With increasingly gloomy predictions from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Ontario residents will want to reflect on decisions related to the environment and climate change when they vote on June 2nd.
The key features of Progressive Conservative leader Doug Ford’s environmental performance are well known: dismantling the previous administration’s climate change strategy; a battle with the federal government over carbon pricing that ultimately ends in a crucial loss in the Supreme Court; the cancellation of more than 700 renewable energy projects at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars; the rewriting of provincial and local planning rules in favor of developers; and aggressively pushing through the greenbelt proposals for highways that induce sprawl.
there is more The Ford administration has also undermined conservation agencies on flood-prone areas, weakened protections for endangered species, and dismantled the regulatory framework for controlling industrial water pollution.
This agenda continued under the guise of “pandemic recovery” and in many ways accelerated. The province’s environmental review process has been effectively dismantled. Extensive powers have been delegated to provincial authorities, particularly Metrolinx. The province’s latest moves aimed to marginalize the role of local governments in planning matters and eliminate requirements for public consultations as “bureaucracy”.
While the province released a Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan in late 2018, it has done little to implement it since then. Ontario is now on track to see a significant increase in emissions, particularly in the electricity sector.
In doing so, the province has moved from rule- and evidence-based decision-making to approaches based on access, connections and political whim. The resulting governance model is more rooted in 19th-century political norms than in 21st-century ones. The big winners so far have been clear: developers, the mining and aggregates industry, and established companies in the nuclear and natural gas-based energy sector.
For the most part, the Ford administration assumes that anyone concerned about climate change and the environment wouldn’t vote for them anyway.
Barring a climate-related extreme weather event or a Walkerton-type disaster during the election campaign, probably the biggest environmental policy risk facing the government is the growing backlash against the government’s increasingly authoritarian approach to planning and development. The ongoing threats to the Green Belt – and most recently the aggressive use of ministerial zoning arrangements in Richmond Hill and Markham to support hyper-intensive development for purposes that appear to do nothing more than serve the interests of the development industry – are already unsettling the crucial 905 region around Toronto, which is part of the base of the “Ford Nation”.
For Ontarians looking for alternatives to the current administration on climate change and environmental issues, the province’s Green Party has, perhaps unsurprisingly, provided the most comprehensive response yet. The party’s poll numbers have fallen, likely collateral damage from the federal party’s meltdown in the 2021 federal election. But the Greens’ potential role in the election should not be underestimated. In a heavily fragmented vote, the Greens could end up holding the balance of power in a minority legislature, as happened in BC in 2017.
In comparison, the environmental dimensions of the NDP platform are disappointingly thin in terms of content and detail. The party proposes a net-zero plan for 2050 to reintroduce a greenhouse gas cap-and-trade system and recommit to renewable energy development. The liberal platform pledges to halve greenhouse gases by 2030 and proposes measures in transit, electric vehicles, buildings and electricity – but also relies heavily on federal initiatives to achieve emission reductions.
The 2022 election is the most important for Ontario’s modern-day environment, and its impact may reverberate for generations to come.