On climate policy, Ontario will leave Doug Ford behind

Below is a blog post from Avery Dawes, one of the members of Ecology Ottawa's summer team.

On July 3, Premier Doug Ford officially ended Ontario’s cap-and-trade program and removed his government from the national debate on climate and emissions reduction policy. According to Ford, the program would cost Ontarians too much money while doing “nothing for the environment.” Like Jason Kenney in Alberta and Premier Scott Moe in Saskatchewan, Ford is a longtime vocal opponent of provincial and federal efforts to fight climate change and protect the environment.

Ford claims that “Help is here,” but he will be hurting plenty of people in Ontario by abandoning his and everyone’s responsibility to help fight climate change, reneging on the businesses that bought nearly $3 billion in permits with no guarantee of refund, and ignoring people in high density social housing where upgrades were planned and are widely needed.

Saving money may help some, but Doug Ford can't even guarantee savings. He can’t guarantee anything on climate strategy if he refuses to act. The federal government has the ability to implement a carbon tax and to punish Ontario for not doing its part in the fight against climate change. Recently, the federal government announced it was reviewing $420 million dollars in transfer payments to Ontario in response to the end of the cap-and-trade program. Ontario loses control of its strategy to fight climate change if the federal government steps in with a carbon tax. Ontarians who save money at the gas pump or on heating as a result of the cancellation will likely see the expense rise again soon under the federal program.

In the face of strong opposition, Premier Rachel Notley kept control of climate strategy in Alberta and implemented a carbon tax by and for Alberta. Whether each Albertan agrees with the program or not, it is under their collective control. In Ontario, Ford has chosen to hand that power to the federal government. Instead of a cap-and-trade market, the federal carbon tax backstop will likely be implemented. It would be a direct carbon tax, the first in Ontario. Instead of being a relative leader on this file, Ontario will be dragged behind and forced to follow the Trudeau government’s strategy. For better or worse, if there is enough political will at the federal level, Doug Ford is largely irrelevant to climate strategy in Canada.

Everyone must do their part as Canada works to reduce its emissions and curb the damaging effects of climate change. While Ford is premier, Ontarians must focus on working with the federal government to implement a strong plan that fits the unique needs of the province. Securing a meaningful strategy to fight climate change through the federal government will be hard. The current backstop pricing does not go far enough in reducing emissions and a mere carbon tax without details on how the money will be spent in Ontario does little to inspire change beyond just charging more for emissions intensive products or services. The Trudeau government is formulating its plan for Ontario’s emissions reduction strategy and it is imperative that Ontarians are a part of that discussion.

Ford and some other politicians across Canada routinely dismiss efforts to reduce emissions as too costly and having no real effect on climate change. The economic argument works short term, but climate change is an expensive problem to deal with. For example, wildfires brought on and exacerbated by climate change cost the US government $1.7 billion in 2013 and up to $62.5 billion by 2050. In a recent study, the United Nations found that the cost of adapting to climate change could reach $500 billion per year by 2050. The money saved by scrapping the cap-and-trade program pales in comparison to the money we can save by taking action.

It is unlikely that we will find an effective dollar-bin strategy to fight one of the biggest issues facing the planet, but we can have a real impact on climate change. By contacting their elected officials and by organizing in communities, Ontarians can have their voices heard and advocate for a climate strategy in Ontario that takes meaningful action to reduce emissions to safe levels. If Doug Ford has a cheaper strategy to achieve the result he says is not being met, he should speak up now. Otherwise, he can take his ball and go home while Ontarians work for a sustainable and prosperous future.

For more information on how you can get involved and help fight climate change locally, visit EcologyOttawa.ca/TakeAction.

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