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Red Hill Valley lawsuit should never have happened, say critics

The city has withdrawn its lawsuit with the federal government over the Red Hill Valley Parkway, but opponents say it was a mistake to keep it going so long.

Lawsuit has cost taxpayers at least $6 million

Twelve years and $6 million in tax dollars later, the city is dropping its lawsuit against the federal government over the Red Hill Valley Parkway. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The city has withdrawn its lawsuit with the federal government over the Red Hill Valley Parkway — a 12-year battle that has cost taxpayers at least $6 million in legal costs.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger said in a media release Wednesday morning that the two parties have settled the litigation, a dispute that has dragged on since 2003.

This has gone on for three prime ministers with no end in sight.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

Eisenberger says everyone agreed that it was time to let it go.

"This has gone on for three prime ministers with no end in sight," he said. "A reasonable person would say if we haven't accomplished this by now then it's not likely to happen."

The $75-million lawsuit stems from the city's contentious efforts to build the Red Hill Valley Parkway. In its lawsuit, the city charged that 46 federal government employees acted in bad faith by applying the Environmental Assessment Act to the highway project, thus delaying construction. The highway opened four years later.

Lawyers said success was likely

Councils have debated over the years whether to continue the lawsuit. But each time, lawyers advised council that the city had a good chance of success, and they opted to keep going. Toronto lawyer David Estrin represented the city.

Critics of the lawsuit say the decision to end it is long overdue.

Don McLean from Citizens At City Hall (CATCH) is a long-time opponent of the highway's existence. He said it's about time the city let the lawsuit go.

"It's long past time," he said. "It should never have started in the first place."

There needs to be some thinking about how we got into that mess.- Don McLean

The lawsuit dragged on for so long, McLean said, because of what he sees as a common problem with the city. It got its information from limited sources — in this case, the lawyer handling the lawsuit. It should have sought more opinions, he said.

"It just seems really silly to be operating that way and not surprising to end up in a fiasco where millions of dollars get squandered."

Discovery Centre handover part of deal

"There needs to be more than 'we're happy it's over.' There needs to be some thinking about how we got into that mess, and how we avoid getting into that mess again." 

Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10 in lower Stoney Creek was one of the councillors who supported the lawsuit. The city had a valid case, she said, and the government's actions cost money and delays.

"It's not a waste of money," she said of the lawsuit. "We did what we needed to do."   

It's not a waste of money. We did what we needed to do.- Coun. Maria Pearson

But Eisenberger, who has long opposed the lawsuit, characterized it as an expensive battle where only lawyers benefited.

"The legal part of this did very well and the municipal and the federal governments did not," he said.

The city has spent more than $3 million in legal fees for the lawsuit, Eisenberger said. The federal government has spent about the same amount.

Politically, this is linked to another federal announcement this week. The federal government handed over the Marine Discovery Centre to the city, which was the final piece in the city's quest to take control of its waterfront land and turn it into a destination.

Eisenberger says the city agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for the discovery centre, among other factors.

Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6 in the Mountain says that makes it worth it. While the lawsuit was "absolutely" justified, he said, getting the discovery centre amounts to a win for the city.

"It was more than worth the wait," he said. 

"The value of that building and the land that is now under city ownership, that's going to go nowhere but up."

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca | @SamCraggsCBC

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