Deadly Ontario storm pushes Ford's climate change record into campaign spotlight

A deadly storm has vaulted Doug Ford's record on climate change into the campaign spotlight, with his rivals highlighting their own proposals to prepare Ontario for more extreme weather.

Main party leaders laying out plans to help province cope with extreme weather

A tow truck operator prepares to move a van destroyed by falling debris during Saturday's deadly storm in the Ottawa Valley community of Carleton Place. The weekend weather and resulting damage have put climate change issues in the spotlight on the Ontario election campaign trail. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A deadly storm has vaulted Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford's record on climate change into the campaign spotlight, with his rivals highlighting their own proposals to prepare Ontario for more extreme weather.

Saturday's storm cut a wide trail of destruction through much of southern and eastern Ontario that left at least 10 people dead and hundreds of thousands still without power. At least one municipality declared a local state of emergency, while utilities struggle with the scope of the cleanup. 

While surveying damage in the town of Uxbridge on Monday, Ford referred to the storm as a "once in a lifetime" event. 

Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca jumped on that language during a campaign stop Tuesday morning, calling Ford's response to the destruction "blasé" and accusing him of being a climate change denier.

"Doug Ford likes to talk about these things like they are the 'once in a lifetime' storms. You know what that tells me? That tells me that Doug Ford is, in essence, a climate change denier," Del Duca said.

"Because my younger daughter, who is 11 — not yet a teenager — has seen more 'once in a lifetime' storms in her short life than my father has in his entire life."

Del Duca said his party would help communities deal with climate change. The Liberals state in their platform that they will restore and expand natural infrastructure like wetlands and green roofs, and support communities in becoming more resilient to extreme weather through a new $250 million annual fund.

Asked Tuesday about his personal views on climate change, however, Ford was unequivocal.

"I believe in climate change, let's make that clear," he told reporters in Brampton, saying that his government did "everything to prevent it."

He then pivoted to familiar talking points. He talked about the roughly $14 billion his government secured, and partly contributed to, for electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing at plants in OakvilleOshawa and Ingersoll and battery production in Windsor and Brampton.

Ford similarly touted a plan to convert furnaces at two of Ontario's largest steel plants from coal-fired to electric-powered by the late 2020s. The ongoing transition to what's known as green steel is the single-largest initiative his PCs took to lower carbon emissions.

Ford also said that the party's proposal to spend $25 billion over 10 years to build and upgrade highways is part of a plan to address the climate crisis.

"One of the worst examples of pollution: go stand on the bridge of the 401 and watch bumper-to-bumper traffic," Ford said. "You have to build roads and highways to get people out of the gridlock."

Ford, PCs rarely mention climate change

Even saying the words "climate change" marks a departure for Ford. He and his candidates very rarely use the phrase in public. The PCs' pre-election budget has only a single mention of it.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford doesn't take the climate emergency seriously.

"He can say whatever he wants about whether or not he believes in climate change, but the next step is to take responsibility and step up," she said.

"He has shown very clearly by his actions that he's not prepared to do that, that it's not a priority for him. So maybe he's getting a wake-up call, but I doubt it."

Upon sweeping to a majority in 2018 on promises to rein-in government spending, Ford made a point of rolling back nearly all of the previous Liberal government's climate initiatives. Among other changes, his government:

Then there is the Made-in-Ontario Climate Plan, which was rolled out in 2018 and quietly changed in April, months after the province's auditor general said the government was on track to achieve less than 20 per cent of its promised emission reductions by 2030.

"It's really just obvious he was a crusader against the environment for the entire time he was in office," Horwath said.

Horwath, Schreiner tout environment plans

Horwath said that her party would fix the disaster relief program to get money to affected residents quicker after severe weather events. New Democrats have also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Their plan would be financed by a cap-and-trade system, Horwath said.

"That is going to help us finance the big, big changes that we need to make," she said.

Meanwhile, Green Leader Mike Schreiner has touted a long list of environmental initiatives, including halving climate pollution by 2030, protecting "30 per cent of Ontario lands and water" by 2030 and reaching net zero emissions by 2045.

Speaking Tuesday, Schreiner questioned whether Ford truly believes climate change is a problem.

"If Mr. Ford believes in climate change, then why is he systematically dismantling all of the climate change action plans in Ontario? And he's failing to make the investments to ensure that our communities are climate ready," he said.

He also said that the Greens have proposed $2 billion in annual funding to help municipalities build "climate ready" infrastructure.


Lucas Powers

Senior Writer

Lucas Powers is a Toronto-based reporter and writer. He's reported for CBC News from across Canada. Have a story to tell? Email any time.

With files from The Canadian Press


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