How many parties does it take to talk environmental policy?

In our latest newsletter, reporters Fatima Syed and Emma McIntosh — who also moderated our forum on the fate of Ontario’s climate future — talk about the highs and lows of the election campaign

I know, I know, Jason Kenney is resigning. But there’s also some pretty important stuff happening in the Centre of the Universe (KIDDING), where a different conservative premier is looking to stick around for another four years in power.

Yes, I’m talking about Doug Ford and the Ontario election that’s somehow only two weeks away.

That was fast. Yet for an election in Canada’s most populous province with big consequences for our collective climate future, it’s been like pulling teeth to get politicians to talk about what’s at stake. And I’m not just talking about the Progressive Conservatives.

Our Ontario bureau wanted to fix that, so they invited candidates with some environmental cred from each party to The Narwhal’s election forum. As you probably heard, the PCs turned us down (maybe the environment minister’s dog ate their invite?). But the Liberals, NDP and Greens all showed up for what turned into a lively discussion on how we can build climate consensus no matter who wins on June 2. There was healthy debate, too. Like on the whole highways thing.

If you missed out, go here to catch up and watch the recording. And if you live outside Ontario, or are maybe just starting to tap into election coverage now, read on below for reporter duo Fatima Syed and Emma McIntosh’s takes on what’s been happening and why you should care.

Take care and try to get more than 51 per cent of people to like you,

Arik Ligeti
Director of audience

The four leaders competing to be premier in the 2022 Ontario election: Doug Ford, Steven Del Duca, Andrea Horwath and Mike Schreiner.
The four leaders competing to be premier in Ontario’s June 2022 election. Clockwise from top left: Doug Ford, Steven Del Duca, Andrea Horwath and Mike Schreiner. Illustration: Kagan McLeod / The Narwhal

What’s the biggest environmental issue in this election people should be paying attention to?

Fatima: There’s a lot of pressure on the next government to build, build, build. I think Ontario voters should pay attention to how they promise to do that while also balancing the protection and preservation of our natural world and our climate commitments. It’s something the leaders, with the exception of Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, haven’t talked about much, which maybe tells voters all they need to know.

Emma: I really think critical minerals and electric vehicles have emerged as the dominant environmental issue because the parties are all talking about it willingly. That is definitely not the case with some of the more nuanced environmental issues, like development and emissions reduction.

Speaking of electric vehicles: what’s the Ring of Fire and why does it matter?

Emma: The Ring of Fire is a remote region in Ontario’s Far North that Doug Ford wants to transform into a mining district supplying minerals for electric vehicles. But that’s not a simple ask — the mineral deposits there are unverified, the area lacks basic infrastructure like roads and First Nations nearby have not all consented. On top of that, it’s a very sensitive landscape and carbon sink. Carving it up for development would be a colossal mistake for climate efforts, according to environmental advocates. Even some industry analysts say the whole thing is a farce because we still don’t have a clear idea of the value of the minerals. Without that intel, they say, there’s no way to determine if the benefits would outweigh the costs of getting to them.

Fatima: Every single party has pledged to increase electric vehicle supply and usage across the province. To do that, we need the critical minerals in the Ring of Fire. That comes with a whole host of issues, as Emma has reported, from Indigenous Rights to sustainable mining practices to funding. So look up Ontario: what happens in the northern parts of our province will have huge impacts on our future.

A map of First Nations and mineral claims in the Ring of Fire region in Far Northern Ontario
A map of the Ring of Fire and the routes of proposed access roads. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal

What have been the biggest surprises (or letdowns) of the campaign so far?

Emma: I’ve been shocked at the sheer lack of attention to environment and climate from pretty much everybody except the Greens. We saw that during this week’s debate: even when the party leaders were asked one question about the environment — whether they’ve done enough to fight climate change — they almost immediately started talking about something else. It’s bizarre to me because the Ford government’s environmental record is an obvious weakness they could target.

Fatima: I keep thinking about how the first thing, literally the very first thing, the Doug Ford government did upon taking office was cancel a series of environmental policies: the $3 billion cap-and-trade program, the $100 million White Pines Wind Farm that was 10 years in the making, green energy contracts and more. Those decisions set the tone for Ontario’s climate efforts — or lack thereof — for the next four years. Whoever takes up office next will set the course Ontario is on in dealing (or not dealing) with the impacts of the climate emergency. The biggest surprise of the campaign has been the lack of recognition of this fact. With less than two weeks left, I hope voters push their candidates to answer more questions.

This week in The Narwhal

Letters reveal what energy companies told RCMP before Wet’suwet’en raid

By Matt Simmons

TC Energy and LNG Canada pressured RCMP to enforce a court-ordered injunction on Wet’suwet’en territory. Months later, police maintain a daily presence in the region. Read more.

Ottawa’s new hospital is paving over an important site for Indigenous healing

Stephanie (Mikki) Adams wearing a blue jacket stands in front of trees at the Experimental Farm in Ottawa on April 28, 2022.

By Carl Meyer

The Civic campus development is heavily backed by Doug Ford and Minto Group. The Ottawa Hospital says it consulted with Indigenous communities, but some organizations feel shut out of decision making and site selection. Read more.

Solar farm sparks conservation battle in Edmonton’s river valley

Epcor solar farm Edmonton

By Drew Anderson

The sprawling parkland at the heart of Alberta’s capital is home to a major emissions reduction project, but some say green energy shouldn’t pave over greenspace. Read more.

Meet our new biodiversity reporter, Ainslie Cruickshank

Biodiversity reporter Ainslie Cruickshank in Vancouver, B.C.

By Lindsay Sample

B.C. has more biodiversity than any other province or territory in Canada, so we’re dedicating a full-time reporter to covering it. Read more.

What we’re reading

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