The PCs appear to have settled on infrastructure projects, and highways in particular, as their winning issue with an election seven months away.
New opinion polling questions obtained by Queen’s Park Today show one PC-aligned firm is gauging the support for controversial projects such as Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. PC sources also say that highways projects will feature heavily when the fall economic statement is released on Thursday.
The survey, circulated last week by Campaign Research, asked respondents how aware they are of the government’s funding plans for a long list of hospitals, transit and highway infrastructure projects. Campaign Research is owned by Premier Doug Ford’s advisor Nick Kouvalis and is a frequent internal pollster for the PC Caucus Services Bureau.
Kouvalis declined to say whether the government or PC party commissioned the poll, citing confidentiality. Campaign Research has also provided polling to the Toronto Star in the past.
The proposed GTA West Highway expansion, dubbed Highway 413, and the Bradford Bypass were both singled out in the questionnaire, with the research firm asking respondents multiple questions about each.
For instance, the survey looks to measure how convincing the government’s argument is that the Bradford Bypass will relieve congestion, as well as whether respondents would be more or less likely to support it after being informed about environmental concerns, its $1-billion price tag, and the fact an environmental assessment was conducted for the project (without mentioning it took place 25 years ago).
On Monday, Ford faced questions in the house from NDP Finance critic Catherine Fife over the Bradford Bypass following a joint investigation into the project by the Star and National Observer. The article detailed how the PCs adjusted the highway route to keep it from clipping a golf course co-owned by Associate Transportation Minister Stan Cho’s father and that major development companies with ties to the PCs stand to benefit the most from the project’s construction.
“We are the party of building infrastructure, and we will get this province moving again,” declared the premier during question period.
Neither Cho nor Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney were eager to answer questions about the revelations, as the pair did not respond to requests to participate in media scrums yesterday.
The investigation gave the opposition more ammunition to paint the highway project as a potentially corrupt way to benefit the premier’s so-called “buddies” in property development.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who was the transportation minister that revived the Bradford Bypass project by placing it in the provincial growth plan in 2017, and still supports it in principle, said Ontarians should have “concern … with respect to how much confidence they have in how decisions are being made by Doug Ford and his government, and who they are being made to benefit.”
“Now we see that these kinds of projects are very clearly being advanced to help certain well-connected friends, who are actually a core part of Ford’s re-election strategy,” he said. “It’s not an accident; all of this is tied together.”
Campaign Research poll floats unannounced ideas for relieving Hwy 401 congestion
Respondents to Campaign Research’s recent survey were also asked about a possible highway tunnel below — or a second raised highway above — the busiest 20-kilometre stretch of Highway 401 to help relieve congestion on the existing route. Neither of those ideas have been floated by the government publicly.
The pollster wanted to know whether respondents would be more or less likely to support a tunnel or raised highway if they knew travel time on the 401 between Highway 427 and Highway 404 is expected to more than double by 2041, from 23 minutes to 48 minutes.
The survey also wondered whether highlighting that the 401 artery is key to Ontario’s economy (a frequent Ford talking point on the highway file) would improve pollees’ perception of digging under the major highway, building lanes above it or widening it further.
GTA roadways were not the only focus of the poll. The Ring of Fire chromite mine project in northwest Ontario also got the same treatment as the other highlighted projects, with the questionnaire asking about support for the development, given its economic benefits, road access for remote First Nations, and the environmental concerns surrounding it.
The Ring of Fire has been in limbo for many years, but some recent progress has been made.
Last week, Noront Resources advised its shareholders to accept a bid of $0.75 per share from Australian company BHP Western Mining Resources to take over the project. At the same time, Treaty 9 First Nations called on the auditor general to investigate who will own the roads that are being promised for fly-in communities.