Environmental commissioner blasts Ford's PCs for gutting climate change policies

WATCH ABOVE: Trudeau vows to 'make sure polluters pay' with carbon tax (Sept 18)

Ontario’s environmental commissioner, Diane Saxe, has issued a new report slamming Doug Ford’s government for gutting most of the province’s climate change programs saying it’s “bad for our environment, bad for our health, and bad for business.”

The report sharply criticizes the Progressive Conservatives’ decision to repeal the former Liberal government’s cap-and-trade program to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Under the program, a cap was set on greenhouse gas emissions that allowed companies to sell credits if their emissions fell below certain limits.

Ford had campaigned to end carbon pricing, calling it a “government cash grab” that does “nothing for the environment.”

“Ontario has gutted most of its climate change programs,” Saxe said in a statement Tuesday. “Most of the cap-and-trade money was funding energy efficiency programs in Ontario communities – in schools, public housing, transit and hospitals, for example – that would have reduced GHGs and saved millions of dollars in energy costs.”

READ MORE: Carbon pricing will cost Canadians money — it might also give them back plenty more

The report shows that Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2016 were the lowest since reporting began in 1990 and that in 2014 the province met its emissions-reduction target of six per cent below 1990 levels.

“Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions dropped to the lowest level ever reported, while the economy and population grew,” the report said. “Cap-and-trade was providing the motivation and billions in funding for meaningful emission reductions across the province; climate leadership was enhancing Ontario’s reputation and drawing in foreign investment.”

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The Ford government has come under fire from opposition parties and environmental advocates for scrapping the program and failing to offer a replacement.

In a strongly-worded response to the report, Environment Minister Rod Phillips said that any suggestion the government pursues policies that don’t align with the PCs’ mandate will not be “well taken.”

“We are concerned that cap-and-trade and other carbon pricing schemes imperil the job security of workers across numerous sectors, especially in light of the current challenges facing Canada’s economy,” Philips wrote.  “As an independent officer of the legislature, you have the right to advocate Ontario families, and businesses pay higher taxes in order to achieve your preferred policy goals, and we respect the right to do so.”

Philips has promised to begin consultations on climate change this year and said he looks forward to working with the commissioner to find a “made-in-Ontario solution” to address a warming climate.

Saxe said that while the province has seen a consistent decline in greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade, those gains could be erased by hesitating to create a meaningful plan to mitigate the effects of a warming climate.

READ MORE: Carbon tax plans could still change more as feds weigh cost to Ontario businesses

“A meaningful climate law needs science-based emissions budgets, a legal obligation to stay within those budgets, and credible, transparent progress reporting,” Saxe said, adding the government could look towards things like polluter-pay tools and low-carbon solutions.

“It will cost much more if Ontario doesn’t start getting ready, and no one is sure who will pay,” said Saxe. “Ontarians tell me they are ready to act on climate change, but the government needs to lead. Our window for action is closing — soon it will be too late.”

A new report by Canadians for Clean Prosperity showed that while carbon pricing has been called a “tax on everything” it can actually get more money back into the pockets of consumers.

The group, which is headed by Mark Cameron, a former policy director for Stephen Harper, showed that provinces could get more money back from the federal plan to price carbon.

The Trudeau government is planning to implement carbon pricing for provinces that don’t have their own plans, at $20 per tonne of carbon in 2019, gradually rising to $50 a tonne by 2022.

The report found the federal carbon tax would cost an Ontario family earning $60,000-$80,000 an extra $239 in 2019 in direct and indirect costs.

However, that same family would also get a federal rebate of $350, the report found.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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