Rivers on Democracy - see you in Court.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

November 30th, 2019



Today it’s just a small group of young folks, one only 12 years old, taking the provincial government to court under Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which promises protection for life, liberty and security of the person. Yet, according to the science, they more than the 55 year old Mr. Ford, will suffer “widespread illness and death” because of the policies of this provincial government.

doug-ford + carbon tax

Doug Ford: cancelled virtually all of the positive environmental policies of the previous government, as if the environment is a partisan issue.

Even the federal government, which had pioneered a number of progressive climate measures, including the carbon tax, is being sued (by another group of young Canadians) for not doing enough. But Mr. Ford’s government is clearly culpable – having actually cancelled virtually all of the positive environmental policies of the previous government, as if the environment is a partisan issue and he needed to show he was different. So it’s as if Mr. Ford deliberately provoked this kind of reaction, the first such legal action against a provincial government.

Ford slashed the province’s carbon emissions reduction targets. He is suing the federal government at the Supreme Court over a carbon tax, imposed only after he cancelled the province’s own cap-and-trade carbon pricing program – the most cost effective way to reduce all of the peoples’ carbon footprints.

While taking credit for the results of the provincial innovative green energy program, which reduced Ontario’s climate damaging emissions by 22%, Ford has bragged about having shut down the program. Coal which was used to produce 25% of the province’s electricity in 2003 was phased out by 2015 and largely replaced by conservation, wind and solar power.

turbines - Kingston

Some see the wind turbines as a pleasant addition to a skyline

But Mr. Ford doesn’t like the sight of wind generators, so he has killed some 800 renewable energy projects undergoing completion. It is costing a quarter billion dollars to cancel these investments. This action winds down the development of renewable energy in Ontario and with it the thousands of jobs already in the wind and solar industry. Canadian Solar, for example, used to be the third largest global solar manufacturer.

Mr. Ford has also declared war on electric vehicles, and reduced the pump price of gasoline, thus encouraging greater gasoline consumption. He ended the provincial electric vehicle (EV) incentive program and killed the program of installing EV charging stations across the province.

Mr. Ford says he believes in climate change and has a plan to deal with it, but that is clearly rubbish. Just ask those young people suing him or all the people in this province who voted federally for political parties supporting the carbon tax.

And this goes beyond climate change. In 2005 Ontario issued 15 smog advisories covering 53 days, due in large part to pollution from Ontario’s coal-fired electricity. An independent study estimated the health, financial and environmental costs of that pollution at $4.4 billion a year. More recent studies have shown that exposure to nanoparticles emitted in automobile and truck exhaust fumes can also lead to a number of health effects including a rising number of cases of brain cancer.

Rivers horse race

This is not the way to determine who governs us.

Litigation is today’s new democracy. As we’ve previously discussed in this column, the inadequacies of our first-past-the-post electoral system cry out for electoral reform. In the absence of that reform we have to rely on the courts to ensure politicians listen to the people between elections. So we should expect more legal action – individuals suing government and governments in turn suing industry to recover the costs of the health care and environmental damage and costs they cause.

Current emphasis on environmental litigation has been likened to what has happened with the tobacco industry. Those damage law suits were less about the fact that cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer and heart disease, but that the companies knew all of this and misled or withheld it from the public and public health authorities.

There is substantial evidence that oil company researchers and executives understood that the ongoing expansion of petroleum consumption would lead to irreversible global warming. Not only did they fail to inform the public but deliberately misled all of us. And isn’t the imperilment of the planet’s climate a crime for which no punishment is too harsh.

save planetAnother voice, Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission, recently concurred with other experts that its analysis demonstrates that carbon pricing is the most cost-effective way for the country to hit its 2030 Paris emission targets. Of course they argue that the price would need to rise to $210 per tonne compared to $30 today. And then former Ontario Liberal environment minister Glenn Murray, who introduced Ontario’s cap and trade carbon pricing program, now believes that it is too late, even for a carbon tax to be effective.

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:

Youth Legal Challenge –   Ontario Coal –    Wind energy

Air Pollution –     More Air Pollution –    Canadian Solar

Car Culture –     Oil Legal Cases –    More Oil Legal

Carbon Tax Too Late

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

7 comments to Rivers on Democracy – see you in Court.

  • Ray Rivers

    Dear Mr. Hribljan, Thank you for taking the time to comment on my column. I would like to respond on just a couple points. First, I find it somewhat amusing that Mr. Black is calling the kettle the pot – criticizing the UK’s and Canada’s former central banker for straying into a subject he is not an expert at – while Black does exactly the same thing.

    As for the matter of smog, it is clear that I failed to make my point effectively – once Ontario’s coal plants were shut down our smog episodes mostly went with them. The example of 53 smog days in 2005 should be contrasted with zero smog days in 2015. There is no question that we are the recipients of US pollution, and that autos and trucks are contributing factors, but our own coal plants were the major cause of our dirty air.

  • Michael Hribljan

    Firstly, can we agree to stop using youth to create shock and awe around climate change. https://nationalpost.com/opinion/conrad-black-the-ipcc-isnt-quite-as-apocalyptic-as-greta-thunberg. We get it, let’s find and discuss real solutions that are based on science, facts and economics.

    Here are some facts, Ontario’s thermal generating stations we approaching the end of their life so it made sense to close them down. Thermal generating stations provide a base load and are not well replaced by wind turbines. To make up this capacity Ontario Hydro has undertaken massive expansions at Bruce Nuclear and Darlington Nuclear as well as capacity expansion.

    It’s been well document that our green energy program under McGinty and directed by Gerald Butts was an absolute disaster costing tax payers millions. https://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/ontario-disaster-architects-1.3884108. Ontario now is blessed with one of the highest electricity rates in North America!

    As for smog advisories, to say it’s a large part due to coal-fired electricity in Ontario is absurd, misinformed or trying to miss represent the facts. Firstly cars are a huge contributor, also are the coal fired plants south of the boarder which total 350! One just has to look at the concentration of plants near us https://www.powermag.com/map-of-coal-fired-power-plants-in-the-united-states/ to understand where the smog is coming from. Metrological effects do not respect political boarders.

    I personally think carbon taxing is not going to achieve the results some would hope for, academics have been arguing the pro’s and cons for at least a decade now. Taxing natural gas to heat your home and run your hot water heater only impacts the middle and lower economic families. Adding more tax to gas only impacts those that have to commute great distances to earn a living. Without economical options, I guess it will make us feel good, provides government with more money to play with, but affords little change.

    I’m a big fan of EV’s but not a fan of direct government subsidies that only support those that can afford $50,000 or more for an EV. I would encourage everyone to read up on what is required to mine Li, where it is found, and recycle the massive amounts of batteries in the future. These are not without their environmental impacts.

  • Hans Jacobs

    Re: “..oil company researchers and executives understood that the ongoing expansion of petroleum consumption would lead to irreversible global warming…”.
    While that is very believable, oil company executives would have had little motivation to change policies. Typically a CEO is appointed in his/her mid-50s and has ~5 years of highest earnings opportunity before mandatory retirement at age 60. Creating major change in a company’s operations in such a short period could threaten the CEO’s bonuses, creating a disincentive, compared to continuing “business as usual” which is producing reliable profits. Sadly few CEOs seem to have read Levitt’s “Marketing Myopia” paper, or they might see it differently.

  • Larry Pinto

    Brilliant, so how does one support this law suit ?

  • Another very comprehensive yet in-depth analysis of an issue which, exemplified locally, speaks globally. Overwhelming greed based on the rapid profits from fossil fuels is blanketing the planet just like the veil of environmental destruction it supports. And it is our children and grandchildren who will pay when the bill comes due, when the reckoning comes.

    In support of this article I offer my own, at mpardi.com It is open to everyone for comments and provides material in support of Mr. Rivers’ excellent article.

  • David

    I always watch this video on India from ‘Global News’ every time someone gets on their soap box, it just puts everything into perspective.
    Stop importing product from countries that create the most GHG.
    Manufacture the products we consume in this country where we control emissions.