Sometimes political leaders have to take the long view and try to solve problems for the long term.
In the case of Ontario’s green plan, it looks like the Progressive Conservative government in Ontario is already overrunning its time frame by at least a decade. The plan to increase tree planting, ban new construction in ecologically sensitive areas, and set new standards on air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions was already three years behind schedule and experts estimate it will still be a decade or more before it is implemented.
The Conservative plan is nowhere close to addressing Ontario’s inefficient electricity sector. In fact, the government wants to approve five to 10 large power generating facilities next year. What’s more, there are no timelines set for moving to clean energy sources, such as wind, solar, biomass, and nuclear.
Moreover, the program that the government is setting for itself to grow forest cover nationally has little credibility given the fact that the Conservatives have seriously cut down on forest coverage in Ontario. Earlier this year, cutting out Ottawa’s value-added revenue stream would make it even harder for the Ontario government to expand forest cover.
In 2017, Ontario suffered through a period of severe drought conditions, although, by no means, catastrophic. However, the Conservatives are still not planning to do anything to address climate change and are actively planning new and large power generation facilities for next year. This further defeats the purpose of any measures that the Ontario government is taking to deal with the planet’s changing climate.
Unlike many other provinces, including British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick, and countries around the world, Ontario has not been able to set a national minimum emissions reduction target. Under Bill 138, a provincial emissions target would require the Ontario government to formally submit its greenhouse gas emissions targets to the provincial legislature each year. However, the bill would not give the government new authorities to act upon its own plans for reducing emissions, nor would it give the government the tools to investigate or hold organizations accountable for actions that reduce emissions.
This doesn’t stop the Tory government from providing a new opportunity to delay meeting the federal 2020 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions nationally by 30 percent, back from the province’s earlier plan of bringing it in earlier. Without this delay, Ontario’s plans would be not as ambitious as the rest of the country, which already holds its Canadian neighbors accountable for reducing emissions and could encourage other provinces, including Quebec, to impose their own stringent regulations to achieve climate action.
This strategy, once again, fails to take into account the pressures that Ontario faces from larger provinces such as Quebec and Alberta that have higher emissions than Ontario’s. There is already evidence that other provinces have pursued some carbon targets and they are making progress. For example, Nova Scotia has recently established a greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030. Newfoundland and Labrador’s emissions target for 2020, despite having less than half Ontario’s population, is only about 50 percent higher than Ontario’s.
Ontario’s plan to grow trees in Canada could be an effective tool to help reduce carbon emissions, and encouraging more tree cover would help the province to grow its economic production in the cleantech sector and agriculture.
Recently, there has been renewed commitment from both Canadian provinces and provinces in other countries, like New Zealand, to reduce emissions. Another sign of the times is that Quebec’s planned development of a carbon pricing program. Alberta has also recognized that it will need to reduce its emissions.
The Ontario government faces an increasing fiscal crisis. A vast swath of Ontario is suffering from a housing crisis and successive governments have taken a number of steps to prevent the problem from worsening. First, the government mandated that all new housing have lower energy consumption and the more recent climate change plan focuses on making homes more energy efficient.
At the same time, however, it is also building new energy intensive projects such as clean coal plants, LNG projects, and new pipelines, all of which will require fossil fuels that add significant costs to the province’s economy. Ontario will need to quickly slow these decisions that have the potential to negatively impact the carbon emissions reductions already in place.
It is uncertain whether Ontario’s climate change plan will truly be able to control its carbon emissions in the future, but this should not stop the provincial government from considering the short and longer term impacts.