TORONTO — The Ontario government’s plan to look at the impacts of climate change once again fails to show it’s serious about curbing the crisis, say activists.
The proposed assessment is the only new environment item in the fall economic statement, released Wednesday. It will examine the province’s economy, environment, infrastructure and communities, to assess in which areas it is most vulnerable, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said in a statement Thursday.
“We want evidence-based information that can be applied to local communities in order to make the changes needed to deal with climate change,” Yurek told reporters.
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By 2022, the data gathered will help inform where and what the province and municipalities should invest in to prevent damage from extreme weather events, such as the April 2018 ice storm that caused $190 million in property damage or a wind storm one month later that resulted in $380 in damages, the government said.
“The assessment is fine. It’s great to have an understanding of the impacts of climate change, and as the government’s own release states, it’s costing millions and millions of dollars in damage,” said Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence. “But it’s not a solution to the problem.”
Dianne Saxe, Ontario’s former environmental commissioner, told The Canadian Press she was glad the Tories were doing the assessment, first started by the previous Liberal government, but they need to do far more.
“We do not need another report to know that Ontario badly needs to dramatically reduce our fossil fuel emissions, starting immediately, and that many actions of this government are increasing future damage and reducing our options,” she said.
Premier Doug Ford’s government has come under fire for killing a number of initiatives meant to lower greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate climate change.
The 200-page economic statement, for example, highlights cancelling more than $750 renewable energy contracts to save constituents money and repeatedly mentions ending the cap-and-trade agreement. It replaced it with the Ontario Carbon Trust, an investment fund costing taxpayers $400 million over four years, which the province claims will kickstart private investment in green technology.
The Ford government continues to oppose the federal government’s carbon tax, and has said it will take its challenge to the Supreme Court.
The province is also undoing decades of progress built up by all political parties, Brooks said. A new bill aimed at reducing red tape for businesses weakens environmental, agriculture and mining regulations, among many others.
It’s also not following its own plan to reduce emissions, plagued with weak targets and measures that were not well thought out, said Brooks.
Environmental Defence recently released a report evaluating the PC’s progress to date and found promises like replacing federal emission performance standards with a set of its own would actually increase greenhouse gas emissions. The advocacy group predicts other promises, such as increasing renewable content in gasoline, aren’t achievable and there’s been little to no action.
More than 20 groups, including Environmental Defence, sent a letter to MPPs Thursday calling for more action on climate change.
“In the last year we’ve seen the destruction of every program that made Ontario a leader on climate change action,” the letter says. “And we’ve seen this government go into hibernation on a crisis that threatens the future of our friends and loved ones.”
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The only time the environment is mentioned in the budget implementation act, tabelled Wednesday following the fall economic statement, is to create an official day of action on litter to encourage Ontarians to pick up garbage in public places and waterways.
“We are unifying people all across the province under one amazing initiative so people can find hope,” said MPP Andrea Khanjin, who led the project to complement Earth Day and Waste Reduction Week.
“Everyone wants to do something for their environment, and feel like they’re doing their part and the best part is they are doing their part.”
Brooks wasn’t convinced, and said introducing an action day on litter is an example of the Ford government’s problematic approach to climate change.
“They’re either trying to confuse people and pretend they really do care about the environment,” he said, “or they’re actually failing to grasp how governments should be addressing issues like plastic, litter, waste and climate change.”
With files from the Canadian Press