By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Despite being a few weeks away from retirement, regional chair Gerri Lynn O’Connor has some issues burning on her mind.
O’Connor says she’s been running into obstacles trying to schedule a meeting with local PC MPPs to discuss the removal of tolls on Highway 412 and the future 418.
The chair says for the past month, she has made several attempts but has been unable to nail down a date.
O’ Connor and CAO Gary Cubitt previously met with local Durham MPPs on Aug. 17 to discuss a number of local issues, including the highway tolls.
However, she notes she had similar challenges setting up that meeting.
“My frustration is that trying to set up two meetings has taken eight attempts. I was successful on the fourth try in the summer,” she says.
During the provincial election, Whitby MPP Lorne Coe, Durham MPP Lindsey Park, Ajax MPP Rod Phillips, and Pickering-Uxbridge MPP Peter Bethlenfalvy, along with Oshawa candidate Bob Chapman, released a joint media release stating the removal of those tolls was a priority.
“All Durham candidates believe removing the tolls from the 412 Highway and not tolling the 418 is the right thing to do as it will help keep life more affordable for families and drivers in Durham,” Coe said in the news release. “Removing the tolls will also help to reduce traffic congestion on our local roads and allow people to spend more time with their family and friends.”
But O’Connor says in her view there hasn’t been much publicly from the Ford government to back up these claims since the summer.
In an e-mailed joint statement to The Oshawa Express from Coe and Park, the PC MPPs said the wheels are in motion.
“We have continued a strong advocacy for examining the removal of tolls from Highways 412 and the soon-to-be-completed, 418. Conversations and meetings with the Minister of Transportation are ongoing.”
Despite this, it remains clear O’Connor believes the lines of communication could be more open.
“We are all representing the same people. It is a huge issue for all Durham Region, not just one municipality,” she says. “We’re not enemies. We are partners of the provincial government, and we all want good things for our constituency.”
To O’Connor, until the tolls are removed, the employment lands surrounding the 407 will be a wasted resource.
“Why would people pay to go to work? If [development] is built on the 412 or 418, people will have no choice,” she says.
With her term ending on Dec. 5, O’Connor believes it isn’t important whether she is the one delivering the message.
“It doesn’t matter whether I’m here or not. It matters that they sit down and talk with us.”
Oshawa mayor and regional chair-elect John Henry says he shares O’Connor’s concerns but is perhaps a little more optimistic.
“I think there is still a great opportunity for dialogue. I’m hoping this will be resolved quickly, and we will continue to work on this,” Henry told The Oshawa Express. “I too am frustrated we haven’t had a meeting, but that doesn’t mean we won’t.”
Coe and Park indicated that they would be meeting with Henry and new CAO Elaine Baxter-Trahair early in 2019.
Henry has been steadfast in his opposition to the tolls for years.
“We are the one region with tolls on roads to get to a toll road,” he says, adding the impact of this is evident.
“You only have to go over to the 412 and see the lack of cars. You will find that it is not used,” he says.
What’s further insulting to Durham Region, Henry says, is tax dollars from here were used in constructing roads in other areas that lead to the 407, but are free.
And while neither the 412 or 418 are in Oshawa, the mayor says the effect flows over in the city, especially on Harmony Road.
He too believes these tolls will affect the prosperity of the employment lands around the 407.
“If we were given the same opportunity as the west side of Toronto, it’s a huge opportunity for economic success. We just need the same playing field,” he says.
In October, Oshawa MPP Jennifer French introduced a private member’s bill to quash the tolls.
But she called on PC members to stand by their campaign promises.
“They know that this is an issue. I would love for them to answer on this issue,” French says.
It will ultimately be the majority-holding PCs who can make it a reality.
“Let’s not pretend that a private member’s bill passing in the Legislature often becomes law. They can absolutely put this issue in a piece of government legislation and make it happen,” French says.
She notes the province has “moved with lightning speed” on issues such as cap and trade, and reducing Toronto city council and she wants to see it done in this situation.