The Doug Ford government’s failure to make greenhouse gas reductions a “cross-government priority” has placed it at risk of missing its 2030 carbon targets, and Ontario has reached “surprising” levels of non-compliance with a decades-old requirement to consult the public on environmentally significant projects, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk warned Wednesday in her annual review of the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights.
“Our audit found the province risks missing its 2030 emission reduction target, in part because climate change and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is not yet a cross-government priority,” Lysyk said in a statement. “We found there is not enough of a focus on reducing fossil fuel use or greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario’s buildings sector at the moment.”
That gap “puts achievement of the 2030 target at risk,” she concluded.
In what the Toronto Star describes as a four-volume, 308-page report, Lysyk pointed to the lack of an “integrated, long-term plan” within the provincial Ministry of Energy to meet the Ford government’s 2030 goal of cutting emissions 30% from 2005 levels, at a time when natural gas consumption is on the rise, particularly in buildings. “The ministry has not directed the Ontario Energy Board to develop an updated natural gas conservation framework to replace the one that expires in December 2020,” she added. “This means conservation efforts will likely remain at current levels, and opportunities for further emissions reductions may be missed.”
Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said the province is still on track to hit its 2030 target, but admitted that “it’s a difficult path to go forward”.
Overall, the AG found that provincial ministries have not “made progress to reduce emissions or prioritize climate change in their building programs.” She scorched the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing for cancelling “proposed changes to the Ontario Building Code that could have improved energy efficiency by 20% and required major renovations to meet the same standards as new buildings.”
The department’s new approach focuses on “harmonizing with the updated national construction codes, which delays energy efficiency improvements and creates uncertainty regarding future requirements for new buildings.”
Opposition energy and climate critic Peter Tabuns (NDP, Toronto-Danforth) cast the report as a “scathing” critique. “No minister who has read that report can be proud of the work that they’re doing,” he said. “None.” Liberal house leader John Frasier (L, Ottawa South) said the findings pointed to the damage the Ford government did by cancelling climate and environmental programs introduced by the previous Liberal government.
“I’m frightened. You should be,” added former provincial environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe, recently appointed deputy leader of the provincial Green Party. “This report shows the government is totally at odds with its own environmental laws and responsibilities. None of the beautiful places we love are safe.”
That comment, in particular, mapped back to Lysyk’s finding that Team Ford has fallen far short of decades-old provisions under the Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR), which “sets out the rules for public consultation and disclosure around environmentally significant proposals,” iPolitics reports. Relying on “overly broad” exemptions aimed at expediting pandemic-related projects, Lysyk pointed to the government “bypassing the appeals process for 197 environmentally significant permits and approvals unrelated to the pandemic,” the news story states.
“The ministries have an obligation to embrace this legislation and include Ontarians in the decision-making process,” Lysyk said. “The EBR is critical in ensuring meaningful public participation and better decisions affecting the environment.”
As iPolitics points out, the AG’s report landed the day after the Ford government moved to strip the province’s 36 regional conservation authorities of the ability to assess the environmental impacts of development projects within their jurisdictions. That announcement raised alarms with conservation and environment advocates across the province, some of whom remembered the moment in 1954 when Hurricane Hazel killed 81 people in Ontario, produced C$137.5 million in damage ($1.3 billion in 2018 dollars), underscored the importance of regional land, watershed, and habitat management, and prompted a past Conservative government to take action.
“These are probably the most extreme changes we have seen” to the provincial Conservation Authorities Act, said Conservation Ontario General Manager Kim Gavine. “We have the science background, we have the data, and we make decisions holistically—we don’t do them parcel by parcel.” But now, “the fear is that decisions could be made that will have negative environmental impacts on water quality, water quantity, and the overall health of our environment.”