Saturday, November 13, 2021

Doug Ford is running on fumes, lots and lots of gas fumes

Conservative Ontario Premier Doug Ford has an election coming up in less than seven months, and can't you just tell!

One of the main planks of his re-election strategy is building more roads for his beloved cars. (Whatever you might have thought about Ford's uneven pandemic performance, and despite his constant blandishments about supporting the little man and the worker, never forget that he is in reality an unreconstructed arch-conservative millionaire businessman, committed to cost-cutting, low taxes/low services, and oil and gas in preference to renewables - just review his first few months in power if you don't remember).

Specifically, Ford is touting the dubious benefits of two major new roads that will slash right through the Green Belt around Toronto: Highway 413 and the Bradford By-Pass. The 413 would run 53 kilometres around the western half of the city's outer suburbs, and is expected to cost at least $6 billion (add about 50% for the usual budget under-estimates and cost over-runs); the Bradford By-Pass would run 16 kilometres between Highways 400 and 404 about 50 kilometres north of Toronto, and is expected to cost at least $800 million (plus). 

The Ontario Liberals oppose the 413, and want more studies on the By-Pass, while the NDP opposes both out of hand, so it is set to become a major election campaign issue. Environmental and other advocacy groups warn that the real winners from the building of the highways would be the property developers who will develop the surrounding area, particularly as Ford's administration has already watered down the environmental and density requirements for the suburbs, and all but destroyed the Green Belt initiative.

To hear the Conservatives explain it, the 413 would save commuters and truckers some 30 minutes on a journey, and the Bradford By-Pass 35 minutes on an even shorter trip. However, no studies are provided to back up these estimates, and they appear to be a best-case scenario where drivers just use the the entirety of the new road and very little at either end. One publicly-available report suggests the 413 might actually save 30 seconds (not minutes), and another report suggests the Bradford By-Pass could save between 10 and 35 minutes, with an average of just 14 minutes. The other thing is that any time savings that do accrue are likely to be temporary, maybe five years, after which the roads would backfill - new roads just attract more cars, a phenomenon that has been shown again and again across the world.

The Conservatives also claim that building the new roads would be environmentally beneficial and actually reduve greenhouse gas emissions from commuters idling and stuck in traffic, although any number of researchers and experts have debunked this notion, at least one calling it "laughable", "hypocritical", "absurd", "ignorant" and "crazy".

Anyway, these kinds of details do not concern Doug Ford. Even were he to win the coming election, he will not see the roads up and running during his administration. He is only concerned with making the announcements, and pandering to the commuter and trucking community in the 905 suburban area, the region that will make or break his re-election bid. Although all the municipalities of any size in the area have been unanimous in their condemnation of the projects, it is thought that the individual voters are probably in favour of them on balance, although it is not clear to what extent.

For Ford, it works perfectly as an opportunity to show his love for the suburban commuter type that makes up much of his popular support, and to show himself as a man of action, sticking it to the "downtown urban elites". Well, you can't really expect a leopard to change its spots, even after a pandemic.

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