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A look at some key questions about the Ford government's climate change plan

As millions of citizens concerned about climate change poured into the streets of cities and towns during strikes and marches, Ontario's PCs fought the carbon tax, set a less ambitious emissions target and stalled on the push toward it.

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Millions of people marched and demonstrated at climate rallies around the world in September, including in Toronto. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Throughout 2019, activists pushed the climate crisis to the forefront of public consciousness around the world. 

Millions of concerned people poured into the streets of cities and towns during strikes and marches, demanding tangible action from people with political power.

The year also brought lots of changes to Ontario, with the Progressive Conservative government taking a controversial approach to climate policies.

Here's a look back at the year that was in the fight against climate change in Ontario. 

What is the province's current plan?

The Ontario government unveiled its 10-year climate change plan in late 2018.

You can read the whole thing here.

A major plank is the Ontario Carbon Trust: $400 million in public money to work with the private sector on developing clean technologies.

Initiatives to cut down on littering and pollution feature heavily in the strategy as well. The PC government has said it is open to a ban on single-use plastics, something the federal government says will be in place nationally by, at the earliest, 2021

The province also committed to an Ontario-wide assessment of the impacts of climate change to determine how it's affecting communities and businesses. Last month, it put out a tender looking for bidders with expertise in impact assessments to work on the two-year project, a tactic opponents saw as a way of delaying action..

The plan was rolled out against the backdrop of Ontario's bitter (and ongoing) legal fight with the federal government over the levy on carbon.

Ontario's highest court ruled carbon pricing is constitutionally sound, and Premier Doug Ford hinted last summer that he might drop the challenge if the federal Liberals were re-elected in October.  

When the Liberals were re-elected, Ford changed his tune, saying his government will take its challenge all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, with Ontario taxpayers footing the legal bill.

Thousands of people packed on to the lawn at Queen's Park in late September to demand more aggressive action in the fight against climate change. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

How is the PC climate plan different than the Liberals'?

Ford's PCs have taken a very different approach than the previous Liberal government in the fight against climate change.

First and foremost, they are adamantly and fundamentally opposed to putting a price on carbon, despite evidence it can effectively change consumer behaviour. All of the other major parties in Ontario support some form of carbon pricing. 

Then there is the province's target for reductions in emissions.

In 2016, former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne's government said it would spend as much as $8.3 billion over five years to put Ontario on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 37 per cent below 1990 levels by 2030.

The plan would be funded in part with money raised through a cap-and-trade program targeting big emitters. 

When the PC's formed government in 2018, they immediately scrapped the cap-and-trade system (a promise they campaigned on) in a bid to shave nearly five cents off the price of a litre of gasoline.

Ontario's fiscal watchdog said at the time the decision would cost $3 billion in lost revenue over the next four fiscal years. Rod Phillips, then minister of the environment, said cap-and-trade was costly and inefficient, and that it was costing jobs.

A panel of Ontario divisional court judges later said, in a 2-1 ruling, that the cancellation broke the law because the province failed to carry out public consultations.

Rod Phillips was Ontario environment minister when the PC government killed the province's cap-and-trade program. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Then the PCs also rolled back the Liberals' emissions target, aiming instead to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — the same goal adopted by the federal government as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The difference between the two plans is about 30 megatonnes of emissions by 2030. For perspective, the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick produced a combined total of 30 megatonnes of emissions in 2017.

In April, Doug Ford gave a speech in which he said Ontario had already done its "fair share" on climate change.

It should be noted, too, that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has since warned that the targets laid out in the Paris Agreement are no longer ambitious enough to prevent a global catastrophe.

Is Ontario's current plan working?

Earlier this month, Ford said he believes his government's plan will help ensure that Ontario meets its Paris Agreement target. He pointed to commitments for new transit projects in Toronto as a sign of his dedication to combating climate change, and implored critics to wait until 2030 before making up their minds.

A federal inventory of Canada's emissions published in April reported that Ontario's have declined by 22 per cent below 2005 levels. The closing of five coal-fired power plants by successive Liberal governments between 2001 and 2014 were responsible for the lion's share of reductions in that time frame.

But the PC plan has been panned by the opposition and many environmental groups, who argue that it does not adequately address the urgency of the climate crisis.

And some of those closely monitoring the government's implementation of its plan say headway has been slow to come. 

In a report this month, the organization Environmental Defence alleged the PCs have made "next to no progress" on getting key elements of the plan unveiled in 2018 up and running. The province was already falling behind on its more modest emissions targets, the report said.

Ontario's auditor general is similarly critical of the plan to cut emissions, saying in a December report that it is not based on "sound evidence." Bonnie Lysysk also said the province is overestimating the potential impact because it miscalculated some estimates and projections and made policy changes that could discourage further emission reductions.

For example, the government's strategy relies, in part, on thousands of drivers transitioning to electric vehicles, but it cut subsidies meant to incentivize those purchases.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservatives scrapped a program meant to encourage drivers to purchase electric vehicles. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

In the first six months of this year, sales of electric vehicles in Ontario were down more than 55 per cent from the same period in 2018, according to data from Electric Mobility Canada.

A group of young Ontarians is suing the province over what they say is climate change inaction, arguing it has violated their Charter rights by softening emissions reduction targets.

Who is holding the government to account on its climate plan?

The government announced in the fall of 2018 that it would be eliminating the officer of the environmental commissioner and merging its functions with the auditor general.

The province's last environmental commissioner, Diane Saxe, was critical of the government scrapping cap-and-trade, as well as the cancellation of several electricity conservation programs.

The commissioner's office did not answer to any one ministry, but instead reported its findings directly to the legislature. 

The PCs said the move would streamline the oversight process and cut down on administrative costs. The accountability role now falls under the auditor general's mandate.

How did Ontario respond to the massive rally outside Queen's Park?

This past year saw climate marchers fill the streets in cities and towns around the world.

Greta Thunberg's activism helped to drive news coverage of the climate crisis in 2019. (Andrej Ivanov/Reuters)

Toronto saw its own huge rally in September.

At the time, Ontario Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said he "would like to recognize all the young Ontarians who are making their voices heard on the serious issue of climate change."

He then went on to highlight provincial measures to address climate change, including proposed new rules for industrial polluters and landfill-diversion efforts.

"We are committed to taking meaningful action on climate change by implementing effective and affordable measures to reduce our province's emissions and support Ontarians as they look to do their share in helping to protect and preserve the environment," Yurek said.

What about the anti-carbon tax stickers?

One of the stranger climate-related policies of Ontario's current government was the mandatory stickers, displayed on gas pumps, showing drivers how the federal carbon tax will increase the price of gasoline over time. (The stickers do not mention the corresponding rebate program.) 

The Ontario government says its mandatory anti-carbon tax stickers aren't going anywhere. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

The stickers were first distributed in August in the build-up to the federal election campaign. Some thought the PCs might abandon the initiative after the vote.

But Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford said recently that. despite problems with the stickers peeling off pumps, they aren't going anywhere. 

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