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Students, climate activists protest provincial climate plan at Queen’s Park

Ford’s plan lowers carbon footprint reduction target, includes funds for big polluters to cut emissions

Students, climate activists protest provincial climate plan at Queen’s Park

Students and climate activists braved the cold weather on January 11 to protest Premier Doug Ford’s climate plan at Queen’s Park as part of Fridays for Future, a global environmental movement started by 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

The movement encourages students to protest outside of federal or local government buildings on Fridays to urge politicians to create better policies addressing climate change and ensure a sustainable future. In a speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference last December 14, Thunberg called upon world leaders to act on the effects of climate change, particularly targeting the personal interests of the one per cent.

“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet,” Thunberg said in the speech, which went viral.

Her words inspired a movement of young people including Ava Lyall, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student at Adam Scott Collegiate in Peterborough, Ontario.

Lyall arrived at Queen’s Park with a number of elementary and high school students, some from as far as Peterborough, others from schools downtown, who skipped class Friday morning to support efficient climate action at the greater municipal, provincial, and federal levels.

“We have seen the choices of our parliament affecting what’s going on in Peterborough,” said Lyall. “Programs that were supposed to address climate change, such as bike lanes, that were to be implemented in Peterborough have been cancelled from cap and trade.”

Local politicians were also in attendance at the strike. MPP of Spadina—Fort York Chris Glover addressed the crowd, criticizing the decisions of the Ford government for combatting emissions and abandoning an effective climate action plan.

“This government has made a number of decisions, jeopardizing our future, our environment, and cancelling the cap and trade agreement,” said Glover.

“That’s had a really negative impact,” Glover said. “Not only on our environment because we are not reducing our carbon emissions as fast as we should be — it’s also had an impact on our economy because the money that was coming from the cap and trade system is going into environmental measures.”

Allie Rougeot, a member of the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council’s Sustainability Commission, was also present at the protest. “As older students, it still really matters for us to show that we’re going to support them,” Rougeot said. “And also say that we’re also part of that generation that’s going to get severely impacted by the effects of climate change.”

Background on the climate plan

The Ford government unveiled its much-anticipated climate change plan on November 29. The plan is modelled after Australia’s carbon emissions reduction fund and features the Ontario Carbon Trust, a $350 million allotment toward large corporations to develop clean technology and reduce emissions overall.

The trust also includes a $50 million Ontario Reverse Auction, which awards businesses for sending in proposals to combat emission reduction.

Ford has been a perennial critic of the federal carbon tax plan, which he claimed was a main cause behind the November announcement that the General Motors plant in Oshawa would be closing this year, though there is no consensus on this.

The new plan was met with scrutiny from Ford’s opponents, including Mike Schreiner, leader of the Green Party of Ontario, who criticized its inefficiency and lower outcomes.

“We need a climate plan, not a litter-reduction plan. This is not a climate plan,” Schreiner said.

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna was also quick to criticize Ford’s plan, calling it “backwards.”

“All I know about Doug Ford’s plan — Premier Ford’s plan — is that they’re going backwards on climate action, that they’re making it free to pollute,” she said.

Ford’s government has reduced the 2030 provincial target for carbon footprint reduction to 18 megatonnes, or 30 per cent below 2005 emission levels. While this is lower than the previous government’s target of 37 per cent below 1990 levels, it remains in accordance with federal and international targets.

The politics opposing the cap and trade plan are bad science

Ford’s climate change initiatives are damaging at best

The politics opposing the cap and trade plan are bad science

“We are getting Ontario out of the carbon tax business.”

One of Premier Doug Ford’s first moves was to scrap the cap and trade plan in Ontario and challenge the federal government. The cap and trade program rewards businesses and corporations for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to below the provincial government’s set threshold.

Now, the Ford government promises to eliminate the carbon tax as early as next month.

Environment and Climate Change Canada also scaled back its carbon tax plan, and Ford has used it as a political tool to divide Ontario from the federal government.

Starting in 2019, however, the federal government will tax Ontario companies $20 for every tonne of greenhouse gas emitted and up to $50 per tonne in 2022.

According to Matthew Hoffman, U of T political science professor, “The federal government will collect the carbon tax for the province and then funnel the tax back into the province” to aid companies and individuals with higher costs of living. However, the main issue with the federal government’s design is how exactly that will be achieved.

The carbon tax is meant to be revenue neutral, contrary to Ford’s claim that the tax is a business.

Climate change should be of greater concern to Ontarians, and scaling back the cap and trade program and rewarding corporations that pollute heavily should not be endorsed.

The Liberals had introduced the cap and trade system to Ontario, setting a long-term goal to reduce emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050, as well as several interim objectives.

With Ontario under cap and trade, over three-quarters of Canadians would live in a province with some form of carbon pricing. However, Ford is erasing this progress.

Incidents like the Ford government’s scrapping of cap and trade are microcosms of a growing issue where climate change has become one of the most polarizing issues in Canadian politics.

Climate change is a unique issue in Canadian, American, and Australian politics, says Hoffmann, because in most places in the rest of world, it is not a partisan issue.

Unlike the rest of the world, where the political debate is about what should be done to stop climate change, the debate in Canadian politics is whether anything should be done at all, he says.

Despite this divide, the Progressive Conservatives have promised to unveil a climate change plan in the upcoming months.

Hoffmann believes that the Ford government’s promise to come up with an alternative climate change plan shows that Ontarians are concerned about climate change. In fact, voters have already been impacted by climate change. According to Ontario’s Climate Change Strategy, the 2013 ice storm in Southern Ontario inflicted approximately $1 billion in damages.

According to a 2011 report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, climate change could cost Canadians up to $91 billion by 2050.

“Ontario voters also expect that the government should have a climate plan,” says Hoffman. “You don’t see massive protests in Ontario that are against the environment.”

The growing story is whether Justin Trudeau’s federal government will impose a carbon tax on the Ontario government if the Ford government loses the battle.

This can already be seen in the Trudeau government’s recent action to ‘soften’ the carbon tax in order to keep businesses competitive in Canada. What will become of Ontario and Canada’s greenhouse emission initiatives may be determined by next year’s elections.

If the Liberals choose to impose the carbon tax on Ontario, it could set off a political battle that may not end anytime soon.