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Ontario Election 2018: Positions on the environment, energy and climate change define divisions among Ontario’s political parties.

With the Ontario election now a week away, all four major parties (the Progressive Conservatives belatedly) have now tabled their platforms. While the campaign has focused heavily on the personalities of the party leaders, a review of the platforms makes it clear that environmental, energy and climate change issues are central points of division among the parties.

Electricity issues have been at the core political discussions in Ontario for the past decade. Yet only the NDP and Greens seem prepared to raised fundamental questions about direction of the province’s electricity strategy, particularly the Liberal government’s proposed “life-extension,” of the end-of-life Pickering nuclear plant and the enormously expensive refurbishments Darlington and Bruce nuclear facilities. The  Greens have been alone in having the courage to question the viability and wisdom of the Liberal government’s “Fair Hydro Plan” rate cuts, which transfers major costs onto future ratepayers. The PCs appear to share the Liberal’s unflinching commitment to a high cost, high-risk path focused on rebuilding aging nuclear power plants.

The divisions are perhaps even deeper over the issue of climate change. Here the Liberals, NDP and Greens are in agreement around the need for carbon pricing and low-carbon transition strategies, with the Liberal and Green plans around the latter being the furthest developed. The Liberals are alone in addressing the need to adapt to an already changing climate as well. In stark contrast, the PCs promise not only to repeal the existing cap and trade carbon pricing system, but also to reduce the provincial gasoline tax by 10 cents/litre, and to mount a constitutional challenge to the federal government’s national carbon pricing plan for good measure.

Similar divisions emerge around land-use and transportation. The Greens, NDP, and Liberals all promise further protection of prime agricultural lands and drinking water sources. The Liberals and NDP also promise to halt the loss of provincial wetlands. PC leader Doug Ford, for his part, had to beat a hasty retreat early in the campaign on a reported willingness to open the GTA greenbelt to development. The PCs also propose to revive the recently abandoned proposal for a Brampton to Guelph GTA West highway through the Greenbelt. All of the parties make major commitments around transit, although the PCs are overwhelmingly focused on subway expansions in Toronto.

The NDP emerges well ahead of the other parties in its thinking around the development of a comprehensive provincial food strategy. The Greens introduce the idea of payments to farmers for providing ecological services like habitat protection and source water protection. The NDP and Liberals are strong on the protection of supply management in the dairy and poultry sectors and, along with the PCs, on addressing issues with the provincial farm risk management (i.e. insurance) program.

The NDP and Liberals continue to be enthusiastic supporters of the controversial “ring of fire” mining development in northeastern Ontario. Each commit to $1 billion in transportation infrastructure in support of the project. The NDP is alone in proposing a provincial forest strategy, while Greens propose to capturing a greater portion of mining and aggregate revenues for the public.

The NDP stands out again in proposing significant improvements to the province’s control of air and water pollution. The Liberals, for their part, make an innovative proposal for the labeling of presence of toxic substances in consumer products.

As is the case with climate change and land-use, the divide between the PCs and the other parties around economic strategy is stark. The Greens, Liberals, and NDP all present variations on the theme of strategies to address the economic transitions the province faces focused on specific sectors that are seen to be important to the Ontario’s future. Cleantech, manufacturing, information and communications technologies, and film, television, and digital media, all come up in these strategies. The PCs, on the other hand, present a simplistic strategy of corporate tax cuts and deregulation straight out of Mike Harris’ 1995 “Common Sense Revolution.”

The NDP, PCs, and Greens all emerge supporting resource revenue sharing with First Nations and northern communities, but only the Liberals and NDP present detailed strategies around reconciliation with Ontario’s indigenous communities.

In the final analysis the Liberals, NDP and Greens emerge sharing a substantial amount of ground on climate change, urban development, land use and infrastructure, and economic strategy. Their orientation towards a more active provincial government in these areas sets them far apart from Doug Ford's PCs. The PC's positions, in contrast, rest on a combination of short-term populist solutions and neo-conservative echoes of the "common sense revolution."

Where the NDP and Greens divide most strongly from the Liberals is around electricity.  The New Democrats and Greens have both indicated their willingness to engage in a fundamental review of the province's direction, particularly around nuclear "life-extensions" and refurbishments, while the Liberals are steadfast in their adherence to those directions. The Greens part from the NDP in their clearer long-term commitment to a 100 per cent renewable energy system, and in their doubts about the viability of easy means of reducing electricity costs in the short term.

The debates around the province’s direction on environmental, energy and climate change issues are now profoundly connected to the parties’ overall strategies around the role of the provincial government itself and the long-term direction of the Ontario’s economy and society. Ontario voters will need to look beyond the personalities of the party leaders and consider the choices that they will be making on June 7th in these more substantive terms.