Enviros Urge New Ontario Premier to Pursue Real Cost Savings on Energy
Less than a week after “populist” ideologue Doug Ford was sworn in as Ontario’s Progressive Conservative premier, the climate and energy community is coming forward with a first round of advice for any province that wants to create jobs, cut energy costs, and improve quality of life.
“The PCs were clear in their campaign: this government will focus on making life more affordable for average rural and urban Ontarians and on creating jobs in the province,” the Pembina Institute notes. “These are worthy aspirations, ones that we share, but so far we’re seeing a push for changes that could end up being more costly for Ontarians.”
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Which means that, “on environment and transportation, the new government will need to realign several of their current plans if they are committed to achieving their goals of making life more affordable and creating jobs.”
Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, newly-elected as MPP for Guelph, is urging Ford to put an alternate plan in place so that Ontarians don’t pay a hefty price of his promise to withdraw the province from its emissions trading agreement with California and Quebec. “I think he can do it and I think the new cabinet can do it in a way that is responsible,” Schreiner said. But the steps Ford has taken so far to dismantle Ontario’s climate action plan “without a transition plan are reckless and unnecessary.”
And a guest post on the Atmospheric Fund blog points to energy efficiency as the key to delivering job and GDP growth while helping Toronto, in particular, meet an ambitious target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century.
At Pembina, analysts Lindsay Wiginton and Sara Hastings-Simon say Ontario should pursue the lowest-cost option for delivering clean air. “The new PC government has committed to protecting the environment and coming down heavy on polluters,” they write. “We agree polluters should pay—this is what carbon pricing does in over 70 jurisdictions across the globe. It’s only fair that operations producing air pollution, including carbon pollution, pay a price or reduce their emissions. The current made-in-Ontario cap-and-trade system is a form of carbon pricing and has been operating successfully since early 2017. The system ensures lowest-cost pollution reduction, while encouraging business innovation.”
Yet Ford is determined to unwind cap-and-trade without a plan to compensate participating businesses, subject the province to the federal floor price on carbon rather than coming up with its own alternative, and pay for an almost certain losing court battle against the federal plan. “Instead of putting resources into fighting the federal government on the backstop,” Wiginton and Hastings-Simon write, “we invite the new government to work with the current cap-and-trade framework while making changes to address any concerns.”
Pointing to transportation as the province’s biggest single source of carbon pollution, and a “serious threat to Ontarians’ health”, Pembina acknowledges Ford’s plan to pour another C$5 billion into subway development—but points out that subways “cost vastly more per kilometre to build”, take longer to complete than other forms of transit, and rely on higher ridership levels to be financially viable.
“To serve the rest of the region, $600 million from already-secured cap–and-trade revenue (again, funds collected from the biggest polluters) was directly earmarked by the previous government to help deliver and electrify two-way, all-day GO service (and other transit modernizations),” Wiginton and Hastings-Simon write. “GO expansion would give residents of communities like Waterloo Region, Hamilton, and Markham the choice to use GO Transit throughout the day.”
To keep transit viable and expand affordable housing supply, they recommend accelerating development of family-friendly housing units near transit lines, at less than it would cost to continue supporting urban sprawl. The two analysts also urge Ford to champion efficient freight, noting that the sector grew 242% between 1990 and 2014 and accounts for nearly 10% of provincial emissions.
Schreiner pointed out that, by cancelling cap-and-trade and winding down the Green Ontario energy efficiency fund, Ford is doing precisely the opposite of what he promised in the provincial election: he’s hitting voters in the pocketbook.
“How is it going to save us money to subject us to what some legal analysis are saying is potentially $2 to $4 billion in costs, plus an additional $100 million in legal costs?” Schreiner asked. “I don’t think that people of Ontario voted for us to spend money in that way.” The alternative, he said, would be to introduce “a more transparent and accountable eco energy audit program that can help people save money by saving energy.”
Schreiner “urged Ford to consider the Green Party’s revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend proposal,” as a way to “earnestly work across party lines in a way that’s consistent with both parties’ objectives around the economy and environment,” National Observer reports.
“This is a way for you to keep your campaign promises without sacrificing action on climate,” Schreiner wrote in an open letter to Ford. “I’m ready to find common ground with you to build this province up in a financially and environmentally sustainable way.”
The Atmospheric Fund, meanwhile, posted a guest blog from Efficiency Canada Executive Director Corey Diamond that emphasized the 118,000 energy efficiency jobs—52,900 of them in Ontario—that the pan-Canadian climate plan will create through 2030. That activity will also reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 52 million tonnes, and boost Ontario’s GDP by $12.5 billion.