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Sustaining Ontario’s Environment and Economy: Some food for thought in the 2014 election

Many observers of the current Ontario election have highlighted the lack of substance in the platforms of all four major parties. In the cases of energy issues and the environment the platforms are most notable for what they don’t say.

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.

Similarly, 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 major parties to say anything at all about climate change, and even they don’t say very much.

There is a comparable, 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. Urban issues are defined nearly exclusively in terms of extravagant promises for transit funding, usually with no clear indication of how they would be financed. 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.

In the context of this vacuum of new ideas, here are some thoughts, drawn from the work of NGOs, the Environmental Commissioner's annual resports, my own research and other sources on options that should be part of the election debate in Ontario:

Energy and Electricity:

  • Deferring the proposed, enormously risky and costly refurbishment of the province’s nuclear power plants pending completion of an independent, external, public review of the likely costs and the costs of alternatives, including conservation, renewable energy sources and energy storage, natural gas, and hydro-imports from Quebec.
  • Phasing out the Clean Energy Benefit, which provides incentives to consume rather than conserve electricity.
  • Implementing a meaningful ‘conservation first’ energy strategy.
  • Continuing the Green Energy Act microFIT program and Feed-in-Tariff (FIT) program for community, farm and aboriginal based renewable energy projects.

Climate Change:

  • Participating in the Western Climate Initiative greenhouse gas emission cap and trade system with Quebec and California, as Ontario promised to do by 2012.
  • Introducing a price on carbon as BC, Alberta and Quebec have already done. Invest the resulting revenues in transit and a climate change adaptation strategy.

 Sustainable Urban Communities

  • Seriously pursuing new revenue tools (e.g. carbon pricing, congestion charges, gas taxes, and parking fees) to finance new transit investments.
  • Providing permanent protection for prime farmland and source water areas.
  • Expanding the GTA Greenbelt and urban area expansion limits into south Simcoe County and other regions subject to growth pressures.
  • Enforcing and strengthening the policies in the existing Places to Grow and Greenbelt plans.
  • Tying provincial infrastructure funding for municipalities to the development of complete, transit supportive, communities.
  • Not expanding the GTA highway network outwards.

Natural Resources and the North

  • Conducting a strategic environmental assessment of Ring of Fire and boreal region development, encompassing environmental, economic, aboriginal and social issues.
  • Focussing development strategies on value-added economic activities, not just extracting and exporting raw commodities.
  • Increasing the royalties and fees for aggregates, mining, and water-taking.

Air Quality/Water Quality/Waste Management

  • Addressing the cumulative effects of multiple air pollution sources in locations where communities are subject to high pollution burdens.
  • Dealing agricultural runoff, and improving municipal sewage and stormwater management.
  • Reviewing the province’s now 30 year old industrial water pollution control regime.
  • Establishing an effective extended producer responsibility regime for household hazardous wastes and blue box materials.


  • Removing the exemptions from the Endangered Species Act for resource industries.

Economic Strategy

  • Introducing a carbon price and developing a strategy for using the revenues.
  • Establishing strategies for the development of clean technology sectors.


  • Adopting legislation to halt Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs).
  • Restoring the application of the Environmental Bill of Rights notice and comment provisions to all activities subject to provincial approval, whether this is direct or via ‘permit by rule’ self-approval systems.
  • Reviewing the roles of non-governmental delegated administrative authorities (TSSA, TSA and others) as public safety regulators.
  • Reviewing the province’s regulatory policy to ensure the primacy of the protection of public health, safety and the environment.
  • Conducting environmental justice assessments of major initiatives and undertakings, as is now done by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

These are only preliminary ideas, but they might provide a starting point for a more meaningful discussion of the province’s environment and economic future.