TORONTO — Ontario businesses had spent $3 billion on permits to pollute under cap and trade when Premier Doug Ford started dismantling the program, five days into his mandate. Then, for about five months, Ontario had no price on pollution, until the federal government’s carbon tax came into effect.
This “whipsaw effect” is confusing for voters and businesses and sabotages climate action in the long run, says Ontario Liberal leadership contender Steven Del Duca. That’s why he says — if he wins the leadership convention and the next election — his government would collaborate on climate policy with opposition parties.
The Progressive Conservatives and NDP would have a hard time attacking and taking apart programs they helped develop, he said.
“When you’re facing that kind of a threat, it shouldn’t become a partisan political football. And that’s what it’s become,” the former cabinet minister told HuffPost Canada.
Despite the fact that Ontario’s Liberal party has no permanent leader and only six elected members, it has more support than Ford’s PCs, according to recent polls.
That means Del Duca, who’s considered the front-runner to replace Kathleen Wynne, has a real shot at becoming premier in the 2022 election.
He gave HuffPost an exclusive preview of his “Multi-Party Climate Change Plan.”
It includes seven measures:
- Create a committee with at least one MPP from every party in the legislature to work on climate policy,
- Bring back reimbursements for electric vehicle purchases,
- Match federal funding to build infrastructure for electric vehicles like charging stations,
- Plant 800 million trees in 10 years,
- Give a 50 per cent discount on fares to public transit riders on weekends, holidays and outside one-hour peaks on weekdays,
- Give $100 million a year to municipalities, businesses and farmers to build infrastructure that can stand up to extreme weather,
- Develop a climate change curriculum for elementary and high school students.
Ontario needs a policy that is “real, tangible and produces positive results,” he said.
“Right now, all of those things are absent from the decisions that we see being made at Queen’s Park by Doug Ford and his friends.”
It’s been “particularly horrible” to see Ford’s government revoke Liberal environmental policies because they haven’t replaced them with anything significant, Del Duca said.
Earlier: Premier Doug Ford defends climate plan. Story continues after video.
Ontario’s emissions have been falling since the mid-2000s, largely because the Liberals phased out coal plants. Wynne, who still sits in the legislature as an MPP, sometimes shouts, “You’re welcome,” when PCs say Ontario has cut its emissions.
The province needs to cut emissions from non-electricity sectors to meet future targets, according to a report by the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, an independent office that was cut by Ford’s government.
Most of the measures in Del Duca’s plan go after the largest source of Ontario’s emissions: transportation.
The transit discount, which would apply in any jurisdiction that has public transit, would take cars off the road, he said.
“There will be a whole bunch of new riders who come into the system if they leave their car at home, which is really good news for climate change.”
Del Duca says he would start implementing the plan within 100 days of winning office. Three of its measures — funding for electric vehicle infrastructure, rebates for electric vehicles and discounts for public transit — would be introduced no later than the government’s spring budget in 2023.
Del Duca couldn’t project how many emissions his plan would cut, but said he’d align himself with the federal Liberals’ goal to make the country carbon neutral by 2050. And he hasn’t worked out how much the plan would cost.
“The bigger question for us as a province is: What are we prepared to do? What are we prepared to invest in order to make sure that my daughters and the millions of others like them ... actually have a sustainable future?” he said.
“From that perspective, I think it’s more important for us … to make these kinds of investments and get the job done.
Ontario’s Liberal party chooses its next leader in March. Del Duca is up against five other candidates, two of whom currently serve as MPPs.