The election that gave Doug Ford and the PCs a majority in the Canadian province of Ontario has disastrous implications for both the environment and climate action. The PCs stated policy priorities will slow the growth of clean energy and undermine the green economy.
This is a radical shift from where the province was four years ago. In 2014 the Liberals had a majorityo government in the province and they passed a raft of environmental legislation. Ontario became the first place in North America to end coal power generation.
Four years later the province appears to be doing a 180. Once a global environmental and climate leader Ontario is now poised to win the race to the bottom. The PCs have a track record of environmental neglect, it was under PC leadership that the Walkerton deadly tainted water disaster occurred. Under Ford’s leadership the situation is likely to be even worse.
Ontario’s investments in renewable energy and the privatization of province’s hydroelectric resources have increased electricity prices. This is likely a salient factor contributing to the demise of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal party after 15 years at the helm of the province.
Ford’s win does not bode well for the province’s ten-year-old green energy initiative. Ontario is Canada’s renewable energy leader and the largest producer of wind energy in the nation with 2,550 wind turbines capable of generating 5,000 megawatts of power. Ontario is one of Canada’s leading generators of hydroelectric power producing 30.4 terawatt hours in 2015..
The newly elected PCs are expected to kill the Green Energy Act and they have promised to immediately impose a moratorium on all new energy contracts. They are promising massive changes to Hydro One including firing the CEO and the board of directors.
The PCs have indicated that they will also cut a provincial fuel tax which will likely result in increased fossil fuel consumption in the province.
With the election of Ford’s PCs, Ontario is about to transition from being a climate leader to being a climate Luddite. While Ford will likely make changes to Hydro One almost immediately it will take longer for him to get rid of Ontario’s cap-and-trade system. When he does succeed in dismantling Ontario’s carbon pricing program it will decrease the province’s revenues by $2 billion. This will be problematic for Ontario’s partners Quebec and California. It will also encourage industries to emit more carbon as they will no longer have a financial incentive to reduce emissions.
Ford can also be expected to make good on his pledge to oppose the federal Liberal’s Pan-Canadian climate plan. The first step will involve a legal challenge to the constitutionality of the deal in the Ontario Court of Appeals.
Incoming Ontario premier has allies in his opposition to the federal Liberals national climate action plan. Ford can be expected to partner with Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe. Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney will also be an ally if he can win next years provincial election. Moe is already challenging the federal government’s constitutional authority to impose a carbon price on the provinces.
The election of Ford also has troubling implications for the social fabric of the province. Ford may not be as overtly xenophobic as Donald Trump but his election undermines diversity and tolerance in the province.
Ford personally picked Ontario PC candidate Andrew Lawton who believes that gender and racial discrimination should be legal. Lawton is well known for opposing Human Rights and for making a number of homophobic and racist remarks.
“I think if someone wants to open a business and only hire people of one race…I think they should have that right,” Lawton said.
In a move reminiscent of Russia’s use of social media profiles to help Trump win in 2016, the PCs are implicated in the theft of personal data. There is evidence to suggest that 29 PC candidates may be involved in stealing tens of thousands of Ontarians’ personal data to help them win their seats.
As a reporter explained to Doug Ford: “We have sources telling us that 29 of your candidates paid substantial amounts of money to use a specific method to win your candidacy. And that method is international students were paid a couple hundred dollars per trip, and they would vote using names off the 407 ETR list. Basically, identity theft. And 29 of your candidates were elected using this method.”
Ford became the PC leader three months ago after Patrick Brown stepped down due to allegations of sexual misconduct. Doug Ford stepped into the national spotlight while defending his late brother Rob Ford after the latter admitted to smoking crack cocaine when he was mayor of Toronto.
Ford is contending with legal allegations of his own as among other things, his sister-in-law has accused him of mismanaging the family business. The Premiere elect is also accused of being involved with selling bogus party memberships.
Ford is a stalwart Trump supporter whose support never wavered. It appears that Ford may have studied Trump’s playbook. Like Trump, the Premiere elect is a wealthy businessman who draws support from the “little guys” as Ford calls them. Also like Trump, Ford won with a minority of voter support. The PCs received substantially fewer votes than the two other parties combined (40 percent compared to 60 percent). Just as some Americans are calling for electoral reform, people in Ontario are also wondering aloud if it is time to change the first past the post system.
In the face of multiple alligations of impropriety, Ford, like Trump has vowed to “drain the swamp”.
The platform that the Ontario electorate voted for is a basket of hard to pay for goodies that smack of right-wing populism. In many ways Ford’s victory is a redux of the nightmare augured by Trump’s win in 2016. In 2011 the PCs failed to gain the support of voters with promises of tax cuts. However, in 2018 the voters seem to welcome tax cuts and eschew responsible political leadership.
Like other populists, Ford has promised a raft of gifts for the electorate without addressing the ways that these giveaways can be paid for (Ford never released a fully costed platform). His goodie bag includes child care tax rebates, cuts to hydro rates, corporate and small business tax cuts, and personal income tax cuts. He also spoke directly to his base through his promise to make beer cheaper and make both beer and wine available in corner stores. He also promised to freeze minimum wage although the addition of a provincial income tax credit would mean that minimum wage earners would not have to pay income tax.
Ford has also promised to pour hundreds of millions into the health care system and get rid of the updated sexual education curriculum.
Populism is by definition irresponsible governance because the emphasis is on what serves constituents in the short term with little or no regard for the long-term implications (eg soaring deficits).
Ford’s election win in Ontario comes in the wake of Brexit, Trump and the rise of populist political parties in Europe. The fact that this brand of politics has now taken hold in Canada is yet another wake-up call. People are pursuing self-interest at the expense of the global commons. This signals a breakdown in both the social contract and our global responsibilities.
Looking for an upside to this election we are forced to grasp at straws. One of the few highlights for those who value the environment is the win by Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner who captured the party’s first-ever seat in the Ontario legislature. Schreiner is only the seventh provincial Green party member to be elected in Canada. Elizabeth May is the only elected member of the federal Green Party.
Ford’s policy agenda is a disaster, but he has promised $5 billion for subway projects in Toronto, he has also vowed to complete the next phase of the Ottawa LRT and support regional transit projects elsewhere.
It is hard to find a silver lining in Ontario’s electoral outcome. This type of political change in Canada’s wealthiest province is certain to have national consequences. With the defeat of Wynn Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has lost his staunchest and greenest provincial ally.
Voters in Ontario may have simply rejected high energy prices, but if voters were also rejecting green energy and climate leadership it is another sad reminder of just how dangerous a misinformed electorate can be.
Canadian Leadership on World Environment Day (WED)
Historic Pan-Canadian Climate Deal
Canadian Dualism: Climate Leadership is at Odds with Ramping Up Fossil Fuels
Canada’s Pyrrhic Climate Victory
Now is the Time for Carbon Pricing in Canada
Review of Canadian Climate and Energy Policy (Videos)
The New Liberal Government’s Climate and Energy Policy Promises