Pickering will be GTA Engine of Growth: MP O’Toole

‘Success of Darlington refurbishment will make or break our nuclear industry’

With Pearson at almost full capacity, Pickering Airport and its economic zone will be the next engine of growth for Greater Toronto Area (GTA), according to Erin O’Toole.

In an exclusive interview with Durham Post, the Member of Parliament–Durham, said he will make sure there is federal funding for GO Transit coming east to Bowmanville.

On General Motors (GM) shrinkage plans, he said Durham could emerge as more of a design and engineering hub to compensate for the loss of manufacturing. Pickering airport economic zone and secondary processing in agriculture – the rural backbone of Durham, could also help absorb some of the job losses.

O’Toole said the region is emerging as the ‘Clean Energy Capital’ of Canada.

“Right now, the largest infrastructure investment in Ontario is the Darlington refurbishment. Success of that refurbishment will make or break our nuclear industry because [of] the price overruns of the Pickering refurbishment years ago.”

Carbon Tax

Saying no to Carbon Tax [which came on to our bills from this month on], O’Toole said he wants to work with large manufacturers and big transport firms to reduce emissions rather than force people to change their lifestyle or behavior.

“Obviously, that’s not going to happen in Clarington where there’s no GO train, they have to commute,” he pointed out.

Asked about climate change, the Parliamentarian said we need to preserve the wetlands – for they will save us from flooding.

In the wide-ranging interview, the MP-Durham said he wants better North-South Durham Transit connectivity.

He said for the rural areas in Durham that have lower connectivity, the government could incentivize service providers as well as create the investment environment for provision of faster Internet and better connectivity.

Following are excerpts from the interview.

Eudore: What would Durham be like in five or ten years from now – for example, by 2025?

Erin: Well, over the next 5 to 10 years I really see Durham as being the hub of future growth for the GTA both in terms of livability and in terms of economic opportunity.

The, recent announcement by OPG [Ontario Power Generation] of moving their headquarters here is the culmination of work that’s gone on for several decades making this area what I’d like to call the ‘Clean Energy Capital’ of Canada.

Clarington welcomes Ontario Power Generation campus

You’ve got the Darlington and Pickering generating stations generating a good portion, one-third of Ontario’s electricity, and it’s all greenhouse gas emission free; you’ve got Port Hope refining uranium used in nuclear energy; you’ve got Ontario Tech University Durham College training; you’ve got supply jobs and now OPG’s headquarters is a sign that we’ve really got a future in clean energy. As well as manufacturing in a number of our traditional industries.

Eudore: Are any new projects coming up in Durham?

Erin: Well, I should specify my writing as Member of Parliament, it’s called Durham, [but] I don’t represent the entire Durham region, sometimes I like to talk as if I do, but my primary area of focus is Clarington, North Oshawa and Scugog, Port Perry – that’s where I represent.

But I was a cabinet minister in the last conservative government, and we helped with a very large funding announcement for the university. I think the university is critical to our growth, and, their next expansion is called the Carie program – The Center for Applied Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It will be a cutting-edge Waterloo-like University for engineering and Healthcare and sciences. I’m very excited about that and we supported that.

Pickering

The other key thing for the Durham Region is the Pickering Airport. There’s tremendous opportunity with the economic lands that are adjacent to what will become the future airport site. That was another thing the conservative government moved forward on and it holds huge potential for not just the Durham Region, but all of Southern Ontario. It’s been stalled under Justin Trudeau, but we really believe that there’s huge economic opportunity not just with the airport itself, but the economic land adjacent to it that have rail, 407 Highway, and, potential for an airport. So, the opportunities of location where we are in North America along with those assets, and a highly skilled educated workforce, are the ingredients for success.

Eudore: Any timeline to the Pickering airport?

Erin: The airport itself we approved the site. We gave some of the lands to the Rouge National Urban Park. We gave some lands to the economic development…and then dedicated some area for the airport. The airport itself would likely be in the early 2030s… these are based on approximations.

But, in the 2020s, the planning the staging and construction would need to take place or at least the investments towards that. But the economic lands adjacent, could start moving forward in the next few years.

Eudore: What is holding it up?

Erin: The progress has really slowed under the Trudeau government. We took a lot of time to make sure that some of the lands were provided for the park, some of the lands were provided for development, and then the airport approval itself, was made. For context, those lands called the Pickering Lands, were expropriated [laughs] before I was born by Pierre Elliott Trudeau. And then nothing happened.

And there really was no need for all those decades for a second airport. But now as Pearson is getting close to its max out, and with the GTA growing in a major way in the last two decades, there is a need for a secondary, a smaller airport. But it could be a very focused airport in terms of specific destination travel or even some cargo capacity. So, there’s huge potential and there will be a need on that time frame.

Eudore: Durham has suggested eight new projects including GO extension East to Bowmanville. Where is the project? A bridge needs to be built across or are we bringing it via Oshawa?

Erin: Well, they are looking at several options now. For context, I grew up here and went to Bowmanville High School…they’ve been talking about the GO train coming to Bowmanville since I was in High School [laughs]. I’m now 46. About 10 or so years ago, there was a plan to take the train off the lake shore and cross the 401 and then have urban stations in Oshawa, Courtice and Bowmanville as opposed to the stations that along the lake shore and along the 401 corridor.

Durham plans regional rapid transit network

But the liberal McGinty government never funded that change… there was no money provided for the bridge across the 401, which, imagine building a train bridge across the busiest highway in Canada, is a very significant engineering and infrastructure investment.

So, I’ve always said I’d like people to be open on the project – where do people want it built faster, and are they okay with the lake shore or do they want to see it as part of an economic development design crossing the 401. I just want transit as soon as possible for Clarington…I will work to make sure that there is a federal investment in whatever decision the Durham Region or the provincial government make.

Eudore: Would you use your good offices with Mr. Doug Ford to bring it via Oshawa?

Erin: Certainly. I do know, that the GO expansion is a priority for MPPs Lindsey Park and Piccini…I’ve spoken to them about it, I’ve spoken literally to all levels of government, that if we can help find some federal infrastructure money, I will do my best to do that.

I also want people to be transparent on the decisions related to it. I think right now, there’s a lot of confusion. I’m public on why the delay. Didn’t the Wynne Government announce the GO train? Well they did, they put zero money in. So, that was a false announcement in my view. They did several of them just before the election.

Durham can now apply for funding of new transit projects

There’s the expression, “put your money where your mouth is” [laughs]. They did not put their money where their mouth was and I think that’s unfair to people, particularly commuters in Clarington or North Oshawa. And, before I was elected, I was one of those commuters. I took the GO train to my job as a lawyer in Toronto and see the need. So, I want to support it as a top priority.

Eudore: What is the Rapid Transit Network? It was just one bland sentence from Durham Region.

Erin: I think Durham wants to see Durham Transit routes improved. But I haven’t heard a full plan on it either. I certainly know that there’s a lot of interest in getting better North-South Transit because North Durham – the more rural part of our region – has fewer options with respect to Transit.

We have to make sure that just as much as we are moving people from east to west for jobs and opportunity, that we also allow North–South so that folks in north of Durham have Transit options. I know that’s something that the mayors of Scugog, Uxbridge and Brock have been raising and that’s valid. I think Durham Transit itself is continuing to expand but I’m not sure of the detail on that.

Eudore: Why does the Ontario Government oppose Carbon Tax?

Erin: Why does the Ontario government oppose it? Um, well I don’t want to speak for them… but I will tell you why I oppose it. The carbon tax and the Trudeau government and some of the people supporting it, are trying to create a truism that the only way to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions is through a carbon tax. That is a phony argument. The government can regulate emissions with larger emitters. And I’ll use an example, right now in Canada there are about 600 to 700 hundred facilities – mines, steel plants, manufacturing facilities – that account for one-third of our emissions as a country.

Justin Trudeau has exempted them from his carbon tax regime, largely exempted them. Instead his carbon tax focuses on taxing 13 million households – seniors on fixed incomes, families with children. And he hopes that by taxing them, they will consume less carbon, they’ll drive less, they’ll heat their home less. Obviously, that’s not going to happen in Clarington where there’s no GO train, they have to commute. So you, your neighbors and the small businesses, we’ll just have to pay that higher tax. So, it’s not going to achieve what he says it will.

Carbon tax comes on your gas bill from this month on

I think it’s a well-intended plan that is unrealistic… there are other ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions… even the Parliamentary Budget Officer said that he would dramatically have to raise the cost of the carbon tax – I think triple it – before it will have the impact on behavior. They are trying to suggest that if you oppose their carbon tax, that you oppose reducing our emissions. No, Andrew Scheer, my leader, has laid out a plan where we are going to try and work with larger emitters, to get their emissions down and even if it is more gradual, that’s the way.

The 13 million households are inconsequential, really, compared to the large emitters and the transportation sector at large. We could do things regulating that could have a better outcome.

Eudore: General Motors, what’s the status. People are worried, Oshawa is worried, crime has gone up it appears. Are any alternatives on how are we going to deal with that?

Erin: I really feel that the non-competitiveness of the Canadian economy in the last few years led to GM choosing other jurisdictions, other states, for future investment over Oshawa. I think the federal liberal government added to their inattention to this issue…as well as the Nafta failure.

That said, we’ve all tried to see how we can get future investment from GM or from other industries. It’s really now in the lap of Oshawa itself and the province, to determine – now that GM is going to shrink their footprint really down – what can be done with the industrial lands.

Can we leverage more engineering jobs? Right now, between Oshawa and Markham, GM has been hiring more engineers, they’ve developed some intellectual property, they’ve developed patents at the engineering center in Oshawa as well. So, what we have left is not as much manufacturing as opposed to design and engineering. Can we become a little hub for that?

It may be fewer jobs, but it complements nicely with the Ontario Tech University’s focus on auto testing and design, wind tunnel, and all the innovation and design they have at the university. We should try and focus on that and grow that steadily. And then maybe diversify some of the industrial lands. I know Oshawa was in discussion with GM on that and I’m there to support. This is why I’m a fan of energy and clean energy, the growth of that. Darlington and the relocation of OBG, perhaps that could play into Oshawa as well.

Eudore: Can Oshawa work out alternative jobs for the jobs lost from GM?

Erin: Yes. In fact, quite a few of the jobs at GM Oshawa are going to be early retirements. So, we almost don’t have to replace one-to-one. Almost a majority, I understand. For the remainder, I know there’s good work being done by Durham College. And through OPG. Because the biggest challenge right now in our area economically, is ensuring enough skilled labor for the Darlington refurbishment to be completed on time and on budget.

That is critical. One of the biggest challenges of this multi-year engineering process, is labor. If we have available people, can there be retraining done specifically? Right now, the largest infrastructure investment in Ontario is the Darlington refurbishment. The success of that refurbishment will make or break our nuclear industry because the price overruns of the Pickering refurbishment years ago, has led to skepticism about whether these refurbishments or even new-builds can be done on time and on budget.

We have to show they can. The technology is the best in the world. We just have to make sure the large engineering jobs can be done on time and on budget. So that’s an avenue for many of the younger workers with the right training.

Eudore: Any other projects that you can think of that might absorb some of the people?

Erin: Darlington itself could. Certainly, there’s going to be continued growth in a whole range of areas. Another area I’d like to see a focus on is agriculture. We take it for granted here sometimes, but agriculture has always been the majority of our economy in Durham for 150 years. I’d like to see more secondary processing in agriculture. Algoma Farm is a great example. They don’t just grow the apples, they now pack them, squeeze them into juices, cider, and now they have a retail location there… I’d like to see that with more agriculture, if possible. We’ve specifically said that with some of the Pickering airport land we should have some agricultural value-add to them.

Eudore: Extreme weather, flooding – how do you think that we should be facing the climate change?

Erin: That’s a very good question. We’ve experienced in recent years some serious flooding on the Lake Ontario shorefront here in Clarington. I certainly believe there’s probably several issues leading to it, but, the primary one is climate change.

I would like to see some adaptation funding for the prevention of shoreline erosion for example, because that leads to adverse events like the flooding. And, it’s not just the higher water levels from increased rain over Spring, it’s also higher incidence of storm or wind conditions that takes the higher water and pushes it into land… so some mitigation or adaptation funding as well working with a conservation authority on plans to enhance wetlands. And that was something the conservative government I was a part of invested in.

Federal support for six Durham flood-prone areas

Over the last 50 years there’s been loss of a lot of wetlands along the lake front…the wetlands can sometimes act as almost a buffer, for higher water levels, because, they’ll absorb the overflow.

If you lose those through development, commercial, industrial, residential… you have less ability for those peaking periods to be moderated by the lake and the adjacent wetlands. If there’s no wetlands to take the excess water level, then you’re going to get into trouble.

So, I want to work with the conservation authorities on their priorities.

Eudore: High speed internet, 5G, how are we with the adoption of the latest technologies?

Erin: I think fairly well. I was able to help secure some investment for fiber-to-the-home for North Durham, Scugog a few years ago as part of a federal program. But, by and large, the Durham Region has better coverage than a lot of parts of Canada because our population has caused investment. And, so Bell, Rogers, and some of the providers are investing. And that’s really what we want to see as the priority because governments don’t deliver Internet or connectivity. We need to create an environment where the private sector will invest and people will subscribe… in some chronically low areas where there’s not a business case, can the government incentivize private industry. We have an investment [program] called ‘Connecting Canadians’.

By and large, we want to see private sector investments. Everyone would like faster speeds. We need to make sure that everyone has high-speed connectivity particularly as more services and other things are commonplace online.

To Be Concluded…

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