A major strategy of Premier Doug Ford’s plan to address climate change in Ontario involves paying major polluters to reduce emissions.
The “Preserving and Protecting our Environment for Future Generations: A Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan,” unveiled by Progressive Conservative Environment Minister Rod Phillips, eschews a carbon-tax for strategies that won’t make life “more unaffordable for individuals, families, and businesses.”
It seeks primarily to keep the province on track to hit emission-reduction targets specified in the 2015 Paris Accords.
Canada’s commitment to that agreement includes a 30 percent reduction of emissions of 2005 levels by 2030. The Ford administration will also set up a $400 million dollar fund called the Ontario Carbon Trust to develop green technologies through the private sector.
“It's a plan that represents a clean break from the status quo, and it's a plan that balances a healthy environment and a healthy economy," said Phillips at a press conference held in Nobleton, ONT., just north of Toronto, on Thursday.
He emphasizes that Ontario has already reduced emission by 22 percent in the past several years, contributing more than any other province towards addressing climate change.
The plan also talks about reducing waste, monitoring sewage production, and conserving land and green spaces. Phillips also says the Ford government will conduct a major study to truly assess and understand the effects of climate change in Ontario.
Phillips frames these new proposals as a contrast to the previous Liberal administration’s carbon tax strategy — also known as “cap-and-trade” — which Ford scrapped in July. A subsequent report by Ontario’s Financial Accountability Officer notes that this cancellation will eventually deepen the province’s deficit by around $3 billion ($841 million in the first fiscal year alone).
Critics see the Ontario Tories’ new plan as thin on details and representing a major retreat in the province’s fight against climate change, consisting of proposals falling way short of what’s needed.
“We shouldn’t have any illusion that this is anything but a weakening of where we need to go to address emissions,” says Charles Hatt, a lawyer for Ecojustice, a Canadian environmental law charity. “Ontario has much more ambitious targets, which this government repealed and has set new targets that are much weaker.”
“Where we’re headed is more than 3 degrees warming this century and continued warming there after,” he adds. “The national targets this Ontario government says they’re sticking to is woefully insufficient as it stands, so we’re really going backwards.”
“I’m happy that they put out a plan of their own and that they’re issuing a study of climate change in Ontario, but that’s really where the good news stops from the climate angle,” says Catherine Abreu, Executive Director of Climate Change network Canada.
“Basically they’ve lauded previous Ontario administrations for overseeing a reduction in emissions by 22 percent, but won’t hold themselves to that standard, even,” she says. “They’re saying we’re going to do less than half of that by focusing on further reducing emission by 8 percent only.”
Greenpeace Canada responded to the new plan by stating that it “isn’t even a shadow of what scientists and doctors say is necessary” to adequately address climate change and emissions in Ontario and Canada.
In a subsequent press statement, Greenpeace Canada’s senior energy analyst Keith Stewart notes that, “Today’s announcement shows that the Ford government can’t or won’t recognize either the threat or the opportunity that climate change and its solutions represent.”
Still, CAN’s Abreu hopes that the new plan’s thin structure and present lack of detail means that further consultations with stakeholders will unfold to flesh out more details.
“I expect that many of my member organizations will be meeting with the Minister in consultation on this draft plan, which is slim on details,” Abreu says. “So if anything I’m really seeing this as a beginning that the minister and his team will remain open to suggestions for improvement.”
Cover image of Premier of Ontario Doug Ford speaking during a media event in Saskatoon, Thursday, October 4, 2018. The Ontario Human Rights Commission says it will join a legal challenge of the interim sexual-education curriculum introduced by the province's Progressive Conservative government. Liam Richards/The Canadian Press