One of the biggest gaps in the federal government’s long-awaited Emissions Reduction Plan (ERP) is a reality the Trudeau government has no ability to control: its ability to deliver as promised depends on a provincial government in Ontario that has no intention of playing its part.
The plan, released March 29, was big enough news to break through the week’s reporting of Russian war atrocities. It purports to put Canada on track to a 40% reduction in planet-killing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The plan met with mixed reviews: Praised for its transparency and the level of detail in its accounting, criticized by the oil and gas industry as too ambitious and by climate activists as woefully inadequate. But little has been said about the role the Ontario government is playing.
The province is one of the two elephants in the room. The other is Alberta.
The problem is this. While the federal government has chosen the low end of its legally-binding 2030 emissions reduction target, even that scaled-back ambition will fail because of Premier Doug Ford’s obstruction.
It may have been inevitable in Canada’s federal-provincial system, but the plan hands Ontario the role of climate spoiler. Ford’s refusal to act on the climate emergency will put the brakes on whatever limited climate momentum there is in Ottawa. The evidence is buried in the fine print and the appendices of the ERP, in particular Annex 5 and the short section on Ontario.
The Annex notes that: “All provinces and sectors contribute to achieving the emissions reductions underlying the Emissions Reduction Plan.” The assumption behind the plan is that Ontario’s contribution will be very significant, almost a third of all the anticipated reduction from Canada’s provinces and territories. And the largest reduction of any province or territory.
According to the Emissions Reduction Plan, Ontario is projected to reduce its emissions by 36% between 2005 and 2030, even though the Ontario government has only committed to reducing emissions by 30%. When it comes to climate ambition, that is a huge gap.
The report also assumes that between 2019, a year after Ford was elected, and 2030, Ontario will reduce emissions by 31 Mt. Here again, there is a huge discrepancy.
That’s because Ford’s Ontario has no plans to reduce emissions by that amount. It has no intention of even trying. The Ford government’s climate plan, at its most ambitious, targeted only 17.6 Mt of GHG emissions for elimination by 2030. And there is overwhelming evidence the government isn’t making the effort to achieve that small amount.
In 2019, Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk published a comprehensive review of the Ontario government’s climate plan. The AG concluded the Ford government’s plan was not “supported by sound evidence”. In a November, 2021 follow-up report, she repeated the conclusion.
The evidence in the Auditor General’s reports is clear: On the basis of current plans, the Ford government will not reach its 2030 targets. In fact, in a startling revelation, the AG concluded that there were “committed policies” in place to eliminate only 3.4 Mt of emissions.
So Ontario is only on track to achieve about 11% of what is expected of it in Canada’s Emissions Reduction Plan. The federal government, it seems, has simply ignored that inconvenient truth.
As part of the ERP, every province and territory provided a short description of its climate commitments and plans to achieve emission targets. The section on Ontario is sober reading. Unlike other provinces’ reports (such as British Columbia and Quebec) no emission reduction targets are identified. There are no concrete plans. There are no commitments to clean, renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. There is no mention of all the things we know need to get done.
Instead, there are hugely expensive commitments to a series of bad energy choices, such as C$26 billion to refurbish old nuclear plants, billions more on wrongheaded, new small modular nuclear reactors, and more again for problematic carbon storage and for the dirty (blue) version of hydrogen. There is also a whole lot of blather about “meaningful reductions” and “cooperation” with the federal government and hopes for a far-off future.
The section ends with this: “Ontario is prepared to achieve further emissions reductions contingent on increased federal support for provincial priorities.”
The Ontario section of the EPR makes it is clear that the Ford government has no real climate plan, no emission reduction strategy, and no intention to meaningfully reduce GHG emissions by 2030. And yet, according to the federal government’s calculations, Ontario needs to reduce its emissions by a significant amount for Canada to achieve its target. We are in trouble.
The government of Doug Ford is already derailing the federal government’s Emission Reduction Plan. We had better do something about that.