As Ontario prepares for the June 2 election, the Star examines where the parties stand on the issues that matter to voters. Today we look at the environment.
Over the past four years, the progressive Conservative government and its leader, Doug Ford, have drawn criticism for their approach to protecting Ontario’s environment.
The government has become known for using Ministerial Zoning Orders, also known as MZOs, to speed up construction projects. Meanwhile, the party ended cap-and-trade, restricted conservation agencies and canceled 758 renewable energy contracts. Also under fire is the PC plan to build Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. Critics fear the construction will harm the green belt and biodiversity while opening up the province to housing sprawl. Through all of this, the PCs have claimed that they will meet the climate targets.
Keith Brooks, program director at environmental defense organization Environmental Defense, said the election was “very important when it comes to the future of this province and its environment.” This decade is “crucial” in tackling climate change, he said, noting that Ontario needs a government that takes climate change seriously. The parties should aim to reduce emissions by 60 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, Brooks said.
Protecting the province’s green belt, farmland, freshwater and endangered species is duly important, he added, noting that new housing should not contribute to urban sprawl but rather be added to existing urban areas.
This is how the parties plan to achieve Ontario’s climate goals.
Ontario Progressive Conservatives
PC spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said construction of the freeway was necessary to break the deadlock off southern Ontario. She also defended the government’s environmental record, citing significant government and private investment in electric vehicle production and support for ArcelorMittal’s Dofasco steel mill in Hamilton and Algoma Steel’s Sault Ste. Marie produces cleaner steel. ArcelorMittal’s $1.8 billion project will replace coal-fired coking plants and blast furnaces with new, low-emission technology.
“These two initiatives alone (ArcelorMittal and Dofasco) are equivalent to removing almost two million vehicles from the roads,” Yelich said.
“By increasing production of hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and electric batteries, coupled with clean steel production, we are demonstrating that our province can meet its climate goals without imposing more taxes on Ontar residents.”
Ontario New Democratic Party
The NDP has an extensive set of environmental pledges as part of its voting platform. Their “Green New Deal” includes achieving “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, introducing a new cap-and-trade system, and planting one billion trees by 2030. The party also pledges that 25 percent of revenue The new cap-and-trade scheme would provide financial support to rural, northern and low-income families “disproportionately affected” by carbon pricing.
The party has also pledged to develop what it calls the Ring of Fire, an area of northern Ontario rich in minerals, including many used to develop batteries for electric vehicles. Environmentalists and some First Nations have raised concerns that mining in the region could damage the region’s peatlands, which are a valuable carbon sink that prevents CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.
Asked how the party is balancing its environmental commitments with its promise to develop the Ring of Fire, Michael Mantha, the NDP’s candidate for the horseback that encompasses the area, said the choice is not mining or environmental responsibility.
“NDP is committed to advancing the Ring Fire project with transparency and sustainability. For some northern, remote and indigenous communities, this project is about justice and opportunity,” said Mantha, who runs in Algoma-Manitoulin. “Environmental justice is all about making sure our transition to net zero is completely just.”
Green Party of Ontario
The party has proposed an aggressive plan to cut emissions and protect the environment – and that starts with a new law the Greens would implement called the Zero Carbon Act.
The law, Greens say, would set a “fair share” carbon budget for the province that would limit all greenhouse gas emissions to 1,630 megatons by 2100. Carbon prices, meanwhile, would increase by $25 per tonne per year to as much as $300 per tonne by 2032. Proceeds would be paid back to Ontario residents as dividends, the plan says.
Greens would also look at retrofitting 40 per cent of existing homes to net zero, a move they say will create “hundreds of thousands” of new jobs. In addition, the party plans to transition to renewable, clean energy sources, including green hydrogen, an energy process that produces hydrogen from renewable sources such as water.
By 2040, electricity will be doubled with renewables, everything that can be electrified will be. And the plan hopes to halve fossil-fuel pollution from vehicles by 2030, with a goal of virtually eliminating it by 2040 by increasing access to electric vehicles for personal use and transit.
The nature conservation authorities would be strengthened under the Greens’ plan.
Ontario Liberal Party
The Liberals have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, protect 30 percent of the province’s land and expand the green belt. The party has also pledged to scrap Highway 413 and re-evaluate the environmental impact of the Bradford bypass.
In a platform released earlier this month, the Liberals outlined their plan to address the climate emergency, which aims to create a green economy and significantly reduce emissions. Under the plan, Liberals want to cut greenhouse gas emissions from carbon and methane by more than 50 percent by 2030.
As for the party’s proposed “green economy,” the environmental plan aims to create 25,000 green jobs and invest $9 billion over four years in a “clean economy plan.” The Liberals also promise to strengthen Ontario’s carbon pricing system, which would force some industries to cut emissions further.
The plan also states that the party will explore green hydrogen production and promises to offer up to $9,500 in discounts for electric vehicles.