Doug Ford's environmental policies light on details, advocates say

Advocates for the environment say the Progressive Conservative platform doesn't contain a lot of detail and they're concerned Ontario's leadership in the fight against climate change could weaken under the incoming premier, Doug Ford.

The PC plan for the environment includes cleaning up garbage in Ontario parks

Ontario PC leader Doug Ford delivering his victory speech after winning the Ontario Provincial election to become the new premier in Toronto, on Thursday, June 7, 2018. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford was adamant during the Ontario election campaign that he is opposed to a carbon tax but some voters and advocates for the environment say the rest of his platform is light on details and they're unclear what his promises really mean.

Ford, who won the June 7 election and will be sworn in later this month, campaigned on a promise to dismantle Ontario's existing cap-and-trade program to reduce carbon emissions and has vowed not to bring in any new carbon tax to replace it.

Toronto resident Tom Scanlan wanted to know before he voted what Ford would do instead to reduce emissions. Scanlan, 67, had the opportunity to ask the PC leader during the final leaders debate if he believes in global warming and if so, what concrete actions he would take to tackle it it if not a carbon tax.

Ford confirmed he believes in "man-made global warming" and then went on to condemn the cap-and-trade "scam."

Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne defended the program and NDP Leader Andrea Horwath expressed her support for it.

Scanlan told CBC on his way out of the debate that he was "disappointed" Ford didn't propose any specific ideas during his response.

PCs promise to 'Keep Ontario beautiful'

A few days after the debate the PCs put out their "Plan for the People" platform which included a handful of environment-related policies:

  • Keep Ontario beautiful by protecting waterways and enforcing air quality programs.
  • Improve enforcement, including hiring more conservation officers and increasing policing of major polluters.
  • Set up an emissions-reduction fund to invest in new technologies to reduce emissions.
  • Commit resources to reducing garbage in our neighbourhoods and parks

The price tag for those four promises is $500 million over a four-year mandate.

"It seems lightweight to me," Scanlan said in an interview after the platform was released. The voter, who is not loyal to any particular party, said the plan didn't seem to be thought out or to take the threat of climate change seriously enough.

Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford met with his transition team on June 10 at the Ontario legislature. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

"It's a pretty big issue and this seems like dialing it back," said Scanlan.

Keith Stewart, a researcher with Greenpeace, is also concerned that Ford isn't serious about tackling climate change. The PC party's election platform under former leader Patrick Brown did include a carbon tax.

"The [PC] party had finally come around to acknowledging that action on climate change is something governments have to do in the 21st century and now Doug Ford is throwing that out the window without a second thought — or a first thought," said Stewart.

The other measures in the platform appear "cut and pasted from the Mike Harris platform in 1999 which brings a new meaning to reduce, reuse, recycle," said Stewart.

$30M to fight Trudeau in court

Ford didn't promote the idea of an emissions-reduction fund during the campaign.

It also wasn't until the plan was put online that it was revealed the PCs are budgeting $30 million for legal costs to fight Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in court over the imposition of carbon pricing if provinces don't have their own way of doing it.

The campaign was asked a few days before the election to provide more details about the environment plan, including a breakdown of the spending.

It responded that $425 million is dedicated to emissions reductions, $10 million for conservation officers, $50 million for clean water and air and $15 million for cleaning up parks.

When asked for more details about a new emissions-reduction fund the campaign said a request for proposals from businesses and individuals who have emissions reductions projects would be issued. Money will be awarded based on best-value-for-money and a set of requirements.

Ontario's Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner won the first seat ever in the Ontario legislature for his party on June 7, 2018. (CBC)

The campaign said garbage in parks and neighbourhoods is a problem and that the Liberal government failed to boost recycling and waste diversion rates. The Ford government will "consult with municipalities on how best to support them but we will enhance recycling/waste diversion programs in public spaces."

Sara Hastings-Simon, managing director at the Pembina Institute, said there is a lot of uncertainty around Ford's plans, particularly on the timeline for dismantling cap-and-trade and withdrawing from the Western Climate Initiative with Quebec and California. It's not clear, for example, what happens to the carbon credits companies have already bought that are valid until 2020.

Details to come

Hastings-Simon said Ford's other promises aren't specific, including the pledge to crack down on polluters.

"That is another question mark. What does that actually look like? Are those regulations that are going to be ultimately more costly to companies than a price on carbon?" she asked.

Tim Gray, executive director of Environmental Defence, had the same kinds of questions.

"It's not fully articulated," he said about the PCs environment plan. Gray added that's not entirely surprising given Ford only took over the party in March and didn't want to run on the platform developed by Brown.

Leading up to the campaign a coalition of environmental groups asked the PCs, Liberals, NDP and Green parties to answer a series of questions about their plans for the environment. The PCs did not participate.

Gray said it looks like the party now has "a bunch of work to do" to flesh out the campaign pledges and that his organization is keen to help.

He said Ontario has been a leader in the fight against global warming and he's concerned that could change with the new government, given Ford's intention to scrap a price on carbon.

"We are going to try and point out all the downsides of that and try and help them craft a new approach that would keep the fundamentals in place," said Gray.