Incoming Premier-designate Doug Ford moved quietly this week to begin unravelling the outgoing Liberal government’s environmental legacy.
After just six months on the job, Ford's new government fired Molly Shoichet, an award-winning chemist at the University of Toronto with almost 600 peer-reviewed papers, abstracts and patents to her name, who was appointed Ontario's first chief scientist by Kathleen Wynne in November 2017.
“I was dismissed. I don’t think it was about me or even about the chief scientist position, but rather an out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new, even though, for me, I had just been there for six months,” Shoichet told The Globe and Mail. A spokesperson for Ford said Shoichet's role is not being eliminated entriely, but that a new "suitable and qualified" candidate will be appointed soon.
End of Green ON
Starting in late June, instead of locating information about rebate programs to reduce home energy costs via smart thermostats or better windows, visitors to greenon.ca found a notice informing them the $377 million retrofit program was finished. As the National Observer pointed out, the move is reminiscent of incoming Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s 2006 cancellation of EnerGuide, the federal Liberal’s popular energy retrofit program.
The not-for-profit Green ON initiative was launched in August 2017 by Premier Kathleen Wynne and overseen by then Environment and Climate Change Minister Chris Ballard. The goal was threefold: to reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions; to provide incentives for businesses and homeowners to green their houses and places of work; and to spur small businesses across the province to open or expand their operations into the $6 trillion global cleantech economy.
Small business owners ‘angry’
Green Party of Ontario leader Mike Schreiner was quick to react to the cancellation, accusing Ford of hurting small businesses heavily invested in the tools needed to conduct home energy retrofits.
“I’ve already received emails and calls from business owners angry that Ford’s reckless actions will force them to fire staff and lose money,” Schreiner, the newly elected MPP for Guelph, said in a statement. “Mr. Ford has declared war on businesses creating jobs that are good for the environment and that help people save money by saving energy.”
Solar industry executives at a renewable energy convention in Calgary this week told reporters that Ford's announcement would see a significant investments flowing out of Ontario and into province like Alberta.
"There was a ton of investment coming into Ontario," said Todd Marron, North American sales manager for Toronto-based SolarWall, a company that manufactures solar heating systems for commercial and residential buildings. Speaking with the Canadian Press at the Solar Canada expo, Marron said the entire industry was set for "explosive growth" in Ontario, but that investment capital will now head to Alberta "or back to the safe haven of California," he said.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who stood alongside Wynne and Ballard earlier this year at a Toronto house undergoing an energy retrofit, said on Twitter the move was “disappointing,” suggesting the incoming Premier “doesn’t care about climate action or helping families & businesses save money & supporting innovative Ontario businesses and jobs.”
“This means no more money to help businesses become more energy efficient, no money for social housing energy retrofits, and no money for colleges, universities and hospitals to reduce their energy use." — Keith Brooks, Environmental Defence.
This gaping revenue hole will have serious consequences for small businesses, municipalities and other organizations across Ontario reliant on cap-and-trade-generated funding to make the kind of infrastructure changes necessary to save money on energy costs.
“This means no more money to help businesses become more energy efficient, no money for social housing energy retrofits, and no money for colleges, universities and hospitals to reduce their energy use,” said Keith Brooks, programs director for Environmental Defence, in a statement. It also means “no funding for cycling infrastructure, electric vehicles, and public transit.”
So long cap-and-trade
Green ON was funded in full by the proceeds of Ontario’s cap-and-trade auctions, part of a joint carbon market with California and Quebec. The province raised close to $3 billion selling carbon offset credits to polluters at roughly $18/tonne for current and future emissions.
Ford, who railed against Ontario’s cap-and-trade policy since his earliest days in the Progressive Conservative leadership race in February, told reporters last week that his first task as Premier-designate would be to scrap Ontario’s “carbon tax,” as he incorrectly calls it.
“In Ontario, the carbon tax's days are numbered,” he said Friday at a Queen’s Park news conference. The announcement sets up an anticipated showdown with the federal government who have vowed to implement a price on carbon pollution for any province that fails to put their own carbon pricing system in place by early 2019.
The incoming provincial government has already budgeted $30 million in taxpayer dollars to fight Ottawa over its carbon reduction plan, with Ford noting months ago his will to fight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
A spokesperson for Environment Minister McKenna told CBC News the federal government’s mandate for imposing a carbon price on reluctant provinces is clear. “Ontario's current pollution pricing system meets the federal standard,” said McKenna's press secretary Caroline Thériault. And if Ford wants to scrap the Liberal’s plan, “the federal price on pollution,” which could be substantially higher per tonne than Ontario’s $18 price tag, “would apply.”
Last updated Thursday, July 5 at 10:54 EST.
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