Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Environmental Legislation in Ontario in the Wake of the Liberal Majority

A number of environmental bills have been stalled by the provincial election in Ontario and opposition from the Progressive Conservatives. The June 12 provincial elections saw Ontario dodge a bullet by resisting the Progressive Conservatives. Led by Kathleen Wynne the Liberals managed to win a majority. Wynne assumed the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in January 2013. She was more progressive and green focused than her scandal laden predecessor Dalton McGuinty. The leader of the Ontario NDP brought down the minority Liberal government due to her refusal to support the budget. While Tim Hudak and the Progressive Conservatives were predictably reluctant to support environmental legislation.

The election focused on the perennial issues of corruption, employment, economics and and the deficit. However, for some the election was all about coal. Coal-fired electricity generation is a major source of health-threatening smog, and of climate-destabilizing carbon dioxide.

On November 25, 2013, Ontario tabled legislation to end coal powered electricity generation (Bill 138). Ms. Wynne’s Liberals held a minority of seats in the legislature, so she needed the support the at least one other party to get the law passed. The proposed Ending Coal for Cleaner Air Act was designed to stop coal facilities from operating by the end of 2014. Prior to President Obama's decision to curtail power plant emissions in the US, Ontario’s elimination of coal-fired electricity was the single-largest greenhouse gas reduction initiative in North America.

Premier Kathleen Wynne got support from former U.S. vice-president Al Gore who said future generations will thank the province for fighting global warming.

“If they see the pollution levels falling, if they feel hope in their hearts and look at their own children and feel definitely their future is going to be brighter still, they’ll look back at us and ask of us ‘How did you find the moral courage to change, to rise up, to act?’ ” he said. “And part of the answer will be: ‘Ontario, Canada, led the way.’ ”

Wynne bluntly said, “We want to close the door on coal and we don’t want to go back. It’s our moral duty to take action, to protect our children, our grandchildren and and our fellow citizens.”

Ending coal power in the province is equivalent of taking seven million cars off the road. it offers significant health and environmental benefits for Ontarians. According to one study, Ontario’s coal-fired power plants cost the people of Ontario an estimated $4.4 billion per year in health, environmental, and financial damages.

Ontario has reduced its use of coal for generating electricity from 25 percent of all power generated to now less than 2 percent.

On December 2, 2013, Ontario Released its Long-Term Energy Plan.which encourages conservation and lays out a plan for clean, reliable and affordable energy.

However, the winter of 2014 was the coldest winter in two decades. It has forced Ontarians to pay more for their electricity rates tempering calls for clean energy causing many to take to the streets in protest.  For some the high cost of energy made coal a more attractive option. To help people manage energy costs the government of Ontario offers energy tax credits, emergency help to pay bills and free energy saving measures.

The election call which was forced by from New Democratic leader Andrea Horwath,  put environmental legislation on hold. This included everything from legislation that would have given $60 million aimed at protecting the Great Lakes (Bill 6) to improving recycling rates (Bill 56). The Aggregate Recycling Promotion Act was supported by all parties in the House, but like other legislation it never saw a final vote as it ran out of time before the election was called.

Other legislation that failed to get passed due to the election was Bill 83, Protection of Public Participation Act (Bill 83). This legislation would have made it more easier for judges to dismiss lawsuits (commonly against environmental initiatives) they identified as SLAPPs: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. The Invasives Species Act (Bill 167), was also a casualty of the election, it would have made the detection and eradication of invasive species a priority.

The Waste Reduction Act(Bill 91) was killed by the Progressive Conservatives. It was geared towards driving up the province's waste diversion rate including household hazardous waste, tire and electronics. Among other things this legislation would have decreased packaging and reduced the cost of recycling them cheaper while  industry would have to pay half of the residential blue box program.

While the Liberals were clearly the greenest of the major parties, they did not base their policy platform on environmental concerns. Like so many political leaderships in North America, politicians still feel it is hard to win an election based on the understanding that a healthy environment makes for healthier people, lower healthcare costs and increased productivity. This view was largely ignored despite pleas from Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Pembina Institute and many others.

Through a questionnaire, twenty environmental groups attempted to determine which of the four main parties would do the most for the environment. This included things like transit funding, protecting endangered species, developing a carbon pricing system, orchestrating a regional environmental assessment of the Ring of Fire and containing urban sprawl.

The results of this questionnaire show that the Green Party supports the largest number of environmental initiatives, followed by the Liberals and New Democrats while the Progressive Conservatives are the least interested in environmental issues.

Now the the Liberals have a majority it is believed that they will reintroducing key pieces of environmental legislation.

© 2014, Richard Matthews. All rights reserved.

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