What Ontarians think of the climate change action plan

By Daniel Kitts - Published on Jun 08, 2016
Early reaction to today's Ontario climate plan announcement has been positive, with some notes of caution.

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Ontario’s climate action plan contains dozens of measures, including tax breaks and rebates to encourage the adoption of zero-emission vehicles, net zero carbon emission targets for new small buildings by 2030, and green bank that will help homes and businesses find the money needed to pay for greenhouse gas-reducing improvements.

Much of the early reaction to the plan has been positive, but there are also notes of caution and criticisms that the plan is taking the province in the wrong direction.

“It’s a good plan”

Some groups focused on the environment and promoting clean energy technology have given the province’s plan an early thumbs-up.

“Today the Ontario government delivered a strong climate action plan that will put the province on track to meet its targets, while growing the economy. It’s a good plan and Ontario should be commended for its leadership,” Sarah Petrevan, senior policy advisor with Clean Energy Canada, said in a press release.

“Including ambitions like aiming for new homes to be net zero carbon by 2030 is a clear indicator that the government is grappling with the tough choices required to reach our 2020, 2030, and 2050 targets. By having this conversation now, Ontario will be in a better position to capture the innovation and growth potential of our clean energy future,” said Eli Angen, Ontario director of the Pembina Institute. Read his full statement.

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Keith Stewart and Shawn-Patrick Stensil of Greenpeace Canada wrote about five things they like about Ontario’s climate plan: it tries to move the province towards phasing out fossil fuels by mid-century, it empowers people to fight climate change, it protects low-income Ontarians and respects indigenous communities, it views climate change as an opportunity and not just a threat, and the government’s plans to reform campaign finance will reduce the influence of big businesses that benefit from the status quo.

Fears of unrealistic costs

In question period at the legislature, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown took aim at the government’s pledge to require new homes to be net zero carbon by 2030, saying that according to Natural Resources Canada, the average net zero home costs $150,000 more than the average home. “Where does the premier expect home buyers to come up with another $150,000? Why does the premier want to make life more unaffordable for Ontario families and businesses?” he said.

Similarly, Ben Dachis of the C.D. Howe institute called the new plan “a U-turn from wise carbon pricing policy towards costly subsidy programs this week.” Some of the programs announced this week have costs that are “eye-watering,” he wrote in an email. “For example, subsidies to retrofit apartments will cost as much as $900 million and cost $425 per tonne of emissions reduced.”

The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters said it supports the intent of the plan but is concerned that, if not properly executed, it could take away capital from companies and make it more difficult both to grow the economy and reduce emissions. "The ultimate test will be watching how this plan is implemented and executed, as it must be done in a way that supports and facilitates economic growth, as well as reducing emissions,” CME vice president for Ontario Ian Howcroft said in a press release.

Some positive reactions from workers and business

While the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters sounded less than enthused, other businesses and at least one major union were more favourable in their comments.

"I'm happy with approaches that are laid out in the climate action plan which will help industries, like cement, reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while remaining globally competitive. We look forward to continuing to work with the Ontario government on the next steps to ensure that Ontario achieves its greenhouse gas reduction targets,” Michael McSweeney, president and CEO of the Cement Association of Canada said in a statement. The cement industry is a particularly energy-intensive industry and is looking to improve its environmental credentials.

Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union and the representative of many Ontario auto workers commended the government for consulting with them and other industry stakeholders in crafting the plan. “The auto initiatives in the plan are consistent with industry recommendations supported by Unifor in consultations with the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change” said Jerry Dias, national president of Unifor in a statement.

Where the plan falls short

In the legislature, NDP MPP Peter Tabuns called a climate change plan long overdue but said it places undue burdens on rural and northern communities, as well as low-income Ontarians. “Out of the $8.3 billion the minister wants to spend, northerners will only get between $1 and $4 million to replace their wood stoves,” he said.  “How can the minister sustain public support for his climate change action plan, when he won’t address the unfair burdens carried by low-income, rural and northern communities?”

Green Party of Ontario Leader Mike Schreiner said his party wants the plan to succeed but added it is too open to political meddling, gives “a free ride” to more than 100 of Ontario’s largest polluters, hands most of the revenue it will generate to big business, and lacks transparency and accountability. “I am committed to making sure this plan gets the right checks in place so the wrong hands stay out of the cookie jar,” he said in a press release.

Jack Gibbons of the Clean Air Alliance called the plan a “valuable roadmap” but says one important piece is missing: it says nothing about improving our electricity system interconnections with Quebec. Doing so, he argues, would allow the province to be less reliant natural gas to generate electricity. “By upgrading Hydro One’s transmission system and by building a new intertie with Quebec, near Cornwall, Ontario could dramatically reduce its electricity-related greenhouse gas emissions by importing water power from its next door neighbour,” he wrote in an email.

The Council of Canadians said the plan was undermined by a failure to tackle pipelines. “Any climate plan that does not reject new pipelines on its territory should not and cannot be considered a climate plan,” said Daniel Cayley-Daoust, energy and climate campaigner with the Council of Canadians in an emailed statement.

Read more about Ontario’s climate plan on TVO.org:

Will weak cap-and-trade auctions threaten Ontario’s climate plan?

Are Ontario’s electric car ambitions realistic?

Is reducing natural gas the key to hitting Ontario’s climate targets?

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