BY GORD PERKS (EYE Magazine, Thursday, August 21, 2003 -ENVIRO)
We must do what we can to stop the construction of the Red Hill Creek Expressway. We must because we treasure important ecosystems, because we oppose sprawling, car-dependent development and because we are contesting what is meant by "democracy." Red Hill is both a precious place and a precious political moment.
The expressway is planned as a 7.5-kilometre highway running through the Red Hill Creek Valley, which snakes down from the Niagara Escarpment to the east end of Lake Ontario. Transportation planners who work from different maps see the expressway connecting the Lincoln Alexander Parkway to the QEW.
Red Hill Creek Valley is made up of over 700 hectares of mostly forested natural area and parkland. It has remarkably diverse plant, mammal, bird, fish and butterfly populations. Over half of the valley is in the United Nations-designated Niagara Escarpment World Biosphere Reserve. Building the expressway would require blowing the biggest man-made hole ever through the escarpment, then rerouting the creek through a new 7.6-kilometre trench, and finally clearing a quarter of the valley and stripping out 41,000 trees. A native band, the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, have asserted their inherent rights to camp, hunt and fish in the Red Hill Creek Valley. They have told the city to stop the project and have issued a permit to protesters to occupy the land and frustrate construction efforts. Also at issue are 22 archaeological sites in the valley.
The two purposes of the road are: 1) to add the final link to a trucking route that runs from the American Midwest, across southern Ontario, over to New York state. Some call this the NAFTA highway. It would allow truckers to bypass tolls in the US, and would shave 9 kilometres off the current route; 2) to open up the area south of Hamilton for subdivision development. Hungry developers are already queuing up at the Ontario Municipal Board to win approval for plans to slap sprawl on this spot.
For a visceral understanding of the issues at stake, meditate on two questions: what would Toronto (and Markham) be like if we hadn't built the Don Valley Parkway? What would Toronto be like if the Spadina Expressway hadn't been stopped? Look deeper into the Spadina question. Look beyond the fact that Forest Hill, the Annex and Chinatown would have been blasted to smithereens. Apply the aphorism "to the victor, the spoils."
The Spadina Expressway battle was a watershed moment in the civic life of Toronto. It made heroes of people like Jane Jacobs and the late Colin Vaughn. It emboldened others from the struggle to do still more. They include some of the Toronto School Board trustees who brought in heritage language programs and a host of other progressive reforms that Harrisites haven't been able to completely dismantle. The Spadina struggle made way for the famous "reform councils" at Toronto City Hall, councils that saved and strengthened the neighbourhood character of the city and developed world-renowned programs such as the Healthy City model.
The politics that brought us all of this were legitimized because they triumphed in the Spadina Expressway battle. How different things would be if the other politics had prevailed. Replace protest, street theatre, marches, civil disobedience and an alphabet soup of community organizations with backroom deals, bureaucratic control and growth at any cost. Civic duty in this scenario is reduced to paying taxes on time, following rules and picking a candidate from a ballot just as you would pick a brand of soft drink from a variety store shelf.
Back to the Red Hill battle: the question of which politics will be honoured, legitimized and tolerated is precisely what is in play. Should the expressway be built just because the duly elected Hamilton City Council has decided that it should be? Should protesters back off because Hamilton's city fathers are seeking a court injunction to end the protests and criminalize the native people and activists who have been delaying construction these past three weeks? What is your civic duty?
If you answer this last question the same way that hundreds of anti-expressway Hamiltonians have answered it, and you want to join the battle against the expressway, you can find out what help is needed by going to www.hwcn.org/link/forhv/.
I should acknowledge my friend Don McLean for much of the information above. For well over a decade, Don has been an awe-inspiring researcher and organizer on this issue.
PERSONAL NOTEThis was written with pencil and paper during the big blackout. For reacquainting me with that pleasure, I want to thank everyone who pushed for deregulation, privatization and free trade in electricity. I also want to thank the energy technocrats who built a big, centralized, brittle power system while pooh-poohing environmentalists who pleaded for conservation and green, small-scale, flexible power systems.
Gord Perks is a campaigner with the Toronto Environmental Alliance. Enviro appears every two weeks.