial plans or the PPS, the conflict should be resolved in favour of the policy that provides the greatest protection to human health or the natural environment (Places to Grow Act 2005). The Panel is concerned that the EA did not address this priority or explain how it would resolve competing policies such as Schedule 6 in the Growth Plan (2006) and the “reasonable alternative” policy test to crossing protected lands in the Greenbelt Plan (2005) or PPS (2005).

Finally, in the Panel’s view, the GTAW EA’s practice of grouping policies into principles may have satisfied earlier policy tests of having “regard for” the policies, but the new requirements of consistency and conformity demanded that the EA use a more detailed approach to specific policies and their relevance to environmental assessment requirements.

5.3.2 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2006)

In reviewing the GTAW EA’s application of the Growth Plan (2006), the Panel had concerns regarding the Purpose of the EA, the application of Schedule 6 of the Growth Plan (2006) and the application of policy direction regarding complete communities.

Connecting Urban Growth Centres

Describing the purpose of an undertaking is a critical step in every EA and in ensuring consistency with the existing policy framework. An EA’s purpose provides key direction on what alternatives are relevant and how best to evaluate them. The GTAW EA sets its purpose within the context of supporting policies in the Growth Plan (2006), stating that:

“The purpose of this study is to examine long-term transportation problems and opportunities and consider alternative solutions to provide better linkages between Urban Growth Centres in the GTA West Corridor Preliminary Study Area. The focus will be on developing an integrated, multi-modal transportation system that offers choices for the efficient movement of people and goods.” (p. 11).

The Growth Plan (2006) features two sections that address transportation linkages between urban growth centres.xiii The first reference is in the Plan’s non-policy contextual commentary (1.4) in the introduction, which provides background and describes policy intent, but is not itself a statement of policy. A second reference to linking urban growth centres is found in the plan’s policy about Moving People. Specifically, Policy 3.2.4 states : “Schedule 5 provides the strategic framework for future transit investment decisions, including capacity improvements to existing transit systems to support intensification, and proposed higher order transit and inter-regional transit links between urban growth centres, in the GGH.” This policy clearly relates linking urban growth centres to higher order and inter-regional transit and the priorities for transit investment decisions.

Other transportation policies of the Growth Plan (2006) for the movement of people address the improvement of transit linkages from nearby neighbourhoods to urban growth centres (3.2.3). By contrast, policies for the movement of goods address improved linkages among intermodal facilities, international gateways and communities. In summary, with the exception of policy about higher-order transit and inter-regional transit, Growth Plan policy does not direct linking urban growth centres.

The Panel found that the GTAW EA’s evaluation of alternatives focused on different highway corridors. The Stage 1 assessment of transit alternatives was based on undocumented assumptions, and the decision as to whether the new corridor would include a transitway was reserved for Stage 2.xiv Given that linking urban growth centres through transit was not the focus of the GTAW EA, the Panel is thus concerned that the EA’s purpose rests on contextual statements in the Growth Plan (2006), and not on policy.

Schedule 6

A key Growth Plan (2006) policy for infrastructure directs that “Transportation system planning, land use planning, and transportation investment, will be coordinated to implement this Plan” ( This policy then states that “The Ministers of Transportation and Infrastructure, other appropriate Ministers of the Crown, and municipalities will work with agencies and service providers to... improve corridors for moving goods across the GGH consistent with Schedule 6 of this Plan” ( It concludes by stating that “Schedule 6 provides the strategic framework for future goods movement investment decisions in the GGH” (, and elsewhere that the first priority of highway investment is “to facilitate efficient goods movement by linking intermodal facilities, international gateways and communities …” (

Schedule 6 of the Growth Plan (2006) depicts a total of three corridors, including one in the northwest GTA that appears to connect the urban growth centre in Guelph to the Canadian Pacific (CP) Intermodal facility in Vaughan. The relevant policy states that the proposed corridors’ alignments, timing and phasing are subject to further study and, where applicable, the environmental assessment process.xv

Given that Schedule 6 and the policy direction in the Growth Plan state that the priority for highway investment is goods movement, the Panel expected that the GTAW EA would have aligned the purpose of the EA with assessing corridors for goods movement, rather than emphasizing improved connections between urban growth centres.

Complete Communities

The vision in the Growth Plan (2006) for the Greater Golden Horseshoe as “a great place to live in 2041,”(1.2.1) is supported by a suite of principles, one of which is to “Build compact, vibrant and complete communities” (1.2.2). The definition of “complete communities” states: “Complete communities meet people’s needs for daily living throughout an entire lifetime by providing convenient access to an appropriate mix of jobs, local services, a full range of housing, and community infrastructure including affordable housing, schools, recreation and open space for their residents. Convenient access to public transportation and options for safe, non-motorized travel is also provided,”(Growth Plan, 2006).

The policies in the Growth Plan (2006) provide support for “encouraging cities and towns to develop as complete communities with a diverse mix of land uses, a range and mix of employment and housing types, high quality public open space and easy access to local stores and services” ( The connection between a mix of land uses and transportation is also made explicit:

Population and employment growth will be accommodated by:

  1. building compact, transit-supportive communities in designated greenfield areas;
  2. reducing dependence on the automobile through the development of mixed-use, transit-supportive, pedestrian friendly urban environments; and
  3. planning and investing for a balance of jobs and housing in communities across the GGH to reduce the need for long distance commuting and to increase the modal share for transit, walking and cycling (

The transportation sections of the Growth Plan (2006) provide guidance that the transportation system will be planned and managed to “offer a balance of transportation choices that reduces reliance upon any single mode and promotes transit, cycling and walking” ( Moreover, the plan states that, “Transportation system planning, land use planning, and transportation investment will be coordinated to implement this Plan” (, indicating that transportation planning has a role to play in accomplishing the complete community policy goals of the plan.xvi

The GTAW EA focused its evaluation of alternatives on transportation performance indicators that are related to reduced congestion (i.e., capacity over volume ratios and travel times). These measures are important indicators of transportation benefits. However, as the Panel noted earlier, other indicators, such as reduced trip distance and mode share for transit, car-pooling and non-vehicle modes, are essential to assessing how the alternatives performed with respect to the Growth Plan (2006) policies on supporting complete communities. The GTAW EA makes reference to some of the measures set out in the Growth Plan policies, but does not make these central to its assessment of alternatives. The Panel is therefore concerned that GTAW EA does not make clear whether and how the preferred alternative conforms with provincial policy for cities and towns to develop as “complete communities”.

5.3.3 Greenbelt Plan (2005)

Portions of the GTAW study area form part of the Protected Countryside and Natural Heritage System, as outlined in the Greenbelt Plan (2005). These areas include some of the most productive farmland in Ontario, environmentally valuable wetlands, the headwaters of the Humber River and tributaries of the Credit River, and significant forest ecosystems, necessitating a careful application of policy to ensure these values are protected and sustained.

The Greenbelt Plan (2005) recognized the importance of infrastructure for economic well-being, human health and quality of life. It also anticipated that new infrastructure would be built within the Greenbelt area to serve local and regional needs. The plan thus permitted new infrastructure in the “Protected Countryside,” but required it to meet one of two objectives: a) supporting permitted activities within the Greenbelt (e.g., agriculture, recreation, tourism, resource use), or b) serving significant growth and economic development in Southern Ontario beyond the Greenbelt by providing connections among urban growth centres, and between these centres and the provincial borders (4.2.1).xvii

A second policy in the Greenbelt Plan (2005) governed the location, construction, expansion, extension, operation and maintenance of infrastructure, with five conditions. These conditions required that:

  • existing infrastructure be optimized where practicable;
  • key natural heritage features or key hydrologic features be avoided unless need has been demonstrated and it has been established that there is no reasonable alternative;
  • the amount of the Greenbelt, particularly the Natural Heritage System, crossed or occupied be minimized;
  • the disturbance to the existing landscape caused by light, noise or salt be minimized; and
  • disturbance and impacts on key natural heritage or hydrologic features and related functions be minimized.

The GTAW EA gave some consideration in its evaluation process to the three conditions in the Greenbelt Plan that require that the impacts of infrastructure be minimized. For example, the EA sought to minimize the amount of Greenbelt traversed by recording the total number of kilometres in the Greenbelt that each of the proposed alternatives would cross. However, the Stage 1 process did not document the extent and/or amount of Natural Heritage System that would have been affected. Moreover, while the EA listed key natural heritage and hydrologic features, it did not identify those that are located within the Greenbelt, which would be subject to the test of demonstrating that there is need and that no reasonable alternatives exist.

Specific considerations for minimizing impacts on the Natural Heritage System, including key natural and hydrologic features, were catalogued in Stage 2 reports for the EA. However, by that time a preferred corridor (4-2) had already been identified. As a result, the EA made the decision to propose a new corridor and to determine the location of this corridor without conforming to the policy requirements in the Greenbelt Plan (2005) to avoid key natural heritage and key hydrologic features unless need had been demonstrated and no reasonable alternative was available. In the previous chapter, the Panel identified alternative approaches that would provide travel time benefits that are equivalent to or greater than those of a new corridor. In the next chapter, the Panel will discuss whether the EA met the tests to establish the need for the project and to demonstrate that there was no reasonable alternative.

5.3.4 The Provincial Policy Statement (2005)

In reviewing the GTAW EA’s application of policies from the PPS (2005), the Panel had concerns in two areas: the optimization of existing infrastructure and the protection of prime agricultural lands. As noted above, the PPS (2005) directs that existing infrastructure should be optimized, wherever feasible, before consideration is given to developing new infrastructure (1.6.2). The Panel’s conclusions regarding how this EA addressed the first policy (optimization of existing infrastructure) are discussed in detail in Chapters 4 and 6 of this report.

With respect to the protection of prime agricultural lands, the PPS (2005) set out its overall policy clearly: “Prime agricultural areas shall be protected for long-term use for agriculture” (2.3.1). The PPS also stated that “Prime agricultural areas are areas where prime agricultural lands predominate” (2.3.1), and defined “prime agricultural lands” to mean lands that include specialty crop areas and lands that have Canada Land Inventory Class 1, 2 and 3 soils.

Where a prime agricultural area is involved, the provisions in the PPS are quite strict regarding the grounds for excluding such lands from long-term use for agriculture (2.3.5). Three grounds were included for the exclusion of these lands. However, two of those are not applicable in the case of the GTAW EA, since they address settlement area boundary expansions and mineral aggregate extraction. The PPS’s third permissible reason for excluding prime agricultural lands to provide “limited non-residential uses” require compliance with four specific conditions (, as follows:

  • the land does not comprise a specialty crop area;
  • there is a demonstrated need within the planning horizon provided for in policy 1.1.2 for additional land to be designated to accommodate the proposed use;
  • there are no reasonable alternative locations that avoid prime agricultural areas; and
  • there are no reasonable alternative locations in prime agricultural areas with lower priority agricultural lands.

This four-part test is similar to the test for building new infrastructure that would cross the Greenbelt under the Greenbelt Plan (2005). The TDS (2012) prepared for the GTAW EA contains some assessment of potential impacts to prime agricultural areas. For example, it measures the linear distance of Class 1-3 agricultural lands that would be potentially impacted, and ranks alternative corridors from lowest potential impact through to highest potential impact. However, the Panel concluded that this assessment does not replace the four-part test described above, particularly a “demonstrated need” and “no reasonable alternative locations”.

5.4 Ontario’s Changing Policy Framework

The policy framework established by the provincial government is constantly evolving, and the GTAW EA’s terms of reference acknowledged that evolution. After describing the current policy framework, the EA provided that the ultimate decisions made would occur under the framework in place at that time:

“The specific need for any proposed undertaking(s) and a description of the proposed undertaking(s) will be determined during initial phases of the EA study and will be based on the approved government policies and planning objectives that are in place at that time” (p.19).

Since the commencement of the EA, there have been several updates to important provincial policy and several new initiatives that are now relevant to this EA. The Panel has identified three policy areas that merit consideration: transportation, environment and climate change mitigation.

5.4.1 Transportation

The Metrolinx Act (2006), led to the creation of the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority (GTTA — now Metrolinx), an agency accountable to the Minister of Transportation. The Metrolinx Act required the work of the authority to conform with transportation policies of growth plans under the Places to Grow Act. After two years, the new authority produced a regional transportation plan for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area called The Big Move (2008).

This regional transportation plan (RTP) assumed the existence of a future highway corridor in the GTAW EA study area, just as the GTAW EA included assumed transit improvements from the RTP (2008). These practices illustrate how the existing institutional framework separates decisions related to different modes. In the Panel’s view, this institutional separation of responsibility hampers an integrated assessment of different modes and different scales of intervention (large capital projects or multiple operational actions or system-wide actions). This challenge of comparing multi-modal options in a broad policy context without a fully integrated approach to planning was also highlighted in the feedback from the Panel’s public consultations.

Also in the realm of transportation, policy updates continued to articulate the goals of transportation planning and the suite of tools available to planners. As mentioned earlier, Indicators for the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, were released in 2015. As well, a new PPS (2014) placed special emphasis on planning for goods movement by protecting associated facilities, corridors and the employment lands around them ( and The policies also directed that transportation demand management (TDM) strategies be part of making efficient use of existing and planned infrastructure ( These policies confirm and expand upon similar guidance already provided in the Growth Plan (2006). The new policies thus support the Panel’s concern that the GTAW EA did not fully address these important priorities.

On May 18, 2017, the province released the updated Greenbelt Plan (2017) and Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2017). The Panel found that one policy of particular relevance to its work is the direction in the Growth Plan (2017) that planning for new or expanded infrastructure “will occur in an integrated manner, including evaluation of long-range scenario-based land use planning ...” ( This new guidance adds support to the approach used by the Panel in Chapter 4 of exploring possible future scenarios, such as alternative land uses and self-driving vehicles, as a strategy for considering the robustness of the GTAW EA transportation benefits.

5.4.2 Environment

Since the GTAW EA began, a number of policies have been implemented or proposed which extend existing and introduce new environmental protections. In 2006, the Province passed the Clean Water Act, (CWA; 2006) to protect municipal drinking water drawn from surface and groundwater sources from contamination. Transportation corridors can be an issue for source water protection because they can result in the deposit of contaminants such as road salt and waste oil on corridor lands. Source Protection Plans prepared under the CWA for Credit Valley, Toronto Region and Halton-Hamilton Region were approved in 2015. Thus, in the event that the GTAW EA were to go forward to finalize a new transportation route from among alternatives, it would need to incorporate the relevant direction provided in these plans.

In addition, direction in the Growth Plan (2017) provides greater protection for agricultural systems, natural heritage systems and water resource systems. For example, new policy directs that in planning for corridors, planning authorities will need to demonstrate that impacts to the agricultural system and impacts to key natural heritage features and key hydrologic features and areas have been avoided or, if that is not possible, that any impacts will be minimized and mitigated to the extent feasible. These changes to the Growth Plan (2006) reinforce several of the Panel’s concerns with the EA’s application of policy.

5.4.3 Climate Change

In 2016, Ontario passed the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act. The Act legislated progressively more stringent emission reduction targets from a range of sectors over time, and also required the government to draft five-year action plans that lay out how Ontario will meet these targets.

The first of these five-year plans to address climate change, Ontario’s Climate Change Action Plan (2016), examined emission trends by sector, and identified the transportation sector as the single largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions, at 35 per cent of the provincial total.

Specifically, the province outlined five actions for transportation to meet these goals:

  • increasing the availability and use of lower-carbon fuel;
  • increasing the use of electric vehicles;
  • supporting cycling and walking;
  • increasing the use of low-carbon trucks and buses; and
  • supporting the accelerated construction of GO Regional Express Rail.

The plan also included actions in support of the planning and development of low carbon communities: managing congestion by piloting congestion management plans and low emission zones, and implementing TDM by providing grants to to help reduce single passenger trips.

While the Climate Change Action Plan (2016) did not provide direction on land use and infrastructure planning, the Panel noted policies in the new PPS (2014) that required planning authorities to support greenhouse gas emission reduction and climate change adaptation through transportation and land use planning strategies (1.8.1). As well, the Growth Plan (2017) directs that the transportation system be planned in a way that reduces greenhouse gas emissions (

Several of the submissions received during the Panel’s consultation process expressed the concern that a new highway corridor would induce more vehicle trips, more greenhouse gas emissions and hence appeared to be out of alignment with the provincial commitment to meet ambitious greenhouse gas emissions targets. In the Panel’s view, it is important to assess how each project will contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, it is also likely that the best route to progress is through a regional approach to planning and managing the transportation system, to better achieve climate change objectives (i.e., greenhouse gas emission reductions) as well as economic objectives (i.e., travel time reductions) and social objectives (i.e., more compact, complete communities).

5.5 Conclusions

The Panel concluded that the GTAW EA and Recommended Actions were not sufficiently aligned with the full suite of relevant provincial policies.

The Panel offers the following specific conclusions:

  1. From 2004 to 2006, changes to planning legislation and the introduction of new policy required transportation planning decisions to be consistent with the PPS (2005) and to conform with the policies of the Growth Plan (2006) and the Greenbelt Plan (2005).
    • In the Panel’s view, the GTAW EA considered but did not apply the complete policy test requiring the demonstration of need and no reasonable alternative/alternative location in order to cross key natural heritage and key hydrological features (Greenbelt 2005), and in order to exclude prime agricultural areas from long-term agricultural use (PPS 2005).
    • The EA did not address the relationship among provincial policies in provincial plans and policy statements, specifically Greenbelt Plan (2005) policies on natural heritage, PPS policies on agricultural lands, and Growth Plan (2006) transportation policies and schedules. Moreover, the Places to Grow Act (2005) directed that in matters relating to human health or the natural environment, in the case of a conflict between a growth plan and either another provincial plan or the PPS, the policy that provides more protection for human health or the natural environment prevails.
    • The GTAW EA examined these policies by grouping policies into multiple lists and a suite of principles and goals. In the view of the Panel, the approach of grouping policies may have satisfied earlier tests for applying provincial policy, namely having “regard for” such policy, but the new tests of consistency and conformity with provincial policy statements and plans required a more detailed, policy-by-policy assessment of alternatives.
    • The Growth Plan (2006) contains policies on supporting complete communities. The GTAW EA referenced some of the measures set out in the Growth Plan (2006) policies, but did not make these central to its assessment of alternatives. It is also unclear whether the EA’s preferred alternative conforms with provincial policy for cities and towns to develop as complete communities.
  2. Although the policy landscape that existed at the outset of the GTAW EA continued to change, new provincial policies have strengthened the existing provincial policy direction that applies to the GTAW EA. As a result, the new policies do not alleviate the Panel’s concern with the GTAW EA’s approach to policy consistency and conformity.

  3. The GTAW EA process and recommendations should be consistent with and conform with provincial policy. However, the effectiveness of some policies, such as those directed at optimizing existing infrastructure and mitigating climate change, would be enhanced if they were applied at a broad scale in a regional transportation plan, instead of on a project-by-project basis.
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