Ecojustice Blog – Climate change Posted on April 1, 2019 (updated: April 1, 2019)

April Fools: Ontario’s climate policy is a scary joke

Amir AttaranLawyer
Premier Doug Ford with a supporter. Photo by Doug Ford via Flickr, CC BY SA 2.0.

Two important events related to carbon pricing in Ontario come together by coincidence on April 1. Well, make that three, if we count April’s Fool’s Day. Which, given the foolishness of the Doug Ford government, we probably should.

Ecojustice will see the Ford government in court today, April 1, for its gutting of Ontario’s cap and trade program in July 2018 with no public consultation. On behalf of our clients, Greenpeace Canada, we have already successfully fended off motions brought by government to stop this case.

Under the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights, Ontarians are legally entitled to be consulted on major changes to the laws and regulations that affect their environment. Doug Ford, on his very first day in office in the summer of 2018 — in literally his first decision as Premier — steamed ahead to scrap Ontario’s cap-and-trade program, claiming that winning the election was sufficient in terms of consultation.

The law says otherwise, and we expect the Court to confirm that after our hearing today.

Elections don’t count as adequate consultation on law and policy matters because they don’t give critical stakeholders — such as scientists, and environmental organizations such as our client, Greenpeace — a meaningful opportunity to weigh in on decisions that affect the public. It’s also worth mentioning that youth under 18 don’t have the right to vote in Ontario, yet they have the most to lose from the future effects of climate change.

It’s ironic that our hearing falls on April 1 — and not just because we’re going toe-to-toe with Doug Ford on the Feast of All Fools. April 1, 2019 is also the day when the federal “backstop” for carbon pricing comes into force in provinces, such as Ontario, which don’t have a home-grown carbon-pricing plan in place. Killing cap and trade was foolhardy decision that will cost Ontario $3 billion dollars in lost revenue over four years, according to Ontario’s financial accountability watchdog.

It’s a common complaint on our social media pages that a “carbon tax” has been unfairly imposed by the federal government, when provinces should have been left to come up with their own solutions. This is simply wrong and backwards. Provinces were free, even encouraged, to create and implement their own climate plans to curb greenhouse gas emissions and ensure Canada’s international targets would be met. Only provinces that have dragged their feet or tried to wriggle out of their commitments — namely Ontario, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick — are subject to the federal carbon price.

The irony, of course, is that Ontario had a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions: cap and trade. It wasn’t perfect. But if it hadn’t been scrapped, we wouldn’t be hearing much chatter on April 1st about the unfair federal carbon price, because it wouldn’t apply to Ontarians.

There’s one more terribly foolish thing happening on April 1. It’s the day that the office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario is being eliminated. In an interview last week, outgoing commissioner Dianne Saxe characterized Doug Ford’s climate policy as “inadequate and frightening.”

Our lawsuit today is no joke. If Ecojustice prevails, it won’t bring back cap and trade. But it will affirm the importance of consultation with Ontarians – many of whom will raise their voices to demand swift and decisive action on climate change.

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