Kudos to Ontario’s New Democrats for offering up this past weekend an ambitious, serious, far-reaching $40 billion plan to tackle climate change. If the NDP wins the next election in June 2022 — and if the party makes good on the commitments unveiled in its Green New Democratic Deal — you will see tangible signs of an attempt to deal with climate change in your everyday life: everything from a requirement that new homes be built with electric-vehicle stations, to a $600 incentive to put EV stations alongside existing homes, to a pledge that all new vehicle sales will be electric by the year 2035.
The NDP has put detailed, time-bound proposals in the electoral window. (For more information on the plan itself, see this column by my #onpoli podcast co-host John Michael McGrath.)
The party brass appear to have learned one of the important lessons emerging from the last several pre-pandemic federal and provincial elections in Canada — namely, that parties seem to have a very hard time winning if they don’t at least make an attempt to say something serious about climate change. For example, the biggest chunk of the electorate, certainly in central Canada, felt that, during the 2019 election, federal Conservatives under Andrew Scheer had nothing to say about the subject, other than that they’d axe the carbon tax, which was hardly a strategy for reducing the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions.
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Interestingly, despite what you might think, the NDP has often had a complicated relationship with pollution in the past. Yes, 15-year-veteran MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto–Danforth) was once the executive director of Greenpeace. But the NDP has also depended on the votes of unionized autoworkers, who for decades have manufactured gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing muscle cars and pickup trucks. Not particularly good for the environment.
The NDP has also walked a tightrope in northern Ontario, where environmentalists worried a great deal about preserving a variety of species, while MPPs made hanging on to forestry and mining jobs a greater priority.
But, with this plan, leader Andrea Horwath is clearly all in on transforming Ontario into a net-zero-emissions province by 2050 and is banking on the creation of hundreds of thousands of new job in that transition.
“This is the strongest, boldest climate plan Ontario has ever seen,” she boasted Saturday morning during her half-hour Zoom presentation.
The politics of this plan are fascinating. During her news conference after the presentation, Horwath said Doug Ford’s government was “shamelessly using the COVID-19 pandemic to pursue their conservative agenda.” She reminded viewers that “this is a government that literally tore out EV charging stations. They’re going backwards.”
She also cited Liberal leader Steven Del Duca’s being at the cabinet table during his party’s previous 15 consecutive years in power under premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne. “The Liberals failed the people then, and the Conservatives are failing them now,” she said.
Conspicuous by its absence was any mention of the one party that has actually been promoting an equally ambitious and aggressive green agenda for Ontario: Mike Schreiner’s Green party. The word “green” is in the title of Horwath’s plan. The colour scheme in the documents features the NDP’s traditional orange dissolving into green. But while Horwath spoke the party and leaders’ names of the PCs and Liberals, there was an obvious silence when it came to the Greens.
“It looks as if you’re taking dead aim at Mike Schreiner and the Greens with this proposal,” I pointed out to Horwath during the post-presentation news conference.
“I’m taking dead aim at the climate crisis,” Horwath countered. “We believe Ontarians deserve to know there’s a party with a great vision and a plan to get to net-zero emissions by 2050.”
Even in her response to my direct question about the Greens, Horwath wouldn’t utter a word about them.
This was surely all the evidence we needed that the NDP sees the Green party as a huge impediment to its winning the next election. Ever since June 2018, when he won a seat in the legislature representing Guelph, Schreiner has made a name for himself as a plucky, lone Green MPP, punching well above his weight in the arena and demonstrating enough of a non-partisan approach to stand out from much of the usual mindless partisanship.
“History has shown that the three legacy parties have not implemented the policies needed for a just transition to meet our climate obligations,” Schreiner emailed me on Saturday, referring to the PCs, NDP, and Liberals. “We worry that the NDP doesn't understand the urgency of the climate crisis by their votes in favour of policies that further reliance on fossil fuels, supporting oil and gas pipelines and bills to back commuting by car.”
Some of those criticisms — such as backing pipelines — more accurately describe the Alberta rather than Ontario NDP. And if the NDP has often played footsie with real environmentalism in the past, this new plan seems designed not to do so this time.
Bottom line: if you care about the environment, the good news is there is now a serious competition underway for which party can speak most authentically about who can best make progress on climate change.
And that’s a good thing.
For more, read John Michael McGrath’s “What’s in the NDP’s Green New Democratic Deal.”