TORONTO – With Ontario’s cap-and-trade system headed for the chopping block, several green initiatives and projects funded by the program are also on their way out – and some environmental advocates and experts say more rollbacks are likely as the province swears in a new Progressive Conservative government focused on cutting costs and helping business.
Doug Ford, Ontario’s incoming premier, has vowed to immediately dismantle cap and trade once the legislature resumes and to fight a federal carbon pricing program set to kick in next year, saying the measures hurt families and do nothing for the environment.
Some rebates for energy-efficient renovations that were financed through cap-and-trade revenues are already being phased out even though Ford, whose swearing-in is scheduled for next week, has yet to officially kill the program.
Other green initiatives expected to soon wind down as a result of axing cap and trade include retrofits to social housing, energy-efficient upgrades for schools and hospitals, and cycling and transit infrastructure, experts say.
“Anything that has funding that’s tied to cap and trade is in jeopardy right now,” said Matthew Hoffman, a political science professor specializing in environmental governance at the University of Toronto.
“It’s not clear to me what the new provincial government is going to do about the funds that have already been committed but certainly no new funds are going to come out of this,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be a mess to try and unwind these things, I think you’re going to see a freeze of a lot of these programs.”
Keith Brooks, programs director of the advocacy group Environmental Defence, said the loss of these initiatives is another hit to the fight against climate change, and noted that what happens in Ontario affects Canada’s ability to meet its commitments when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“What many people don’t realize is that a lot of the climate change efforts in Canada were made by provincial governments and a lot of the policy is provincial jurisdiction…So what provinces are doing is really important,” he said.
“To see Ontario kind of go backwards is hugely problematic for sure. I’m very nervous about what’s going to happen here.”
Ford’s office did not immediately respond Wednesday when asked about the fate of other initiatives funded through cap and trade.
The premier-designate has previously pledged to put measures in place to fight climate change.
The plan put forward by the Progressive Conservatives during the election campaign sets aside $500 million over the course of their mandate for environmental efforts, including hiring more conservation officers and creating an emissions-reduction fund to invest in new green technologies, but contains few details.
Based on Ford’s campaign promises and the precedent set by previous Conservative governments, it’s likely the incoming government will roll back environmental protections in other ways, said Douglas Macdonald, an environmental policy expert and author of “Business and Environmental Politics in Canada.”
Both the Tory provincial government under Mike Harris and the federal government under Stephen Harper brought environmental deregulation, and Harris did so at a time when environmental rules had been increasingly tightening, he said.
The fact that Ford has campaigned on plans to stimulate the economy and draw business to Ontario also suggests he may be willing to ease environmental requirements, Macdonald said.
“Business wants, usually, to have less stringent standards, to have less costs imposed upon it, and this is a government that is showing that it’s likely to be open to those kinds of requests,” he said.
Ford has also pledged to find billions in savings through efficiencies while scrapping some of the province’s revenue sources, and while he maintains no jobs will be lost, there will inevitably be pressure to reduce the size of government, Macdonald said.
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Past experience has shown that the ministry of the environment is “least able to withstand those kinds of pressures for cuts” because it doesn’t have the same status in cabinet as other ministries, he said.
It will be telling to see the size of Ford’s cabinet, which has yet to be announced, and who he appoints as minister of the environment, particularly if that person is a rookie legislator, Macdonald said.
Most governments choose a fairly junior person for that ministry, but when the NDP formed government in the early 1990s, they appointed a heavy hitter, which was “a sign that that government was giving more significance to the portfolio,” he said.