TORONTO — Ontario's Greens pitched their party as the sole ballot option offering a realistic plan to tackle climate change as they unveiled a costed platform Thursday that includes a $65-billion, four-year pathway to a "new climate economy."
Leader Mike Schreiner – who is looking to grow the party's footprint at the legislature – encouraged Ontarians to vote Green if the platform's promises resonated with them, even if it's unlikely the party will form government.
"It is now or never to address the climate crisis and we can do it in a way that addresses the cost-of-living concerns that so many people in this province have right now," he said in Toronto.
"You can vote for the Ontario you want. The Ontario Greens have a plan to build a caring society, connected communities and ensure we have a climate-ready province."
Schreiner is his party's first and only representative elected to the Ontario legislature. He's working to grow his caucus with the June vote and emphasized the Green climate plan as a key feature that sets the party apart from its opponents.
The Green plan for transitioning the economy sets a goal to halve carbon pollution by 2030 and reach net zero by 2045. It sets aside $16.8 billion for those efforts in the first year and $65 billion over four years for the climate change efforts in total.
The plan to reduce emissions includes a proposal to phase out the sale of new gas and diesel passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks and buses by 2030, and to transition homes and offices to net zero by 2040 using a combination of solar and heat pumps.
The Greens also make promises of $10,000 rebates for electric vehicles and building more charging infrastructure, and propose an annual $2-billion fund for municipalities to adapt to climate change.
Thursday's platform launch event was hosted in the downtown Toronto riding of University-Rosedale, where one of the party's best-known candidates is gunning for a seat – Dianne Saxe, the deputy party leader, is a former Ontario environmental commissioner whose job was axed under the Progressive Conservative government.
The Greens are proposing to restore Saxe's former role. Schreiner told the small crowd on Thursday that "Doug Ford fired the wrong person" in Saxe as he encouraged them to send her back to the legislature as an elected representative.
Saxe gave a speech that criticized climate plans from the Liberals and the NDP, saying they do not set clear or ambitious enough financing plans to tackle climate change.
"The crisis is here and you folks all know we're the only party that's serious about it," she said to applause.
The Green Party's platform also touches on health and social concerns and includes several proposals based on lessons learned from the pandemic.
One such idea is a promise to turn the position of the chief medical officer of health into an independent watchdog role, similar to an auditor with annual public reporting. Schreiner said the idea came from concerns over possible politicization of the role during the pandemic.
Other pandemic-related promises include a public inquiry into COVID-19 – which the NDP has also called for – and improving diagnosis and OHIP coverage for treatment of rare diseases, including long COVID.
The party is also promising to create an oversight system for medical directors of long-term care homes that would work with the Ontario Medical Association and Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The party would also define the roles of the health and long-term care ministries in addressing health emergencies and bring retirement homes under the oversight of the Long-Term Care Ministry.
Like the Liberals and NDP, the Greens are also promising to phase out for-profit long-term care. There's also a plan to boost home-care funding, pay personal support workers a base wage of $25 per hour and start a basic income program for unpaid family and community caregivers.
Mental health is another focus, including a pledge to establish a 24-hour mental health crisis line to divert calls from 911, fund mental health care through OHIP and reduce mental health service wait times to 30 days or less for children and youth.
On education, a Green government would offer funding for schools to buy electric buses, increase funding for outdoor education, update the curriculum on climate and the environment and eliminate interest on student debt.
There is also a plan to establish a "co-management stewardship model" with First Nations over development and revenue-sharing of natural resources, work with the federal government to end boil water advisories and provide funding and training for a First Nations Water Authority to operate water utilities.
Schreiner repeatedly highlighted the party's diverse slate of candidates, who he said have chosen a more difficult path to getting elected by running under the banner of a less established party.
"These folks have all decided and made a commitment to doing politics differently, to offering new solutions to old problems," he said.
Schreiner also fielded questions about the loss of a former candidate who announced on social media Wednesday they would no longer be running as a Green in Toronto's Davenport riding due to a disagreement with the party over the Israel-Palestine conflict - an issue that contributed to internal strife with the federal Greens last year.
Nafeesa Alibhai, who uses the pronouns they and them, said they ultimately took issue with a written statement from Schreiner that cited a report about antisemitism from the organization B'Nai Brith, which supports the state of Israel.
"Even if their platform is the best climate platform out of the four major parties, if they're not going to be respectful toward Muslims or Palestinians or recognize our human rights, that's not something I can negotiate on," Alibhai said in an interview.
Schreiner said Thursday that he condemns antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate, adding that he's not concerned about spillover from the fractures that plagued his party's federal counterpart in the last national campaign.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2022.
Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press