Another Ford majority government would be disastrous for environmental protection
Peterborough Examiner – May 13, 2022 – by Drew Monkman
On June 2 as we head to the polls, many voters will have the skyrocketing cost of living top of mind. The cost of everything from food to housing is approaching crisis proportions. But no one said that multiple crises can’t happen at the same time. We’re still dealing with the pandemic, while species extinction and unimaginable climate chaos are looming in the background. What’s more, action on climate change is up against a hard deadline dictated by the laws of physics and chemistry. We know with absolute certainty that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut in half by 2030 – just seven and a half years from now – and brought to net zero by 2050. The need for all-hands-on-deck action could not be greater.
You would think that any political party aspiring to govern Ontario would put climate and conservation action front and centre in its platform. Yet, this is not the case. For Doug Ford’s poll-leading Conservatives, their approach is simply to drag the puck as long as possible and pretend all is fine.
Carbon dioxide emissions worldwide are at their highest level ever and we’re on course to blow past the crucial 1.5 C of warming as early as the 2040s. Everywhere we look the predictions of climate catastrophe are being confirmed – even at the present 1.1 C of global heating. Just think back to BC’s climate chaos of 2021 or consider the devastating heat wave India is facing right now (see sidebar). Ontario will not escape extreme weather events, either. In fact, the province is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. As for Peterborough, we could have the climate of southern Pennsylvania by mid-century.
And it’s not just climate change. The planet is in a biodiversity crisis, too. We’re on track for a sixth mass extinction, the first since the dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years ago. This time around, however, we can’t pin the blame on a giant asteroid. It’s human activity and it’s happening right here in Ontario.
First, I’ll acknowledge that Doug Ford is a likeable guy. Many people would also give him a passing grade on how he handled the pandemic. However, his government has moved Ontario’s approach to solving environmental problems back by decades. As Mark Winfield of York University said recently, “The province has moved away from rules and evidence-based decision-making to approaches based on access, connections and political whim.” The Ford government simply doesn’t recognize environmental matters as being important. According to Diane Saxe, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner until Ford eliminated the position, “To do nothing on the greatest issue of our time is an insult to our children and future generations.”
Doug Ford hasn’t just stalled on action; his government has been actively hostile. Among a host of other egregious decisions, it has: 1. Cancelled more than 700 renewable energy projects at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. 2. Challenged (unsuccessfully) the Federal carbon tax in court. 3. Terminated the province’s largely successful strategy on energy efficiency. 4. Presided over an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and is nowhere close to meeting its own emissions reduction targets. 6. Rewritten the planning rules at provincial and local levels to favour developers. 7. Is aggressively pushing for sprawl-inducing new highways like the 413 which would pave over 400 acres of farms, forests and wetlands. 8. Weakened protections for endangered species. 9. Largely dismantled Ontario’s environmental assessment process, marginalized the roles of local governments in planning and eliminated public consultation requirements. 10. Used Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZOs) to fast-track development while overriding environmental protections and community consultation.
It’s blatantly evident that Doug Ford does not take the profound implications of climate change seriously. You would have thought that the lethal heat, wildfires and floods we just saw in British Columbia – with the staggering impacts on human health and livelihoods – would provide all the evidence any government needs to act. Do they actually think these disasters can’t happen in Ontario?
And let’s not forget the fiscal impacts. Without meaningful policies on emissions reduction and adaptation, Ontario taxpayers are going to be facing horrendous costs. The rainstorms that battered BC in November left taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars.
Nature under assault
Equally egregious is the total disregard for species protection displayed by this government. Until it was greatly weakened by the Ford Conservatives, Ontario’s Endangered Species Act was considered the gold standard in North America. The act was celebrated for its three foundational aspects: science-based listing, automatic protection of species, and mandatory recovery strategies.
As we face a planetary crisis in the loss of biodiversity, Ontario Nature, a conservation organization that protects wild species and spaces, has released a list of Ontario government actions it considers absolutely necessary. Here are some of the highlights. 1. A pledge to protect 30 percent of provincial lands and waters by 2030. 2. Immediate, substantial investment in nature-based climate solutions. 3. Greatly enhanced stewardship and recovery efforts to reverse species declines. 4. A commitment to reverse damaging amendments to the Endangered Species Act. 5. A commitment to enhance public accountability by refraining from using MZOs to speed up development.
Other than its recent investments in “greening” the steel sector and in electric vehicle manufacturing, the Ford Conservatives offer next to nothing in terms of action on climate change and conservation.
The election platforms of the Greens, NDP, and Liberals, however, are impressive. All three would cancel Highway 413, eliminate Ministerial Zoning Orders, set a target of 50 percent emissions reduction by 2030 (vs. 30 percent for the PCs), expand the provincial park system, plant hundreds of millions of trees, and repeal the Ford Conservatives’ harmful changes to environmental legislation. The Liberals would also designate 30 percent of our lands as protected areas, up from the present 10 percent.
For a more detailed look at party platforms, go to fourourgrandchildren.ca and click on Ontario Provincial Election Actions. You’ll also find personal actions you can take to elect a local candidate whose party puts environmental protection front and centre.
Although Ford is projected to win a majority government, there’s still a small chance of holding him to a minority. Defeating the Conservatives in ridings like Peterborough-Kawartha is crucial. Right now it’s looking like a toss-up between the Liberals and the PCs. How you vote could not be more important than in this election.
I think nearly all of us – many Conservatives, too – realize the seriousness of the climate and biodiversity crises we are facing. What some people fail to grasp, however, is the urgency of acting now. What’s at stake cannot be overstated. The climate crisis is on track to completely upend our lives and those of our children and grandchildren. Any political party that fails to grasp this does not deserve our votes.
CLIMATE CHAOS UPDATE
Alarm: Hundreds of millions of people in large parts of India and Pakistan have been suffering a deadly heat wave for nearly two months. At least 25 people have been killed in India, and more than 65 in Pakistan, but the true numbers are expected to be higher. Northwest and central India faced its hottest April in 122 years. New Delhi saw temperatures topping 43 C. These temperatures are considered a snapshot of what’s in store for the region as climate change worsens. See https://tinyurl.com/2×926967
Upcoming events: On Saturday, May 14 from 9 am to 3 pm, a “Trees for Canopy Conservation” event will be held at Beavermead Park. Learn about planting and caring for trees and how trees help in the fight against climate change. This is an event for the whole family with crafts and entertainment by The Paddling Puppeteer.
Carbon dioxide: The atmospheric CO2 reading for the week ending May 7 was 420.18 parts per million (ppm), compared to 419.81 ppm a year ago. The highest level deemed safe for the planet is 350 ppm. The steady upward trend in atmospheric CO2 continues: Pre-industrial (280 ppm), 1912 (300), 1988 (350), 2010 (390), 2014 (400), and 2020 (413). Rising CO2 means more climate chaos ahead.
Take action: To see a list of ways YOU can take climate action, go to https://forourgrandchildren.ca/ and click on an ACTION button.