Climate policy is complicated because almost everything we do creates greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, this post is a bit longer than our other policy reviews. If you’re in a hurry, scroll down to our review of the major parties and our voting recommendations.
As we all now, the climate crisis is bearing down on us quickly. We are already faced with floods, fires and unpredictable weather which threatens our food production systems. If we don’t rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to zero, things will only get worse.
For the most part, Canadian emissions have stayed flat for the past ten years. A significant reduction in emissions from electrical generation has been lost to increases in emissions from transportation and oil and gas production.
In Ontario though, we saw a substantial reduction between 2005 and 2014, as a result of the closure of coal-fired power plants which took place over the same time period. In fact, the closure of these power plants under the previous Liberal government was the main reason that Canada’s nation-wide emissions have not continuously increased throughout the 2000s.
However, the science tells us we must be achieving substantial reductions EVERY SINGLE YEAR, and Ontario’s emissions have flatlined since the coal plant closures were completed in 2014.
So what should we do? Ontario must keep emissions from electricity low and begin to tackle other sources of emissions such as emissions from vehicles and natural gas heating.
Thanks to the closure of coal power plants under the previous provincial government, Ontario’s electrical grid is one of the cleanest in the world. In fact, if you use natural gas (methane) heating and have an electric oven, you will REDUCE your emissions by baking cookies in the winter because you are heating your home with electricity instead of gas.
Unfortunately, Doug Ford is planning to meet future demand for electricity by relying more heavily on gas power plants instead of increasing wind and solar or importing more hydro power from Quebec.
A big chunk of Ontario’s industrial emissions come from steel production. Fortunately, a joint investment from the Federal Liberals and the Provincial Conservatives is helping Ontario’s biggest steel manufacturer’s decarbonzie.
The provincial government can primarily influence emissions from buildings through building codes and by funding or subsidizing retrofits and renovations. Because buildings last for fifty or a hundred years, it is important that all new buildings be either completely without emissions or easy to retrofit to a net-zero standard. Otherwise, we are creating an extremely expensive retrofit project closer to 2050.
More efficient buildings which incorporate electric HVAC technologies like air-source heat pumps are slightly more expensive to build, but they are often cheaper in the long-run when savings from reduced energy costs are factored in. For this reason, the government can fund these projects with low-interest loans which help homeowners take advantage of future savings sooner while costing the government nothing in the long-run.
Electrifying buildings only gets us to zero emissions if we keep our electrical grid clean.
It is cheapest for the government to use regulations and building codes to simply require more efficient buildings rather than doing it through incentives.
As you can see from the pie chart above, the biggest source of emissions in Ontario is transportation and most of that comes from gas-powered vehicles — some of which are used for freight and some of which are personal vehicles.
To reduce these emissions, we must get people out of their cars by making walking, biking and public transit more appealing and practical and replace the remaining gas-power vehicles with EVs.
Subsidizing electric vehicles — including electric bicycles which are much cheaper — and instituting a ‘zero-emissions vehicle mandate’ to ensure that dealers have EVs on hand are important policies here. Funding public transit and encouraging walking and biking are just as important, if not more important, however.
Did you know that car dealerships make almost as much money from maintenance as vehicle sales? Because of this, they are incentivized to sell more internal-combustion vehicles (which require much more ongoing maintenance) and less EVs — even when people are trying to buy EVs. This is part of why they often have no EVs available. A ZEV mandate will work to counter this perverse financial incentive. Read more.
One thing that many people overlook is the fact that good transportation planning requires land-use planning. Low-density sprawl puts people farther and farther from their jobs, which means longer commutes and worse traffic, makes public transit more expensive to build and operate and discourages walking and biking.
As former environmental commissioner of Ontario and current Green Party deputy leader Dianne Saxe has observed, “Sprawl is Ontario’s Tar Sands.“
Low-density housing puts people farther and farther from their jobs. And the problem is exponential because with each new sprawl home we add more drivers who have even longer commutes. These homes are also typically less energy efficient than townhouses or apartments because shared walls drastically reduce heating costs.
When Doug Ford rewrote Ontario’s growth plan he REDUCED the minimum number of people and jobs per hectare in new developments in order to create more sprawl – which only benefits land speculators who have bought up farmland in the outskirts of the GTHA in the hopes of seeing it rezoned for residential housing. Read more in this detailed twitter thread on Ontario’s Land Speculation problem.
Putting a price on carbon — either through a carbon fee and benefit or through a cap and trade system — is a slow, but effective, way to reduce emissions in all areas of the economy. Under the previous government, Ontario had a cap and trade system which set emission caps for different types of institutions and allowed businesses that were under their caps to sell their emission credits to those who were above. One key benefit of this system was that it allowed public schools to fund sustainable renovations by selling the emissions reduction credits they produced on an open market which included businesses from California and other jurisdictions. After Doug Ford cancelled the cap and trade program it was also necessary to cancel a $100-million school repair fund.
After the cancellation of Ontario’s cap and trade program, the Federal carbon price backstop kicked in. Although Doug Ford spent millions fighting the carbon fee and benefit system, he lost his case at the Supreme Court and the federal system now applies in Ontario. The average household receives more in carbon benefits than they pay in carbon fees and the savings are even more pronounced for people who keep their emissions low — and this helps incentivize low-emissions options like walking, biking, public transit and home efficiency upgrades.
The Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign is another excellent grassroots campaign for better climate policy click here to see their proposal for just and effective climate policies for Ontario.
What are the parties saying about climate?
Doug Ford claims his climate plan will reduce emissions 30% from 2005 levels by 2030 — but 2005 is just before Ontario started closing its coal plants. With 2018 as a baseline, Doug’s Made-in-Ontario Climate Plan is actually only aiming for 12% reductions by 2030, while the UN says we need 50% emissions reductions by that time. Worse still, the plan is extremely unlikely to meet even those weak targets.
Don’t believe us? The Auditor General of Ontario says “Ministry staff internally estimated that implementing initiatives in the Plan could likely achieve only 10.9 Mt in emissions reductions, 6.7 Mt less than the 17.6 Mt presented in the Plan.” Why won’t it work? Because many of the proposed reductions are completely made-up. For example, the plan expects to get major reductions from ‘innovation’ but there is no funding or legislation which will produce this ‘innovation.’
Since releasing this atrocious climate plan, Doug has also:
- cut plans to plant 50 million trees
- paid out $231 million dollars to cancel renewable energy contracts
- increased our reliance on natural gas in our electrical grid
- changed the planning laws to increase urban sprawl
- made plans to pay millions to extend fossil gas infrastructure to Northern Ontario when it would be cheaper to install air-source heat pumps in every single home
- made plans to spend 8-12 BILLION on new highways
On the plus side, the PC government has made substantial investments in building new public transit.
Read the Conservative’s plan here.
BOTTOM LINE: Not only are Doug Ford’s climate plans lacking in both ambition and effectiveness, he has undone many important climate policies set in place by previous governments.
The Green Party of Ontario plans to cut emissions in half by 2030 (as compared to the Conservatives goal of 30% reductions) and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 (the PCs have no long term plan).
They propose a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend similar to the current federal policy. Their carbon price would initially match the federal price but rise more rapidly until maxing out at $300/tonne in 2032.
They propose a variety of policies, including subsidies to promote the adoption of electric vehicles (including e-bikes!). They also propose to “phase out the sale of new gas and diesel-fueled passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks, and buses by 2030.”
They would amend the building code to ensure all new buildings are carbon neutral staring in 2028. They would also eliminate fossil fuel use in new and renovated government buildings by 2025 and all government buildings by 2030.
They would create jobs and reduce emissions from our existing building stock by partially funding (50-75%) an ambitious retrofit campaign at a cost of $16.4 billion over approximately twenty years. More than half of this cost could be funded simply by cancelling the Ford government’s proposed highway spending.
They also have an extensive policy suite designed to freeze urban boundaries and prevent further sprawl.
BOTTOM LINE: The Green Party of Ontario’s climate plan is thorough, detailed and ambitious. They have the broadest and best set of policies and the fastest planned reductions in emissions.
Unfortunately, the Green Party of Ontario is extremely unlikely to form government. The best chance for their plan to see implementation is for them to form the balance of power in a coalition government. Therefore, voters who support their plan may want to consider voting strategically unless they have a particularly strong Green candidate in their riding (i.e. Mike Schreiner in Guelph).
Read the official summary of the Green plan here.
The Liberal Party of Ontario has pledged to cut GHG emissions in half by 2030.
The Liberals propose to “strengthen our existing industrial carbon pricing system” and introduce a carbon offset system to support businesses that are making reductions financially.
They pledge to ban new fossil gas plants and transition “as quickly as possible” to clean electrical grid. They will also increase Ontario’s protected areas and expand the Greenbelt to maintain natural carbon drawdown.
They will retrofit public buildings, update building codes and provide $3000 for people and businesses doing retrofits. They will invest in expanding public transit, pay local transit agencies to make all transit rides $1, and provide subsidies of up to $9500 for EVs and charging equipment.
We were also particularly pleased to see a $500 subsidy for e-bikes — because replacing cars with e-bikes (even if it’s just a family’s second car) is a thousand times better than replacing cars with EVs! They have also committed $100 million dollars annually to support bike lanes and other active transport infrastructure.
BOTTOM LINE: The Liberals have a well-designed and fully costed climate plan which takes climate change seriously, but doesn’t quite match the true severity of this global crisis.
You can read the official summary of the Liberals’ environment plan here.
The Ontario NDP plans to cut emissions in half by 2030 (as compared to the Conservatives goal of 30% reductions) and reach net-zero emissions by 2050 (the PCs have no long term plan). These targets match those of the Green Party of Ontario.
The Ontario NDP will make all government buildings carbon neutral by 2030 and amend the building code so that all new buildings are carbon neutral by the same year. They will research the best way to drive retrofits in private buildings and implement a large-scale job training program to ensure that workers are ready and able to conduct the needed retrofits.
They propose a strong ZEV mandate and subsidies of some kind for the purchase of electric vehicles and $600 for the installation of charging stations in private homes.
They propose to make Ontario’s electricity supply net-zero by 2030 by building more renewables and importing hydro power from Quebec. They will also redirect fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy production and consumption.
They also propose substantial investments in public transit including inter-city transit – which is sorely lacking throughout much of Ontario.
In terms of carbon pricing, they plan to develop and implement their own version of a cap and trade system.
The Ontario NDP’s climate plan also includes some policy around climate resilience, for example, policies which reduce flooding and fire risks.
The NDP did, however, vote in favour of the recent Conservative investment in expanding natural gas infrastructure to northern Ontario. While there is a need for better home heating options in remote and Indigenous communities, expanding methane heating infrastructure during a climate crisis is not a good option. In fact, it would be cheaper (though logistically challenging) to install air-source heat pumps in every single home that will be connected to the grid under this plan than it will be to pay for the infrastructure expansion (which will still require homeowners to buy new gas furnaces).
BOTTOM LINE: The Ontario NDP plan is almost as ambitious as the Green Party’s plan and includes a strong variety of policy proposals.
The NDP are unlikely to achieve a majority government and their plan is most likely to see implementation through a coalition government with the Liberals. For this reason, voters who prefer the NDP climate plan may wish to consider strategic voting in ridings where the NDP candidate is unlikely to win.
Read the official summary of the NDP climate plan here.
As in other policy areas, the difference between the Conservatives – with their complete disinterest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and the other three parties is greater than the differences in policy between the Greens, the NDP and the Liberals. Furthermore, because the most likely outcomes of this election are a Conservative majority and a coalition of the other parties, you should vote for the party most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding.
The Conservative party of Ontario has moved Ontario backwards on climate policy and ending their majority government is the single most important thing the people of Ontario can do to reduce province-wide emissions. For this reason, we strongly recommend voting for whichever candidate is most likely to beat the Conservatives in your riding.
If the Conservatives are unlikely to win in your riding, both the Green and NDP climate platforms are quite strong and you should vote for whichever party best matches your preferences in other policy areas.
Resources and Groups and Individuals to Follow:
While this review focusses on climate policy, there are other environmental issues at play in the upcoming election. While issues like endangered species and wilderness conservation were outside of the scope of our analysis here, the current conservative government has performed poorly in these areas as well.
Check out Environmental Defence for wide-ranging analysis of provincial environmental policy (including climate policy).
Ontario Nature has excellent policy analysis in the areas of endangered species and conservation.
Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign is a grassroots coalition formed by groups like ClimateFast and CAPE Ontario to develop a set of policy suggestions for the next provincial government.
For Our Grandchildren is a grassroots climate group in Peterborough which is currently developing materials to inform people about their policy options in the provincial election.
Ontario Voters Coalition was founded by members of Climate Pledge Collective. Most of our resources on that site are currently focused on the big 5 Canadian banks and fossil fuel financing however.