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Problematizing Ford’s anti-environmental agenda

The Ontario PC government’s regressive anti-green policies threaten significant costs to the economy and our university

Problematizing Ford’s anti-environmental agenda

Last week, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives tabled legislation to repeal the Green Energy Act, 2009, as a part of Premier Doug Ford’s campaign promise to decrease the cost of electricity on consumers. It is seen as a largely symbolic move, in the wake of the party’s recent announcement that 758 renewable energy projects authorized by the act will be cancelled immediately. Ford fails to consider the consequences of these regressive actions, which will likely end up hurting thousands of jobs while incurring more costs on consumers and small businesses.

There is no evidence that halting hundreds of renewable energy projects will decrease the price of electricity. Former Energy Minister George Smitherman says that green energy is not the sole reason for electricity rates more than doubling across the province over the past 10 years. Other energy projects, such as the rebuilding of the Pickering and Darlington nuclear plants, the construction of hydroelectric dams in Northern Ontario, and increased delivery fees, have all contributed to rising electricity prices.

Presiding Energy Minister Greg Rickford says the move will save provincial ratepayers $790 million. However, John Gorman, president of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, calls it “preposterous” to act as though cancelling these relatively small-scale projects will result in savings for consumers as the government has yet to actually pay any of the companies. In reality, it will mean significant job losses in the industry and added costs to the small businesses invested in the sector.

While Ford claims that the act resulted in fewer manufacturing jobs, interim Liberal leader John Fraser is concerned that cancelling it will mean job losses for thousands of Ontarians that have been gainfully employed by the now-halted renewable energy projects. This concern is echoed by Gorman as well as New Democratic Party energy critic Peter Tabuns.

Rather than saving consumers money, this decision directly impacts small investors like farmers, school boards, municipalities, and First Nations groups who have retrofitted their properties with solar panels, for example, as well as the local installers, contractors, and engineers involved in the projects.

In addition, Gorman notes that the decision will likely lead to lawsuits, incurring more costs to small businesses and taxpayers. One such notable case concerns the White Pine Project, a wind farm in Prince Edward County that is just weeks away from completion, which the Tory government promises to put on the chopping block next week. The company behind the green energy project, wpd Canada, says the cancellation could cost more than $100 million and that they are considering legal action.

Ford’s hasty decision will result in job losses, billions of dollars wasted, and mistrust between businesses and the province. Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner points out that the sudden cancellation of hundreds of contracts with no notice or due process sends a negative message to businesses, ultimately exposing Ontario to financial risk.

Despite successfully encouraging the development of Ontario’s green energy sector, the Green Energy Act is a flawed document that was implemented poorly. Most notably, the McGuinty government neglected the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) warnings that flooding the market in a time when renewable energy prices were dropping would potentially increase rates for consumers. The OPA advised the McGuinty government to develop the solar industry slowly in order to adjust to the declining prices of solar and other forms of renewable energy when the act was passed. Instead, there was a massive influx of contracts in the first two years. This resulted in $2.6 billion in additional spending for consumers. A 2011 report by the Auditor General claims that the government ignored the advice of the OPA because it chose “stability” for energy investors over the best interests of consumers.

Although Ford is not wrong in criticizing aspects of the Green Energy Act, the trend of hastily tabling regressive environmental policies will have significant social and economic costs.

For example, his scrapping of the cap and trade program means that universities like U of T will lose out on resourcespromised to them under its Greenhouse Gas Reduction program. UTM had received funding for a number of projects through the program, such as upgrades to air conditioning and ventilation systems and the installation of electric vehicle charging stations. Now, students will no longer see the benefits that these programs would have had on campus infrastructure or the long-term environmental and health benefits of renewable energy in general.

Madeleine Kelly is a fifth-year Ethics, Society, and Law and Environmental Studies student at New College.

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.