All of Ontario’s parties say they’ll address climate. The difference is in the details
In our penultimate Political Climate newsletter, we glean over the Ontario parties’ environment platforms — and how they aim to build resilient infrastructure — in the wake of recurring extreme weather events
Different parties have their own proposals on shaping the future of Ontario's climate action.
Illustration: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal
Thousands of people in Ontario and Quebec are still in the dark following the deadly storm that whipped through the most populated corridor in Canada on May 21. On Saturday, a week after the storm, The Globe and Mail reported that about 20,000 customers were still waiting for their power to come back on and that places like Tweed, Ont., could be waiting weeks more.
Although it’s not simple to draw direct links between individual storms and climate change, the derecho is still a reminder of what’s at stake in this election. Climate scientists agree that extreme weather events are becoming more frequent as the planet warms, making climate action — including building resilient infrastructure — something politicians need to take seriously.
If you’re still weighing how to vote on June 2, we’ve put together an overview of the Ontario parties’ environment platforms. It’s a guide to what the provincial Progressive Conservative, Liberal, NDP and Green parties are promising to reduce pollution, make Ontario an electric-vehicle hub, develop urban regions and more.
To pull out one point: only the Green party is acknowledging that Ontario needs to ramp up clean energy generation. The nuclear plant in Pickering is shutting down soon, and other nuclear plants will be undergoing refurbishment. Right now, it looks like the void that creates will be filled mainly by natural gas, made up of mostly methane that has 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
Senior editor Elaine Anselmi took a look at the future of natural gas in the province in her latest story — which she managed to finish despite having to leave her house for a full week because her electricity was out. Hero!
Elaine writes that the Doug Ford government has pushed hard on expanding natural gas infrastructure in the province for electricity and heating, which isn’t really a surprise since it cancelled hundreds of renewable energy contracts early in its tenure.
Her story gets into the complexity of energy in a province as vast as Ontario: she interviews a small business owner in Selwyn, Ont., who can’t wait for a natural gas hookup, since he’s spending a fortune on furnace oil, currently his only heating option. And oddly enough, Elaine writes, the provincial Ministry of Energy is funding pilot projects for low-emissions heating options in the same region where it’s bankrolling the building of new natural gas infrastructure.
We’re choosing to see this as a silver lining — all of Ontario’s provincial parties acknowledge that climate change is real and needs to be addressed. That said, the specifics of each party’s platform still matter. Last week, Ontario reporter Emma McIntosh wrote about Durham Region’s vote to open more than 9,000 acres of farmland to development, a decision made partly to meet the Ford government’s directive to build single-family homes, fast. The Progressive Conservatives are also still backing two new highways and while the other parties all pledge not to build Highway 413, the Liberals won’t rule the Bradford Bypass out entirely.
Thanks so much for reading Political Climate these past few weeks — this is the second-last one, as we’ll be wrapping up after election day. If you’d still like The Narwhal in your inbox every week, you can sign up for our regular newsletter here. Our Ontario team will still be following these stories after election day, and we’d love to share them with you.
Rock the vote,
Denise Balkissoon, Ontario bureau chief
Is the point of the carbon tax to make gas more expensive?
Talk about weird timing: on May 22, the day after the big storm, the Ontario Progressive Conservatives’ first press release was about lowering gas prices, with an added attack on the Ontario Liberals for touting the carbon price. “The entire point of a carbon tax is to raise the price of gasoline to a level where people are forced to make different transportation decisions,” the release said. “Only Doug Ford and the Ontario PCs will get it done and keep costs down by lowering the gas tax by 5.7 cents per litre.”
The Progressive Conservatives are correct that the goal of putting a price on carbon is to make it more expensive to pollute, for both industry and citizens. And yes, there is a hope that such an increase would shift transportation choices away from fossil-fuel-dependent vehicles. But Ford’s statement is missing some context.
Alternate transportation choices, such as taking public transit, could also save people money. On a larger scale, climate change is going to be expensive: after the storm, the Insurance Bureau of Canada told CityNews that severe weather caused $2.1 billion in insured damage across the country last year. Working to minimize the climate crisis now would also hopefully reduce the potential costs of future disasters.
Transportation is Ontario’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 36 per cent of all emissions in 2019. Meanwhile, the Progressive Conservatives invested in a number of policies that would lock in further fossil-fuel usage by promoting driving, like building new highways and offering licence plate renewal fee rebates. Ford’s plan to lower the gas tax if re-elected would be another decision that contradicts any pledge to reduce Ontario’s emissions. And it won’t necessarily be cheap. — Fatima Syed