It's no secret that I've been disappointed with Ontario's inadequate response to the climate crisis. The risks and costs associated with climate change are already mounting--ice storms, severe flooding, crop losses, damage to critical infrastructure, $3.2 billion in extreme weather related Canadian insurance costs in 2013 alone.
Yet, the climate crisis is rarely talked about at Queen's Park. The lone exception is Ontario's Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller, who has stirred up controversy with reports pointing out that Ontario has no plan to meet its 2020 or 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets.
This is starting to change with the government's release of a climate change discussion paper in February. Sadly, you wouldn't know this conversation is beginning by following the debate at Queen's Park. With the exception of the Conservative's anti-carbon tax petition, both the NDP and PC parties have mostly been silent on the climate crisis. So much so that the Liberals tried to call them out with a motion on whether climate change exists and if Ontario should address it.
Ontario needs better opposition parties if we are to successfully address this crisis. For a number of years now both the NDP and PC parties have essentially given the Liberals a free pass on their lack of a plan to reduce carbon pollution. Now that the government finally sees the need for a plan, we can't afford to have the opposition parties missing in action.
The PCs are still living in the 20th century
Instead of pushing conservative climate solutions, the PC party largely ignores or denies the crisis. Its major response to date is launching a petition to oppose a carbon tax that the Liberals have never proposed and have lacked the courage to discuss.
A forward-thinking PC party could make itself relevant by advocating for simple, market-based climate solutions. They could slam the Liberal's preference for a cap and trade carbon pricing system as a typically complex, bureaucratic Liberal scheme that will mostly benefit accountants, lawyers and Bay Street traders. And that it is susceptible to gaming and backroom deals.
A modern PC party could make the case that proper pricing signals empower the marketplace to pick the best climate solutions, not government bureaucrats. Not that I necessarily want them to steal the GPO's carbon fee and dividend policy, but they could use it to argue for a simple market price on carbon pollution that returns money to your pocket.
They might even find a way to spin the carbon dividend into the kind of pocketbook populism that Mike Harris would love and that the most recent incarnation of the NDP would approve.
The NDP has wrapped itself into a pretzel of contradictions
It's not clear where the NDP stands on climate change. They occasionally say they are committed to fighting it. But, instead of hammering the Liberals for inaction, the NDP's Andrea Horwath has peddled policies that will make the crisis worse. They've spent much of the past five years working to lower taxes on fossil fuels.
Ironically, the NDP's proposed HST cut on fossil fuels would not only deepen the climate crisis, it would primarily be a tax cut for the rich, who are the biggest consumers of fossil fuels. They even had the audacity to oppose the government's efforts to raise revenue to fund public transit, which is an essential source of transportation for low income earners and for reducing carbon pollution in the sector with the biggest GHG emissions.
If the NDP truly wants to make life affordable while fighting climate change, they could have used their leverage in the minority legislature to demand a green building program that would have helped people save money, save energy and reduce their carbon footprint.
The NDP could also make the case that we have to stick it to big oil with a carbon fee and put the money in your pocket with a progressive carbon cheque. And while I think a carbon fee and dividend should be revenue neutral, I wouldn't fault the NDP for arguing it should be revenue positive to fund government programs.
It wouldn't be fair if I didn't look in the mirror
The Green Party under my leadership has not been able to translate our support for a carbon tax into electoral success. Some political commentators have suggested that using the "T" word is not a winning political formula in Ontario.
Our members have responded to that criticism by passing a policy resolution calling for the party to support a carbon fee and dividend. It's not a tax. Instead, it puts a price on carbon pollution and places the revenue in a dedicated fund that returns all revenue directly to people with a carbon dividend cheque.
The Liberal's new climate change discussion paper creates an opening for all three opposition parties and every person in Ontario to step up to the plate. We all have something to contribute in seeking the most effective, efficient and fair climate solutions. And we need to hammer the government into developing a plan that will deliver the results we desperately need. You have until March 29 to offer the government your solutions.
We can't afford to wait until the 2018 election to act.
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