With the leaders’ debate complete and the 2014 election platforms of all four major parties now published, those looking for inspiration and new ideas around the environmental and economic challenges facing Ontario are likely to be disappointed. Green has not been this election’s colour.
The four platforms are perhaps most notable for what they don’t say. Despite a growing scientific consensus around the impacts of climate change, reinforced by the experiences of last winter’s ice storm, and extreme rain events last summer, the Liberals are the only one of the four major parties to say anything at all about climate change, and even they don’t say very much. The centrepiece of their strategy is a yet-to-be-produced plan to meet the province’s 2020 targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
There is a similar, almost across-the-board silence on basic environmental issues like air and water quality, waste management, the protection of biological diversity, parks and protected areas, and endangered species.
The only commitments of any note are again from the Liberals, and they are rather thin – even pollinators and bees, facing dire threats from pesticides, only warrant a mitigation strategy, not regulatory action. There are also some references to financial incentives for controlling farm run-off and improving sewage and stormwater management.
The Progressive Conservatives, for their part, go out of their way emphasize their commitment to “reducing regulatory burdens” and cutting government expenditures. There is no recognition of the environmental, health and safety risks associated such a path, a stunningly reckless attitude from the party that brought Ontario the Walkerton disaster through precisely such a strategy not much more than a decade ago.
What discussions the platforms contain of natural resources issues and northern Ontario are dominated by a three-way race between the NDP, Liberals and PCs over who can promote the “Ring of Fire” fastest. Only the Greens have the courage not to join the rush towards that economically doubtful mining play. Rather they make the sensible suggestion that the province do a better job of capturing revenues from the exploitation of its natural resources.
Issues of urban growth and sustainability in Southern Ontario are defined almost exclusively in terms of funding for transit and, in some cases, highway expansions. Again, only the Greens put forward serious proposals for new revenues to support transit investments, and to protect prime farmland.
The Liberals at least make references to supporting “smarter” growth and expanding the Greenbelt, while the NDP are notable for their silence on wider issues related to urban development altogether. The PCs, for their part, passing references to “complete communities” aside, stress that “cities should decide for themselves where their future growth will go,” and highway expansions. It seems their plans to reduce regulatory burdens will include abandoning efforts to curb urban sprawl and build more sustainable communities.
Electricity-related issues – perceptions of dramatic increases in hydro rates; gas-plant cancellations; nuclear cost overruns and renewable energy development controversies – were central to the run-up to the election. Yet all four parties are vague on what they would actually do on the electricity file.
The Greens offer the clearest direction, indicating that they would abandon the Liberals’ nuclear refurbishment plans in favour of conservation and electricity imports from Quebec, although even they are silent on the question of further renewable energy development within Ontario. The PCs are unequivocal in their rejection of renewable energy and embrace of nuclear energy, hydro imports and “cheap and abundant natural gas.” The question of how they would keep prices under control in light of the record on nuclear construction and reconstruction costs and rising natural gas prices is never answered.
Even more remarkable is the NDP platform’s silence on the nuclear question, as is their implicit rejection of further significant efforts at renewable energy development, offering nothing more than a proposal for a “revolving loan fund” for household-level solar installations.
The party remains fixated on the concept of resurrecting Ontario Hydro through a merger of Ontario Power Generation (OPG), the Ontario Power Authority (OPA), Hydro One and the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO). This is a proposal that makes proponents of energy conservation and renewable energy shudder. It would recreate what was seen as the paragon of big centralized, unsustainable energy infrastructure, like nuclear and coal-fired power plants.
The PCs and Liberals float notions of “monetizing” and “optimizing” OPG and Hydro One, ideas that were rejected during the Mike Harris era. More broadly, references to conservation and renewables notwithstanding, the enormously economically and environmentally risky refurbishments of the Darlington and Bruce nuclear facilities remain the centrepiece of the Liberals’ electricity strategy.
Economic transitions, the impacts of climate change, and shifting demographics present enormous environmental, economic and social challenges for Ontario in the coming years. So far, none of the major parties have offered a compelling vision of how they will meet these challenges.