The Progressive Conservative government is defending its plan for the environment despite mounting criticism it’s not aggressive enough to make a difference in the fight against climate change.
“This government is being reckless with our future,” Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said.
Schreiner is critical of just about everything Doug Ford’s government has done with related files since taking power, many of which appeared in the budget:
- Cancelling cap-and-trade, which capped greenhouse gas emissions while allowing polluters to buy and trade exemptions.
- Fighting the federal carbon tax in court, through a gas pump sticker campaign and advertisements.
- Eliminating the office of the environmental commissioner of Ontario, which is now under the purview of the auditor general.
- Reducing funding to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, including emergency forest firefighting.
- Reducing funding to the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks.
- Cutting flood management funding to conservation authorities.
- Making changes to the Endangered Species Act.
“They’ve been one of the most anti-environmental provincial governments we’ve had in generations,” said Schreiner.
‘Made in Ontario’ plan
Perhaps most pressing to him, and to several allied organizations, is the government’s environment plan unveiled in November.
The “Made in Ontario” plan has some key features, including:
- A “Carbon Trust” amounting to $400 million over four years to work with the private sector on developing clean technologies (which includes a $50 million “reverse auction” allowing businesses to send in proposals for emission-reduction projects and bid on government contracts).
- “Transparent, real-time” monitoring of waste and storm water in provincial waterways.
- Emissions performance standards for large emitters.
- Reducing litter in the province’s communities, including establishing an “official day” focused on cleanup of litter.
“We’ve put forward some very pragmatic solutions,” said Environment Minister Rod Phillips.
He explains that Ontario is on its way to meeting federal targets agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement, which seeks to keep global temperatures from rising by more than 2 C.
While critics are skeptical that is indeed the case, they also note the former Liberal government set a goal to reduce emissions by 37 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030. The Ford government is promising a reduction of 30 per cent below 2005 levels by the same time.
Phillips has been touting Ontario’s total greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by 22 per cent, even though it’s thanks, in large part, to the closing of several coal-fired power plants under the Liberals.
“It’s pretty amusing [Phillips], today, is singing the praises of what Ontario’s done when all of that work was done under a Liberal government,” said former premier Kathleen Wynne.
Phillips, instead, credited Ontarians. “It was a costly long-term program to switch off coal, which has put us in a very strong position,” he said, referring to high hydro prices for which the PCs slammed the previous government.
Environment and economy
He has also said the PCs’ strategy is a balanced one between a “healthy environment and a healthy economy.”
But, a senior strategist with Greenpeace Canada, Keith Stewart, disputes how readily that balance can be achieved without thoughtfully addressing climate change.
He said stronger storms, flash flooding and forest fires will hurt the economy and the health of future generations. He also noted the measures the government is taking will not prepare Ontario for the green economy.
“This is a government that says it wants to be open for business. We need to be in the business of protecting the planet,” Stewart said.