While Ontario’s Ford government has proven to be an able defender of health in the face of COVID-19, it continues to be a profound threat to the environment, gutting established protections, hobbling climate action at every opportunity and, most recently, hamstringing the province’s environmental review process.
With the recent passage of Bill 197, which purports to support economic recovery from the pandemic, full environmental reviews will no longer be a default requirement for construction or industrial projects in Ontario, writes David Israelson in an op-ed for the Toronto Star.
With cabinet effectively now in charge of deciding whether a given piece of infrastructure— a road, gas plant, or water treatment facility, for example—needs a full environmental review, the province has reverted back to 1970 in terms of protecting the environment. And the law was rushed through, too, adds Israelson: “The Ford government waived the usual 30-day time for consulting the public before passing this legislation.”
Bill 197 is the latest in Ford’s barrage of regressive assaults against environmental health: from hollowing out of Ontario’s endangered species protection laws, to repealing laws that forced companies to keep a record of the toxins they use or create, to closing the office of the province’s environmental commissioner.
And while the government is making an earnest effort to safeguard public health from viral pathogens, it exhibits no such concern for the health and safety risks that attend the climate crisis. “The Ford government has cancelled 758 clean energy projects, including solar electricity for schools, hospitals, and arenas, and projects that would take manure from farms and turn it into fertilizer,” writes Israelson. It has also cancelled electric vehicle incentives and slashed funding for flood control.
Ford has also proven himself a less than able custodian of the public purse, certainly when it comes to climate action. In a separate opinion piece in the Star, columnist Martin Regg Cohn reminds readers of the premier’s decision to “bankroll”—to the tune of C$30 million—“an ill-advised legal challenge” to the federal carbon levy.
Noting that the courts “long ago demolished Ontario’s arguments that the federal levy was unconstitutional,” Regg Cohn writes that the Ford government now faces embarrassment after a recent court finding that its infamous effort to strong-arm gas station owners into being message boards for its misleading attack on the federal carbon tax was itself “an illegal form of compelled speech.”
Noting that a cabinet meeting to address the matter of the judgement is imminent, Cohn wonders whether Ford will appeal, or instead “admit defeat, cut his losses (or more precisely, stop the waste of taxpayers’ money), and move on to fight bigger battles—like the global pandemic, and global warming—that matter more to the people of Ontario.”
Doing the latter, he adds, would align Ford with his Quebec counterpart, Premier François Legault, a right-leaning politician whose position on the ideological spectrum has not prevented him from recognizing the need for concerted climate action.