Ontario’s Climate Change Plan: Much Ado About Nothing

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

November 30th, 2018



Almost every aspect of Rod Phillips’, Ontario’s environment minister’s, climate change plan is something we’ve already done or are doing. In short it’s yesterday’s news.

For decades the federal and provincial governments, and other semi-government agencies have been doing exactly what the province is calling new; working with the private sector on developing performance standards and cleaner technologies. It was the McGuinty government which first introduced regulations adding corn-based ethanol to gasoline.

Titanic chairsBut we have all heard the alarm bells. The people who actually understand global warming are imploring governments everywhere to heed the urgency of taking action. In that regard this ‘new’ Ontario climate action plan is akin to the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. Improved seating may allow a better view of the icebergs floating ahead of the ship but won’t stop the collision.

The problem today is less about how cleanly we extract energy from fossil fuels, it’s that we continue to use fossil fuels at all when cleaner alternatives abound. Mr. Phillips likes to use the example of how Ontario reduced its emissions by 22 percent from 2005, as if he were the Liberal environment minister back then.

But that reduction came about because we stopped burning coal to produce electricity, not because we improved the efficiency of the scrubbers. And to add insult to injury for the lonely scattering of Liberals in the back benches, Mr Phillips is also claiming credit that today Ontario’s electricity system is mostly carbon free. Yet scarcely half a year ago he and his boss, Mr. Ford, called it a ‘mess’.

This plan has no legs, no heart and no teeth. There are no details or any kind, only a set of best intentions. By focusing primarily on industry, the government is dismissing all of the actions all the rest of the people can do to reduce their carbon footprint. And the $400 million carbon trust fund is more than a drop in an ocean, but it is hardly adequate if one were serious about significantly reducing carbon emissions through technological change.


It is a program that worked for everyone.

Ontario is following Australia’s lead in abandoning emissions trading and carbon pricing and hoping that technology will save it. But the low hanging fruit has been already been harvested. And like Australia, Ontario will miss it’s Paris agreement related emissions target. But even more importantly, we will have lost the momentum which made us the most successful jurisdiction in Canada when it came to reducing our carbon footprint.

There is an irony when the minister muses about possibly imposing financial penalties (fines) on large emitters, for those companies still operating in the province. But how is a financial penalty for generating carbon emissions not some kind of carbon tax by a different name? Won’t the cost of those fines not get passed down to consumers and families?

Cap and trade was an industry friendly approach to lowering emissions. It treated emitting industries as partners in solving the climate change problem. The Ford government is threatening instead to criminalize our industrial enterprises. That is if it is serious about going back to the old command and control approach, involving fines and courts and maybe even prison time. So much for the province being ‘open for business’.

corn driven ethanol

Ethanol: a policy that Ontario is looking to rekindle and expand despite the fact that recent evidence shows it is bad for the environment and even worse for the climate.

Bio-fuels like corn and firewood are considered renewable resources. When they grow they absorb CO2 even though burning them ultimately releases it. That was the rationale for adding corn-derived ethanol into gasoline introduced over a decade ago by the McGuinty government. That is a policy that Ontario is looking to rekindle and expand despite the fact that recent evidence shows it is bad for the environment and even worse for the climate.

At best this plan is one of those motherhood/fatherhood concept papers. It begs for description by cliches. It could have been worse. It’s really is too little too late. Nobody should have been expecting much given where Mr. Ford was coming from, so at least we weren’t disappointed.

The truth is we have seen this movie before though it seemed fresh yesteryear when Doc and Marty took us ‘back to the future’. And at least they weren’t travelling in a gas guzzler running on ethanol.

If the Ford Government was looking to provoke the federal government into bringing its carbon tax into Ontario, it couldn’t have done a better job than with this sad package of old ideas stolen from the days when global warming was still just another academic research topic.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes regularly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was once a candidate for provincial office in Burlington.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.   Ray has a post graduate degree in economics that he earned at the University of Ottawa.  Tweet @rayzrivers


Background links:

Ford Climate Change Plan –      More CC Plan –      Even More CC Plan

Ethanol –      Clean Technology –      Australian Approach

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3 comments to Ontario’s Climate Change Plan: Much Ado About Nothing

  • William Boyd

    Ray: Again, thank you. The topic bears repeating until we get it right or until we collectively blow it.

    If I’ve cited a recent survey conducted by Yale, et al before, please pardon my mentioning one of the key findings: of those surveyed, 70% professed to “believe” in climate change & 40% noted it affects them directly.

    Now I’m not suggested the researchers let a typo slip through, but would it not make wee more sense if of some 40% believing in climate change admitted that it affects them directly?

    This stuff boggles me mind.

  • Every time I read something like this I find myself wondering the same question: Can people really be so stupid that they do not understand the realities of climate change and our role in bringing it about? Do they need a massive and sudden extinction event to open their minds, if they survive? Centuries ago we awarded ourselves the title Home sapiens – Man the wise. Now we cannot even fall back on Homo ignoramus; that would mean we don’t know. But we do know – at least those of us with I.Q.s higher than tree stumps.