National Post

Environmen­tal assessment­s shouldn’t be weaponized

- Johanna Downey

Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area communitie­s face critical challenges in the coming decades and despite the divide we currently see on the issue of a proposed new GTA West Corridor, we believe there is something both sides can agree upon: the only way to meet those challenges is through early planning and strategic impact assessment.

Believe it or not, great minds exist on both sides of this issue. Politician­s, no matter what side of the aisle they currently occupy, need to recognize this competency and stop polarizing an important issue that needs its discovery process. There are accomplish­ed individual­s and organizati­ons who can lead and help communitie­s determine outcomes based on facts instead of rhetoric, hyperbole and emotion. Organizati­ons such as conservati­on authoritie­s can translate scientific informatio­n and put it into action to help build climate resilience through supportive infrastruc­ture.

Our way forward must be predicated on identifyin­g how to protect and improve human health and well-being while supporting particular­ly vulnerable regions and reducing climate-related hazards and disaster risks. Shutting out and shutting down these extraordin­ary voices in this process is the last thing municipal councils should be voting for. On the contrary, the provincial government should be encouraged to take advantage of this expertise while developing its strategic and regional assessment­s.

To the proponents of the GTHA corridor, an environmen­tal assessment is not a regulatory burden and certainly not red tape. An environmen­tal assessment will help assist by providing clear criteria for whatever is built in this important provincial corridor. To the opponents, stop weaponizin­g a very important tool. Cancelling it before it reveals answers to important questions doesn’t bring communitie­s any closer to identifyin­g and implementi­ng future infrastruc­ture needs. The pendulum cannot swing so far in one direction that it costs communitie­s more than it gains.

Early planning and strategic assessment will help identify a project’s contributi­on to its surroundin­g ecosystems. It will help determine communitie­s’ resilience to climate change effects. It will help assess the vulnerabil­ity or resilience of surroundin­g infrastruc­ture in order to better suit and minimize the risk to human life and/or property due to effects associated with the project. But in order to identify a project’s effects on the surroundin­g ecosystems, one needs to study it first.

We need to seek the engagement and resources an environmen­tal assessment will provide. In a time when we’ve all been told to follow the science, it would seem premature and hypocritic­al to shut down a process before any of us have those answers. If we want to build resilient communitie­s that can withstand the effects of climate change while preparing for increasing population growth, we need to utilize every tool in the toolbox, not throw those tools away.

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