Environmental initiatives are already taking a hit from Ontario’s incoming conservative premier, who has drawn comparisons to US president Donald Trump—and he’s not even officially in office yet.
Doug Ford, the Progressive Conservative candidate who was elected on June 7 with a majority government, has scrapped programs and rebates to reduce energy costs, wants to lower gas prices, and has said he’ll look at cutting the carbon cap-and-trade program as his first act in office. Ford is, for the Americans reading this, the brother of Toronto’s former (now deceased) mayor Rob Ford, most famous for smoking crack, being incredibly drunk in public, and being corrupt in extremely petty ways, among other things.
Aside from also being a populist with a tangled relationship with the truth, Ford’s move to undo several environmental initiatives is reminiscent of Trump’s beginnings in office, when the environment was one of the president’s first targets.
On Tuesday, the website for GreenON—an initiative launched in 2017 to lower greenhouse gas emissions—informed visitors that the $377 million ($283.5 million USD) fund was shutting down. GreenON notably provided rebates to homeowners and businesses who took steps to become more energy efficient with newer appliances or smart thermostats, for example.
“Clearly he doesn’t care about climate action or helping families and businesses save money,” said Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna on Twitter, calling Ford’s move to scrap the GreenON program “disappointing.”
Ford has also repeatedly said he’ll withdraw from the cap-and-trade program—which he, like many, incorrectly refer to as a “carbon tax”—as soon as he’s in office on June 29. “In Ontario, the carbon tax’s days are numbered,” Ford said at a news conference last week.
Put in place by the Liberal government in 2016, the cap-and-trade program—run in tandem with California and Quebec—looks to limit, or cap, the amount of climate-changing emissions companies can produce. If a company exceeds the cap, it must buy more credits. The “trade” part of the program is a market for companies to buy and sell emissions credits, which in theory gives companies a financial incentive to cut emissions.
Cap-and-trade auctions have made Ontario almost $3 billion (about $2.25 billion USD), according to government press releases—from companies such as Enbridge, Suncor, and even banking giant TD. The revenue from these permits feeds environmental initiatives, such as incentives to purchase electric cars, or launch the GreenON fund. The program also helped to fund Ontario's generous electric vehicle rebates (up to $14,000), which are also reportedly set to be scrapped under Ford.
If Ford does as he’s promised, those permits will be devalued, Keith Brooks, program director of Canadian advocacy group Environmental Defence, told me over the phone. “Companies may well bring a challenge to the government.”
Brooks said Ford’s decision didn’t consider environmental impacts. “We’re worried that climate change has become a wedge issue.”
Climate change is “the most important issue facing the world,” said Dianne Saxe, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, who cautioned against speculating about proposed changes before they’re implemented. “There hasn’t been any change yet to the cap-and-trade,” she told me in an interview—and legislation will be required to dismantle the program.
The Canadian federal government has said that it plans to tax provinces that don’t try to reduce emissions through carbon pricing. This only makes sense, given that the country’s pledge is to reduce emissions to 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020.
Spokespeople for Ford were not immediately available to comment.
During his campaign for premier, Ford promised to lower gas prices by 10 cents a litre, saying that “carbon taxes, like all taxes, punish low-income families the hardest.” Such a stance comes as no surprise, given that while on Toronto City Council, he and his brother were incredibly pro-car.
Before and throughout the campaign, Ford also suggested opening parts of Ontario’s Greenbelt—more than two million acres of protected agricultural and environmentally-sensitive land—to developers, but abandoned the issue after public and political opposition to paving the forests, farmlands, and wetlands. The PC party plan highlighted this change of heart, saying it would look to protect “the Greenbelt in its entirety.”
Ford himself said during the last leaders’ debate before the election that he believes in man-made global warming. The PC’s platform said the party would support programs that “keep Ontario beautiful by protecting and preserving” waterways and air quality, have an emissions-reduction fund, and police major polluters outside of the cap-and-trade program.
Ford may have publicly rejected the Trump comparison, but it continues to haunt him for a reason: Fighting climate change by scrapping environmental programs is about as Trump-like a maneuver as you can imagine.
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