Ontario opposition politicians sharpened their focus on climate policy in the dying days of the provincial election campaign after Conservative leader Doug Ford mistakenly called the massive storm that hit Ottawa and parts of Ontario and Quebec on Saturday a “once in a lifetime” event.
The official death toll from the weekend storm hit 11 Thursday, after Ontario Provincial Police said a 58-year-old man had been struck by a falling tree in the Marmora area of Hastings County.
“Environment Canada has said Saturday’s severe weather involved a derecho—a rare widespread windstorm associated with a line of thunderstorms—that developed near Sarnia, Ontario, and moved northeastward across the province and into Quebec,” The Canadian Press reports. “The storm toppled trees, downed power lines, and caused extensive property damage in some areas.”
On Thursday, about 68,800 households in the Bancroft, Perth, and Tweed areas and another 45,000 in Ottawa were still without power. The local utility in Ottawa expected to finish reconnecting everyone to the power grid by today.
But Ford’s remarks—and his absence from the community throughout the campaign—did not land well in a region that last experienced a devastating string of tornadoes less than four years ago.
Party leaders currently in line to split about 58% of the vote next week pounced after Ford, on a visit Monday to view the damage in Uxbridge, Ontario, missed the bigger picture of what the storm represented.
“Doug Ford likes to talk about these things like they are the ‘once in a lifetime’ storms. You know what that tells me? That tells me that Doug Ford is, in essence, a climate change denier,” said Liberal leader Steven Del Duca. “Because my younger daughter, who is 11—not yet a teenager—has seen more ‘once in a lifetime’ storms in her short life than my father has in his entire life.”
Ford “can say whatever he wants about whether or not he believes in climate change, but the next step is to take responsibility and step up,” said NDP leader Andrea Horwath. “He has shown very clearly by his actions that he’s not prepared to do that, that it’s not a priority for him. So maybe he’s getting a wake-up call, but I doubt it.”
“If Mr. Ford believes in climate change, then why is he systematically dismantling all of the climate change action plans in Ontario?” asked Green leader Mike Schreiner. “And he’s failing to make the investments to ensure that our communities are climate ready.”
The day after his visit to Uxbridge, Ford assured reporters that “I believe in climate change, let’s make that clear,” adding that his government did “everything to prevent it,” CBC reports. Then he pivoted to a talking point about electric vehicle manufacturing and transit, casting new super-highways as a climate solution “to get people home quicker, that they don’t have to sit in gridlock and smell someone else’s fumes.”
But the PC leader’s absence from the province’s second-largest city in its hour of need did not go unnoticed. Ford was supposed to visit yesterday, CBC reports, but after the storm hit, the trip was postponed to Monday.
“One of his campaign insiders told CBC News that the focus should be on letting hydro workers concentrate on reconnecting the 74,000 residents still without power,” the national broadcaster writes. “But if Ford was concerned about causing a distraction, why did he visit the storm-ravaged town of Uxbridge—located in the riding held by Peter Bethlenfalvy, who served as Ford’s finance minister—on Monday? And why wasn’t Ford too worried about coming to Ottawa on September 21, 2018, two days after Ottawa was hit with multiple tornadoes, to tour the damage then?”
“Hey @fordnation, in case you needed directions to Ottawa, here they are,” tweeted Ottawa Vanier Liberal candidate Lucille Collard. “You called the #OttawaOutage ‘a once in a lifetime storm’—Yet you don’t show up…That’s not what leaders do.”
For the most part, though, climate impacts and action have not been top-line issues in a campaign largely dominated by issues like affordability, housing, and health care. Last week, CBC ran a story on that disconnect.
“Simply put, climate policy has not been at the forefront over the past four years,” said Carolyn Kim, senior director of communities and decarbonization at the Pembina Institute. “In fact, there have been some significant rollbacks when it comes to climate policy.”
“Ontario has been playing pretend on climate change,” said Keith Brooks, programs director at Environmental Defence Canada. Yet “what Ontario does on climate change really does matter. We’re the second-largest emitter of greenhouse emissions among the provinces, second only to Alberta.”