With the Ford government situated firmly in office for a second term after an election that saw the lowest voter turnout in Ontario’s history, it’s likely that any future climate action will need to be led by the federal government, says Mark Winfield, a professor of environmental and urban change at York University, in a recent op ed.
Environmentalists were deeply disappointed by the recent outcome of Ontario’s provincial election that set the stage for another term of poor climate action from Premier Doug Ford. Now, the key variable that will determine progress on climate policy “will be the behaviour of the federal Liberal government toward its Ontario counterpart,” Winfield writes, in an op ed in the Hamilton Spectator.
“Environmental issues, particularly climate change, appear to poll differently in Ontario when seen by voters from a federal as opposed to provincial perspective,” as was shown by the relative success of parties favouring climate action in Ontario in the September 2021 federal election.
In the provincial election campaign, Ford failed to put forward substantive proposals for effective environmental policies, leaving the three opposition parties to focus on environmental issues like Highway 413 megaproject, Winfield says. But the lack of solid environmental policy was apparently not enough to sway enough voters to overcome the first-past-the-post voting system’s distortion of voter preferences—which handed Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party 66.9% of seats in the provincial parliament with only 40.8% of the popular vote. Nor was it enough to motivate more than 43% of Ontarians to vote in the election, producing the lowest turnout in the province’s history.
Without effective climate leadership in Ontario, it will now be up to the federal government to address the climate impacts that will become more apparent as they continue affecting Ontarians, Winfield writes. Some critical areas to address include “longstanding issues related to air and water pollution,” biological diversity loss, loss of natural heritage and prime agricultural lands to resource extraction and urban development, and “conflicts with Indigenous peoples over resource development, particularly the government’s aggressive strategy around the Ring of Fire mineral deposit.”
So far, aside from a legal battle over carbon pricing, the federal Liberals have been accommodating Ford’s environmental policies by exempting Ontario from the federal carbon pricing system for industrial greenhouse gas emissions and by resisting involvement in Ford’s infrastructure plans, Winfield says. Ottawa has also “been silent so far on the implications of the province’s current, increasingly carbon-intense trajectory in the electricity sector despite its commitment to a net-zero national electricity grid by 2035.”
But Ontario represents a large enough share of Canada’s emissions that the country as a whole won’t meet its 2030 climate target without its largest province onboard. So “if the federal government has any serious hope of achieving its GHG emission reduction targets,” Winfield writes, “it is likely to have to take a more assertive approach to dealing with Ontario.”