As Ontario ready to go to the polls June 2, the Star looks at where the parties stand on the issues that matter to voters. Today, we look at the environment.
Over the past four years, the Progressive Conservative government and its leader Doug Ford have drawn heavy criticism for their approach to protecting Ontario’s environment.
The government has become known for using minister’s zoning orders, otherwise known as MZOs, to expedite construction projects. Meanwhile, the party ended cap-and-trade, restricted conservation authorities, and canceled 758 renewable energy contracts. Also under fire is the PC plan to build Highway 413 and the Bradford Bypass. Critics worry the construction will harm the Greenbelt and biodiversity, while opening the province up to housing sprawl. Through it all, the PCs have maintained they’ll hit climate targets.
Keith Brooks, programs director at environmental advocacy organization Environmental Defense, said the election “matters a lot when it comes to the future of this province and its environment.” This decade is “critical” for addressing climate change, he said, noting Ontario needs a government which takes climate change seriously. Parties should aim to reduce emissions by 60 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, Brooks said.
Protecting the Greenbelt, farmland, fresh water and the province’s endangered species is duly important, he added, noting new housing should not to sprawl, but rather should be added to existing urban areas.
Here’s how the parties plan to achieve Ontario’s climate targets.
Ontario Progressive Conservatives
PC spokesperson Ivana Yelich said the highway construction is necessary to break up the gridlock facing Southern Ontario. She also defended the government’s environmental record, pointing to extensive government and private investment in electric vehicle production, as well as helping ArcelorMittal Dofasco’s steel plant in Hamilton and Algoma Steel’s Sault Ste. Marie facility produce cleaner steel. The $1.8 billion ArcelorMittal project will replace coal-fed coke ovens and blast furnaces with new, low-emission technology.
“These two initiatives alone (ArcelorMittal and Dofasco) are equivalent to taking nearly two million vehicles off the roads,” Yelich said.
“By ramping up manufacturing of hybrids, electrical vehicles, and electric batteries, coupled with clean steel production, we are showing that our province can hit its climate targets without imposing more taxes on everyday Ontarians.”
Ontario New Democratic Party
The NDP has an extensive series of environmental pledges as part of their election platform. Their “Green New Deal” includes reaching “net zero” green-house gas emissions by 2050, introducing a new cap-and-trade system, and planting a billion trees by 2030. The party is also pledging that 25 per cent of revenue from The new cap-and-trade system would go to financial supports for rural, Northern and low-income families “disproportionately affected” by carbon pricing.
The party has also promised to develop the so-called Ring of Fire, an area of Northern Ontario rich in minerals, including many used in the development of batteries for electric vehicles. Environmental advocates and some First Nations have raised concerns that mining the area could damage the area’s peat lands, which are a valuable carbon sink that keeps CO2 from being released into the atmosphere.
Asked how the party squares its environmental commitments with its promise to develop the Ring of Fire, Michael Mantha, the NDP’s candidate for the riding which includes the area said the choice isn’t mining or environmental stewardship.
“The NDP is committed to get the Ring Fire project moving with transparency, and sustainability. For some Northern, remote and Indigenous communities, this project is about equity and opportunity,” said Mantha, who’s running in Algoma-Manitoulin. “Environmental justice is all about our move to net zero being fully equitable.”
Green Party of Ontario
The party has proposed an aggressive plan to cut emissions and protect the environment — and that begins with a new law the Greens would implement, dubbed the Zero Carbon Law.
The law, the Greens say, would set a “fair share” carbon budget for the province which would limit all greenhouse gas emissions to 1,630 megatonnes until 2100. Carbon pricing, meanwhile, would increase by $25 per tonne per year, up to $300 per tonne by 2032. The revenues would be returned to Ontarians as dividends, the plan says.
The Greens would also look at retrofitting 40 per cent of existing homes to be net-zero, a move they say will create “hundreds of thousands” of new jobs. Additionally, the party plans to swap to renewable, clean energy sources including green hydrogen, an energy process which generates hydrogen via renewable sources such as water.
Electricity, they say, will be doubled with renewables by 2040, while everything that can be electrified will be. And, the plan hopes to cut fossil fuel pollution from vehicles by half by 2030, with the goal of virtually eliminating it by 2040 by increasing access to electric vehicles for personal use and transit.
Conservation authorities would be strengthened under the Green’s plan.
Ontario Liberal Party
The Liberals have pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, protect 30 per cent of the province’s land and expand the green belt. The party has also promised to scrap Highway 413 and reassess the environmental impact of the Bradford Bypass.
In a platform released early this month, the Liberals outlined their plan for facing the climate emergency, aiming to create a green economy and significantly reduce emissions. Under the plan, the Liberals are looking to cut greenhouse gas pollution from carbon and methane by more than 50 per cent by 2030.
As for the “green economy” the party has suggested, the environment plan aims to create 25,000 green jobs and invest $9 billion over four years for a “clean economy plan.” The Liberals are also pledging to strengthen Ontario’s carbon pricing system, which would require some industries to further slash emissions.
The plan also suggests the party will look into green hydrogen generation and is pleading to offer up to $9,500 in electric vehicle rebates.