The economic case for climate action might be the line of argument the climate community needs if it hopes to push Ontario toward faster, deeper carbon cuts during the four years of Premier Doug Ford’s second term, Globe and Mail columnist Adam Radwanski suggests in a post-election column.
After Ford’s Progressive Conservatives seized two-thirds of the seats in the provincial legislature with the support of 17.5% of eligible voters, the province is looking at “a significant setback for Canada’s contributions to the battle against climate change,” he writes. “The Ontario Premier displayed almost no interest, during his first term in office, in actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of the country’s most populous province.”
But Radwanski sees a path forward for the province’s climate advocates, beyond just campaigning (even) harder against Ford next time. “It’s to persuade Mr. Ford of the merits of emissions-reducing policies, but on his terms: as economic imperatives, not moral ones,” he says. “If they can pull it off, the reframing could point the way toward consensus on clean economy transition, beyond Ontario.”
Radwanski points to “soaring” inflation, the global energy crisis, and recession fears as some of the factors that captured the attention of Ontario voters, even those who recognize the climate emergency as an existential threat. “That sentiment is channelled by many Conservative politicians, who cast climate ambition as the domain of elites who don’t have to worry about affordability or their children’s ability to find work.”
Ford has played to that message, but he’s also pivoted to support climate-related initiatives that deliver jobs and economic benefits, like investments in electric vehicle manufacturing, batteries, or “green” steel where the federal government led, but the province willingly followed.
“That’s indicative of some open-mindedness, since he was initially dismissive of that sort of industrial transformation. But with the odd exception—notably decarbonizing existing steel production—it hasn’t yet had much correlation with reducing Ontario’s emissions, since the products are largely for export,” Radwanski says.
“The preoccupation now, for anyone who strongly believes in policies that would actually lead to significant GHG reductions within the province, should be on persuading Mr. Ford that they, too, would have major economic benefits.”
He points to the job ahead for wind and solar advocates to break through with a government that has shown no interest to date in non-emitting electricity other than nuclear, and to make the case that renewables can help bring down Ontarians’ rising power bills.
“Consider energy efficiency retrofits for buildings, too,” Radwanski continues. Ford won’t suddenly embrace emission reductions in buildings, but might “warm to the idea of supports for those investments” as a way to bring down energy bills—that much more so if he sees energy retrofits as an engine for job creation in construction, contracting, and components manufacturing.
Radwanski’s prescription for landing those messages is to put aside “finger-wagging” and find the group of messengers—which would not include climate campaign groups—that would get a sympathetic hearing in the premier’s office.
“Launching that sort of persuasion effort is still sure to be an uphill battle, and may not feel terribly inviting in the immediate aftermath of Thursday’s vote,” he writes. “But it’s an effort worth making—especially given the country-wide need to persuade Conservatives that environmental policy is also the kind of economic policy their supporters want.”