Newly-formed Canadian Institute for Climate Choices calls on Canada to prepare for change

Ontario Premier Doug Ford helps with filling sandbags near Ottawa on April 26, 2019. Contaminated water from flooding is one risk identified by the new Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. Photo by Kamara Morozuk

Canada must prepare both for a low-carbon world and for one in which the international community spurns climate action; otherwise, it will suffer job losses and social disruption, according to a new federally funded institute.

The Canadian Institute for Climate Choices opened its doors Tuesday, and marked the occasion by releasing an 80-page report examining the consequences of climate actions that Canada might take under different global pollution scenarios.

No one knows how quickly the world is going to cut carbon pollution, CEO Kathy Bardswick said in an interview, and Canada must make decisions that account for the uncertainty, rather than be paralyzed by it.

In either a high-carbon or low-carbon future, “there’s a substantial impact on the country,” Bardswick said. “What we’re trying to say is, ‘Yes, we agree there’s uncertainty, and we agree that these scenarios can play out quite differently, and the implications can be quite dramatic. But that doesn’t mean that we wait and see — we’ve got to be able to plan within that context.’”

The institute is operating on funding from the Trudeau government to the tune of $20 million over five years. There is an annual financial accountability process where spending is reviewed to see whether it aligns with stated outcomes.

But the government does not tell it what to research: the directors and expert panels decide the agenda, strategic plan and content and sign off on its priorities.

Don’t get caught in ‘continual cycle’ of recovery

Drawing on extensive economic and scientific research, the report sketches out two broad scenarios, with two possible outcomes in each one.

In the first scenario, a massive economic metamorphosis has occurred. Nations around the world cut their pollution severely over the next 10 years, reaching the Paris Agreement goal. Global demand for fossil fuels has plummeted, and proven reserves are left in the ground. A majority of electricity comes from renewables like solar, wind and bioenergy, while nuclear capacity triples and heavy industry is largely decarbonized.

If Canada chooses to approach this world by sticking with the current economy, which is largely integrated with emissions-intensive exports like oil and gas, and the financial sector that holds over $50 billion worth of loans to the sector, then the global transition, “coupled with inadequate preparation domestically, creates large-scale disruption and job loss in Canada.”

The oilpatch is wallopped, leading to knock-on effects in construction, retail, real estate and the financial sector. Other Canadian sectors like gasoline vehicle manufacturing are caught off guard. The risk of “widespread social disruption” increases as social assistance programs are put under pressure. Governments see shrinking budgets that impact health and education spending.

In the other scenario, carbon pollution continues to be pumped into the air unchecked, and the world fails to achieve the Paris Agreement’s goal, leading to runaway climate change: collapse of ecosystems, accelerating global heating, coastlines that sink underwater, relentless extreme weather and mass societal unrest.

Canada must be prepared for that world, too, the report says, or it will become “caught in a continual cycle of impact and recovery.” People will be injured or killed, or suffer poor air quality and contaminated water, as insurance skyrockets and companies lay off workers. Food and water shortages drive war, conflict and humanitarian disasters, which reach Canada’s shores.

Even if parts of Canada try to capitalize on a high-carbon world (through longer growing seasons for example), the report concludes that “any benefits in a high-emissions scenario are likely temporary and short-lived.”

“Fewer deaths due to extreme cold are offset by more deaths from extreme heat. Savings in heating bills are offset by increased use of air-conditioners in the summer. Longer seasons for growing crops are offset by an increase in heatwaves, droughts, and flooding,” the report says.

‘Rigorous peer review process’ in place

When the new institute was first revealed in April 2019, originally named the Pan-Canadian Expert Collaboration, it was dismissed in comments to National Observer by the conservative Ford government in Ontario as a gathering of “elite economists” in ivory towers.

A staffer formerly in Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s office also asserted without evidence that the institute was not independent, but instead staffed with “puppets.” The Ontario government was engaged at the time in a fierce battle over the federal carbon pricing regime being imposed in the province, as a result of Ford’s decision to abandon the prior cap-and-trade system.

Bardswick said the institute is set up to follow a “rigorous peer review process” that will require “not only leveraging the expertise in our staff contingent, but also taking our work and sending it to external peer reviewers, so we have another independent set of eyes looking at the rigour of the research.”

Tuesday’s report was written by senior research associate Jonathan Arnold, vice-president of research Dale Beugin and clean growth director Rachel Samson, with support from six others inside and outside the institute.

It underwent an external peer review from 13 experts, such as Blair Feltmate, the head of the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo and Francis Zwiers, director of the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium at the University of Victoria.

The launch of the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices comes seven years after the demise of a previous non-partisan research organization focused on climate, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. That group was created by the former Mulroney government in 1988, but later defunded by the former Harper government in 2012. The foreign affairs minister at the time, John Baird, suggested taxpayers shouldn’t pay for pro-carbon tax reports.

The new institute’s 11-member board of directors includes Sandra Odendahl, a vice president at Scotiabank; former Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers president Dave Collyer and former clerk of the Privy Council, Mel Cappe, while there are 37 expert panel members including former TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond and Global Adaptation Commission co-director Christina Chan.

Bardswick said the institute has been forging connections with all levels of government — municipal, provincial, territorial and First Nations — so that it’s not just a federal exercise.

“The real next step is going to be based on this outreach and engagement process that will drive those priorities,” she said. SOURCE

Ontario pushes pause on recycling watchdog, citing need to cut ‘red tape.’ Critics decry loss of independent oversight

Environment Minister Jeff Yurek’s office told the Star that the new Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority “makes Ontario a less competitive place to do business, which increases costs for consumers.”

Premier Doug Ford’s government is weakening the powers of the independent recycling regulator that was supposed to hold producers of electronics or household hazardous waste accountable for the products they sell.

Citing a desire to reduce “red tape,” Environment Minister Jeff Yurek’s office told the Star that the new Resource Productivity and Recovery Authority (RPRA) “makes Ontario a less competitive place to do business, which increases costs for consumers.”

It is unclear what precipitated the minister’s decision, although Yurek and his staff have been the focus of a lobbying campaign by the industries that sell computers, printers, paint and household cleaners. In letters and emails obtained by the Star and during a Dec. 5 meeting with Yurek, lobbyists complained of “red tape” and “scope creep” by the oversight authority.

It is also unclear how the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks plans to move forward. For now, the loss of RPRA’s strong regulatory powers to investigate industry recycling claims means Ontario will have no way to independently track if materials are recycled or sent to landfill. The recycling industry says the decision will rule out business investments in new plants and recycling technology.

The minister’s office said it will continue with “strict new recycling regulations,” including higher diversion targets and new blue box standards.

But without strong and independent enforcement, those new recycling plans will not work, said Rob Cook of the Ontario Waste Management Association.

“They are missing the point that it is all for naught if you don’t have the full oversight of RPRA,” Cook said.

The recycling authority was created in 2016 as part of Liberal legislation called the Waste-Free Ontario Act and the Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act. It operates on funding from the producers and regulations set by the government.

RPRA was designed to act as an external regulatory body that would have the power to verify where materials are sent. One of the problems with the old recycling system involved the dumping of plastics in countries like China, with lax environmental laws. China has now closed its doors to “contaminated” materials from other countries, including Canada, highlighting the need for stronger regulations.

The loss of RPRA's strong regulatory powers to investigate industry recycling claims means Ontario will have no way to independently track if materials are recycled or sent to landfill. Above, a handful of ground electronic components on its way to be recycled.

The Liberals and the Conservatives put the existing industry-controlled recycling programs on notice with “wind-up” letters detailing when those programs would end. They were considered monopolies by people in the waste management industry, and the new legislation was to open the industry to competition by allowing new companies to run the recycling programs.

Tires were the first to fall under the authority’s watch. Since January 2019, Ontario tire recyclers have invested or have planned to invest $13 million in processing plants and technology, said Peter Hargreave, president of Policy Integrity consulting.

The Ontario Electronics Stewardship, the industry-controlled recycling program, was told to end its operations at the end of this year and Stewardship Ontario was told to wrap up its household hazardous waste program by the end of June 2021. Stewardship Ontario also oversees the blue box program, which is supposed to go through a major change as well, with the producers of plastics, packaging and newspapers taking full responsibility for the costs of recycling.

In other words, a huge transformation of the industry was underway, with promises of regulations for targets to divert from landfill combined with RPRA’s oversight to ensure proper recycling actually happened.

A few months ago, it appeared that Yurek was moving ahead with those plans. He sent the “wind-up” letters and expanded RPRA’s mandate by adding a digital registry for hazardous waste.

Regulations that were expected to have a fall 2019 deadline still haven’t passed. And that left the door open to the producers’ associations, who lobbied against change.

One of the lobbyists, Shelagh Kerr, president and CEO of the Electronics Product Stewardship Canada, sent a letter in November to the government asking it to regulate “mature” recycling programs under the ministry’s Environmental Protection Act. Kerr also asked the government to control the regulatory powers it gives to RPRA.

The ministry is now starting a new search for “oversight models that have been used in other jurisdictions,” its statement said.

Cook, of the waste management association, said before the 2016 legislation was written, the ministry studied numerous models in other jurisdictions. Many had serious flaws, he said. As a result, the government designed RPRA. Ministry staff who worked on the waste-free plans won an Ontario Public Service Amethyst Award for “outstanding achievements.”

The fight over RPRA’s existence is just the latest in a long struggle between the corporations that produce materials and the waste management industry that recycles them.

In the middle is a government that claims it is sympathetic to business.

In recent months, lobbyists for the producers repeatedly cited red tape, a buzz term the Conservatives have used so often they put an associate minister in charge of its reduction. The recycling industry asked the government to support jobs and business investments by keeping the authority intact.

Last week, before the government’s new position on RPRA, Cook said its continued existence would ensure a “level-playing field” between progressive companies that already invest money in recycling and those with a more lackadaisical approach.

Ford slams teachers’ union leaders, says province will not back off wage cap

All of Ontario’s major teachers’ unions are now engaged in job action of some kind

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government has made concessions on class sizes, but it will not budge on its salary offer to teachers. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Ontario Premier Doug Ford says poor leadership among teachers’ unions is to blame for the protracted labour dispute gripping the province’s education system.

During a news conference Thursday at Queen’s Park, Ford said union leaders have been stubbornly unwilling to negotiate.

“I think they don’t have good leadership at the head of the unions,” he told reporters, adding that he differentiates between teachers and their union leaders.

All of Ontario’s major teachers’ unions are now in various states of escalated job action, ranging from rotating strikes to work-to-rule campaigns. They are all in legal strike positions.

Unions say the government isn’t negotiating in good faith, nor has it done enough to address their concerns about a wide range of issues including class size, mandatory e-learning and compensation.

Unions have also launched legal challenges over the Ford government’s plan to cap public sector wage increases to one per leadershipcent annually, below the rate of inflation.

Labour disruptions in Ontario classrooms are the fault of the teacher’s union leadership, says premier 4:06

Ford said the unions are primarily concerned about wages, not the proposed changes that would affect learning inside the classroom.

“Make no mistake about it, this is about compensation,” he said.

When asked if the province would consider salary increases above one per cent, Ford flatly responded: “No.”

The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation said Ford’s comments were an attempt to drive a wedge between union members and their leaders.

“This is a tired old tactic from this premier to try to pretend there’s a division between the membership and the leadership,” Harvey Bischof said. “I challenge him again, if he believes I’m not properly representing the wishes of the members, to exercise his right to have my members vote on their contract proposals.”

Elementary Educators@ETFOeducators

Parents know that a great public education system helps our children build a solid future. @FordNation pushing for deep cuts. That’s why educators are taking a stand. Stand with us.

VIDEO

In a video posted to Twitter, the union pointed to uncertainties over the future of full-day kindergarten and supports for students with special needs as critical issues not being addressed by the province.

Elementary teachers are set to begin rotating strikes on Monday.

‘Way of the future’

Ontario has partially walked back its planned increase to class sizes, but Ford said proposals to introduce mandatory e-learning will remain because “that’s the way of the future.”

Ford said teachers rely on e-learning for their own career development.

“We’re confident we’ll get a deal and things will be back to normal, hopefully sooner than later,” Ford said.

On Wednesday, the government announced it would financially compensate parents with children affected by rotating strikes.

The Ministry of Education says that as of Thursday morning, more than 33,000 people have applied for compensation. If all the teachers’ unions were to strike at the same time, more than one million children would be eligible for a subsidy.

Sam Hammond, president of ETFO, called the move an “insane bribe” meant to win the battle of public opinion.

In the meantime, parents are planning childcare for next week, while some Toronto-area community centres and libraries are running extra camps and drop-in programs to help out.

“Thank god it’s just one day right now,” said Kristine Gauthier, who has a nine-year-old daughter.

“It’s stressful,” said Gauthier, who said she’s lucky to have a few child-care options. “I can’t just take time off.”

The Royal Ontario Museum is among other organizations offering camps during the strike next week.

Gauthier called the government compensation a “ridiculous use of money” that should go toward negotiations and contract concessions. She urged the government to reverse education cuts.

“It seems like there’s a publicity campaign … to turn the parents against the teachers,” she said.

Kristine Gauthier, who has a nine-year-old daughter in the GTA, is planning her childcare options for when rotating strikes begin next week. (CBC)

SOURCE

 

Critics say Doug Ford’s goal of keeping an aging nuclear plant online is ‘playing with fire’

Energy minister Greg Rickford (centre) with Premier Doug Ford and Lieutenant General Elizabeth Dowdeswell at his swearing in at Queen’s Park, Toronto, on June 28th 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

The Pickering nuclear power plant is already operating beyond the terms of its natural life. Critics warn that the Ford government’s move to eke out a little bit more power from the site is playing with fire.

Energy Minister Greg Rickford said on Tuesday that Ontario Power Generation, the provincial agency that operates the site, had proposed keeping four of its six operational reactors going for one year past the already-extended deadline of 2024.

But critics warn that even one extra year of operations at the site is a risky undertaking.

“They are already skating on thin ice, and this is only going to make it even thinner ice,” said Gordon Edwards, a scientist and the founder of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

That’s because the zirconium alloy used in the hundreds of tubes holding nuclear fuel in Pickering’s reactors are exposed to intense radiation, very hot water, and high pressure, he said.

“As it gets older, the metal is getting progressively more brittle, meaning it is more inclined to break, more inclined to crack, more inclined to split, and that is very dangerous,” Edwards said.

An undated aerial view of the Pickering nuclear power plant, on the shores of Lake Ontario. Photo courtesy of Ontario Power Generation. 

It costs billions of dollars to replace the tubing, which is what is being done at the refurbishments at the two other nuclear plants in Ontario, in Darlington and on the Bruce Peninsula.

Ontario is spending some $25 billion between 2016 and 2031 to extend the life of 10 reactors at those sites and maintain the province’s nuclear power capacity at 9,900 megawatts . Ontario’s peak demand has meanwhile fallen from just below 20,000 megawatts in 2005 to under 18,000 megawatts in 2016.

Nuclear power from Pickering, Darlington and Bruce supplies about 60 percent of Ontario’s total electricity needs.

Anti-nuclear advocates at Ontario Clean Air Alliance said in response to the extension news that Pickering “relies on seriously outdated technology” and is designed in such a way that a problem with any one of its six operational reactors could create a cascading effect on the others.

Angela Bischoff, a director at the group, also said that the plant has been plagued with safety problems over the years, including an accident in 1983 in which a pressure tube suffered a metre-long rupture and a loss of coolant. Coolant loss can cause a surge of power to occur in the reactor core. The site was shut down and two of the four reactors were eventually replaced (and two mothballed) at a cost of $1 billion.

Then in 1994, another pipe break resulted in a major loss of coolant and a spill of 185 tonnes of heavy water. Emergency measures to cool the core averted a meltdown.

A chart produced by Ontario Clean Air Alliance shows the relative cost of nuclear and other non-polluting sources of energy

The news that the Ford government was looking to extend the Pickering plant’s operational life was first reported by the Toronto Star on Monday.

The proposal would need to receive approval from the industry’s federal regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC).

A spokesperson for the regulator said it has not yet received notice that OPG intends to amend the terms of its licence. If and when such a notice is received, it would be reviewed by staff who would then make recommendations to the commission.

The application would also be subject to a public hearing “focused on safe operations and the protection of health, safety and environment,” senior communications advisor Isabelle Roy wrote in an email.

“It is important to emphasize and reiterate that the Commission will not issue a licence amendment, or any licence, unless it is satisfied that it is safe to do so and that there are adequate measures for the protection of the environment, the health and safety of persons and the maintenance of national security and international obligations,” she added.

Pickering was initially expected to safely produce power for some 230,000 full power equivalent hours, which is equal to about 30 years of typical operation.

The CNSC upped that to 247,000 hours in 2014, and in 2018, when the CNSC approved the extension of Pickering’s life to 2024, it said its reactors could stretch that to a maximum of 295,000 hours.

It is not clear if the Ford government’s proposal will include exceeding that limit.

When Quebec closed its sole nuclear facility, Gentilly-2, in December 2012 it was approaching the 210,000 full power equivalent hours it was designed to withstand.

Thierry Vandal, Hydro-Quebec’s then-CEO, told the province’s National Assembly soon after that he was no more inclined to operate it past that limit than he would “climb onto an airplane that does not have its permits and that does not meet the standards.”

Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said he is “not ideologically opposed to nuclear” but warned that “you don’t want to tempt fate or roll the dice too many times before something goes wrong.”

“It is well past its best-before date,” he said. “It seems really irresponsible on the premier’s part.”

He also pointed out that the Ford government had promised to lower electricity costs, yet is choosing expensive nuclear refurbishments and extensions over cheaper alternatives. These include efforts to improve energy efficiency and conservation, for which Ford has cut funding. Ford’s government has also spent at least $231 million to cancel hundreds of wind and solar projects, including two that were nearing completion, and rejected a deal with Quebec to import some of its excess hydro-electric power.

“They’re chasing nuclear dreams when we have lower cost options available to us,” he said. SOURCE

 

Doug Ford Wants Education in Ontario To Be More Like Education in ‘Alabama’. Here’s Why That’s a Bad Idea.

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Ford government’s plan to bring Alabama-style e-learning to Ontario would damage education system, education experts warn

Doug Ford’s plans for education, which includes eliminating several thousand teacher jobs and replacing them with American-style online learning courses, could do great damage to Ontario’s education system, experts in online learning say.

This week, the Toronto Star obtained a secret document exposing the Ford government’s plans to cut education by “progressively increasing” enrollments in cheap e-learning courses, with the goal of allowing teenagers to obtain high school diplomas “entirely online” by 2024.

The Ford government announced plans last year to make students complete four mandatory online courses in order to graduate, starting this school year.

Ford’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce has defended the move by noting several Republican-held US states already have mandatory e-learning.

Lecce has pointed to “Alabama” and “Arkansas” as good examples of the education model he wants to import to Ontario.

Many experts say that would be a very bad idea.

“The US has a lot of virtual schools that are publicly-funded private entities that really just make a profit from the enrolment of students in e-learning,” University of Toronto researcher Beyhan Farhadi told PressProgress.

Farhadi, whose research focuses specifically on e-learning, stressed online learning is no match for human teachers and physical classrooms.

“I haven’t found any work that suggests that online learning is comparable to face-to-face instruction.”

Farhadi also noted that some US states Ford’s education minister has pointed to as success stories are now scrambling to bring back more face-to-face contact with human teachers due to poor test scores.

According to a 2018 report by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute, the pass rate for students in online courses in Michigan was as low as 60%. The pass rate among students from low-income households was even lower, dropping to 48%.

“Michigan … has done a lot of research on its e-learning program, and it’s been shown to be a failure year after year,” Farhadi explained. “Most states that required e-learning have now moved to integrated options that allow students to take their online requirements through blended learning.”

Tony Bates, an author of several books on online learning, says Ford’s government is making a very big mistake if it really thinks it can replace human teachers with “automated teaching.”

“There’s a greater need for (high school) students to be in school, on campus, because they often don’t have the independent learning skills needed for studying online.”

“In some of the US states, there has been almost no human teacher support,” he said, noting that the US states Ford’s government is pointing to as models for Ontario’s own education system are “highly automated.”

“Copying the US K-to-12 system in any respect is a backward move for Canada,” Bates added.

“There’s lots of problems with the US school system.” SOURCE

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Scope of job action by teachers widens

Andrea Horwath calls Doug Ford war on environment expensive and dangerous

Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in Ottawa on Aug. 20, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Premier Doug Ford should allow the province’s auditor general to investigate his government’s abrupt cancellation of a $230-million partially built wind farm, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Thursday.

The Nation Rise Wind Farm near Ottawa was three months away from completion when Environment Minister Jeff Yurek revoked its approval last month. Yurek cited concerns over local bat populations, a claim that clashes with analysis from independent scientists and Ontario government experts.

“Mr. Ford, the ball is in your court. If you believe this decision is not a waste of public money, and you did not use bogus evidence to justify it, let the auditor general prove it,” Horwath said.

Nation Rise, a 100-megawatt project, had already passed scrutiny from the province’s Environmental Review Tribunal when it was cancelled. Sixteen of its 29 turbines were partially or completely constructed.

A year ago, the Progressive Conservative MPP for the area, Jim McDonell, said halting the project at this stage could cost $1 billion. He also compared that scenario to the previous Liberal government’s gas-plants scandal, which cost roughly the same amount and played a significant role in that party’s fall from power.

Sensing a weak point for a government that has made cost-cutting central to its mandate, the official Opposition NDP and the Green party have pounced on the comparison.

The NDP wrote to Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk in early January to ask her to probe the cost of cancelling Nation Rise. Lysyk agreed to audit the cost of the cancellation in her annual report, but that wouldn’t be released until December 2020. A special investigation would be faster, Horwath said.

“Mr. Ford has not come clean about how much it will cost Ontarians to rip it down,” she added.

So far, the government has spent $231 million to cancel about 750 renewable-energy projects approved under the previous government’s Green Energy Act. Most of that money was spent to axe another partially constructed wind farm ⁠— White Pines, which was smaller and further away from completion than Nation Rise.

It’s “ridiculous” to tear down renewable-energy projects in the middle of a climate emergency, Horwath said.

“Mr. Ford, the ball is in your court. If you believe this decision is not a waste of public money, and you did not use bogus evidence to justify it, let the auditor general prove it,” said Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. #onpoli

“Doug Ford’s war on the environment is putting us all in danger, and everyday Ontarians are footing a massive bill for it,” she said.

“The devastating bushfires that continue to rage in Australia should be a wakeup call about the urgency to take action.”

The company behind Nation Rise, EDP Renewables, isn’t currently seeking compensation from the government for the $230 million in capital it has sunk into the wind farm. But the company has filed an application to ask a judge to overturn Yurek’s decision, alleging it was “politically motivated” and the minister lacked the proper legal authority, National Observer first reported.

Andrew Buttigieg, a spokesman for Yurek, declined to comment: “As the matter is now under judicial consideration, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.”

The premier has previously said he would “tear up every wind turbine in this province” if he could. SOURCE

A look at some key questions about the Ford government’s climate change plan

Millions of people marched and demonstrated at climate rallies around the world in September, including in Toronto. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Throughout 2019, activists pushed the climate crisis to the forefront of public consciousness around the world.

Millions of concerned people poured into the streets of cities and towns during strikes and marches, demanding tangible action from people with political power.

The year also brought lots of changes to Ontario, with the Progressive Conservative government taking a controversial approach to climate policies.

Here’s a look back at the year that was in the fight against climate change in Ontario.

What is the province’s current plan?

The Ontario government unveiled its 10-year climate change plan in late 2018.

You can read the whole thing here.

A major plank is the Ontario Carbon Trust: $400 million in public money to work with the private sector on developing clean technologies.

Initiatives to cut down on littering and pollution feature heavily in the strategy as well. The PC government has said it is open to a ban on single-use plastics, something the federal government says will be in place nationally by, at the earliest, 2021.

The province also committed to an Ontario-wide assessment of the impacts of climate change to determine how it’s affecting communities and businesses. Last month, it put out a tender looking for bidders with expertise in impact assessments to work on the two-year project, a tactic opponents saw as a way of delaying action..

The plan was rolled out against the backdrop of Ontario’s bitter (and ongoing) legal fight with the federal government over the levy on carbon.

Ontario’s highest court ruled carbon pricing is constitutionally sound, and Premier Doug Ford hinted last summer that he might drop the challenge if the federal Liberals were re-elected in October.

When the Liberals were re-elected, Ford changed his tune, saying his government will take its challenge all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, with Ontario taxpayers footing the legal bill.

Thousands of people packed on to the lawn at Queen’s Park in late September to demand more aggressive action in the fight against climate change. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

How is the PC climate plan different than the Liberals’?

Ford’s PCs have taken a very different approach than the previous Liberal government in the fight against climate change.

First and foremost, they are adamantly and fundamentally opposed to putting a price on carbon, despite evidence it can effectively change consumer behaviour. All of the other major parties in Ontario support some form of carbon pricing.

Then there is the province’s target for reductions in emissions.

In 2016, former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne’s government said it would spend as much as $8.3 billion over five years to put Ontario on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The plan would be funded in part with money raised through a cap-and-trade program targeting big emitters.

When the PC’s formed government in 2018, they immediately scrapped the cap-and-trade system (a promise they campaigned on) in a bid to shave nearly five cents off the price of a litre of gasoline.

Ontario’s fiscal watchdog said at the time the decision would cost $3 billion in lost revenue over the next four fiscal years. Rod Phillips, then minister of the environment, said cap-and-trade was costly and inefficient, and that it was costing jobs.

A panel of Ontario divisional court judges later said, in a 2-1 ruling, that the cancellation broke the law because the province failed to carry out public consultations.

Rod Phillips was Ontario environment minister when the PC government killed the province’s cap-and-trade program. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

 

Then the PCs also rolled back the Liberals’ emissions target, aiming instead to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — the same goal adopted by the federal government as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The difference between the two plans is about 30 megatonnes of emissions by 2030. For perspective, the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick produced a combined total of 30 megatonnes of emissions in 2017.

In April, Doug Ford gave a speech in which he said Ontario had already done its “fair share” on climate change.

It should be noted, too, that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has since warned that the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement are no longer ambitious enough to prevent a global catastrophe.

Is Ontario’s current plan working?

Earlier this month, Ford said he believes his government’s plan will help ensure that Ontario meets its Paris Agreement target. He pointed to commitments for new transit projects in Toronto as a sign of his dedication to combating climate change, and implored critics to wait until 2030 before making up their minds.

federal inventory of Canada’s emissions published in April reported that Ontario’s have declined by 22 per cent below 2005 levels. The closing of five coal-fired power plants by successive Liberal governments between 2001 and 2014 were responsible for the lion’s share of reductions in that time frame.

But the PC plan has been panned by the opposition and many environmental groups, who argue that it does not adequately address the urgency of the climate crisis.

And some of those closely monitoring the government’s implementation of its plan say headway has been slow to come.

In a report this month, the organization Environmental Defence alleged the PCs have made “next to no progress” on getting key elements of the plan unveiled in 2018 up and running. The province was already falling behind on its more modest emissions targets, the report said.

Ontario’s auditor general is similarly critical of the plan to cut emissions, saying in a December report that it is not based on “sound evidence.” Bonnie Lysysk also said the province is overestimating the potential impact because it miscalculated some estimates and projections and made policy changes that could discourage further emission reductions.

For example, the government’s strategy relies, in part, on thousands of drivers transitioning to electric vehicles, but it cut subsidies meant to incentivize those purchases.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives scrapped a program meant to encourage drivers to purchase electric vehicles. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

In the first six months of this year, sales of electric vehicles in Ontario were down more than 55 per cent from the same period in 2018, according to data from Electric Mobility Canada.

A group of young Ontarians is suing the province over what they say is climate change inaction, arguing it has violated their Charter rights by softening emissions reduction targets.

Who is holding the government to account on its climate plan?

The government announced in the fall of 2018 that it would be eliminating the officer of the environmental commissioner and merging its functions with the auditor general.

The province’s last environmental commissioner, Diane Saxe, was critical of the government scrapping cap-and-trade, as well as the cancellation of several electricity conservation programs.

The commissioner’s office did not answer to any one ministry,, but instead reported its findings directly to the legislature.

The PCs said the move would streamline the oversight process and cut down on administrative costs. The accountability role now falls under the auditor general’s mandate.

How did Ontario respond to the massive rally outside Queen’s Park?

This past year saw climate marchers fill the streets in cities and towns around the world.

Greta Thunberg’s activism helped to drive news coverage of the climate crisis in 2019. (Andrej Ivanov/Reuters)

Toronto saw its own huge rally in September.

At the time, Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said he “would like to recognize all the young Ontarians who are making their voices heard on the serious issue of climate change.”

He then went on to highlight provincial measures to address climate change, including proposed new rules for industrial polluters and landfill-diversion efforts.

“We are committed to taking meaningful action on climate change by implementing effective and affordable measures to reduce our province’s emissions and support Ontarians as they look to do their share in helping to protect and preserve the environment,” Yurek said.

What about the anti-carbon tax stickers?

One of the stranger climate-related policies of Ontario’s current government was the mandatory stickers, displayed on gas pumps, showing drivers how the federal carbon tax will increase the price of gasoline over time. (The stickers do not mention the corresponding rebate program.)

The Ontario government says its mandatory anti-carbon tax stickers aren’t going anywhere. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The stickers were first distributed in August in the build-up to the federal election campaign. Some thought the PCs might abandon the initiative after the vote.

But Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford said recently that. despite problems with the stickers peeling off pumps, they aren’t going anywhere.  SOURCE