Doug Ford says privatizing Highway 407 was a mistake

It was as big a mistake for the Progressive Conservatives to privatize Highway 407 as it was for the Liberals to sell Hydro One, charges Doug Ford.

The Tory leader, who was in Pickering on Thursday to tout the removal of tolls from Highways 412 and 418, criticized former PC premier Mike Harris’s sell-off of the 407.

“I would have never sold it,” Ford told reporters at a campaign event at a local Chrysler dealership.

“It’s like the Liberals selling … Hydro One,” he said, referring to former Grit premier Kathleen Wynne’s controversial 2015 sale of the majority stake in the Crown electricity utility.

That liquidation, which happened against the backdrop of rising hydro bills that had little to do with the privatization, was a huge factor in the Liberals losing power to Ford’s Tories in 2018.

On the eve of the 1999 provincial election, the Harris government sold a 99-year lease to operate Highway 407 to a private consortium for $3.1 billion, which the PCs successfully used to bankroll their re-election promises that year.

That led to soaring tolls for commuters and repeated calls for Queen’s Park to nationalize the privately run highway.

When Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty extended Highway 407 into Durham Region, the new section remained in the public realm with the province collecting the tolls.

Ford insisted “there will be a time” when those levies are removed, as he did for Highways 412 and 418 earlier this year, but the charges will remain for now.

“I just don’t believe in gouging the people. I don’t believe in going out there and tolling people,” he said.

“A couple of months ago, a gal in my office came up to me and she said, ‘It cost me $40 to travel on the 412 and 418.’ And I’m thinking, you’re paying $40 a day — how do you survive?”

The Tories have signalled that building the 60-kilometre Highway 413 between Milton and Vaughan and the 16.2-kilometre Bradford Bypass are the cornerstones of their plan to be re-elected June 2.

Neither will be tolled, although Ford has refused to reveal the cost, which some estimates have pegged at $10.4 billion.

The New Democrats, Liberals and Greens oppose those new highways over environmental concerns.

Highway 413 would raze 810 hectares of farmland, pave over 162 hectares of Greenbelt land and cut through 85 waterways.

The Bradford Bypass would cross 27 waterways and slash through environmentally sensitive Holland Marsh lands, impacting about 39 hectares of wildlife habitat and 11 hectares of wetlands.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

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