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TORONTO — Ontario's main political parties are divided on the best approach towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, an issue that an expert says is crucial given that the province's action — or inaction — on climate change will have national implications as well.
The NDP, Liberals and Greens all pledge to cut emissions in half by 2030 below 2005 levels, but only the New Democrats are promising a new cap-and-trade system to achieve those reductions if the party is elected this week.
The system puts caps on the amount of pollution companies in certain industries can emit and if they exceed those limits they must buy an equal number of allowances. Before the province's system was scrapped, revenues generated through it were dedicated to green energy projects.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Monday the province has "an obligation" to address the climate crisis and that a new cap-and-trade system would help do so.
She noted her party's proposed system would ensure at least 25 per cent of cap-and-trade revenue goes towards supporting rural, northern and low-income families disproportionately impacted by carbon pricing.
"It will generate the revenues necessary for us to green our energy system, to preserve or to put in place the kinds of programs that help us retrofit all of our buildings, or change the way that we do land use planning and protect the sacred lands that we know we all should be protecting," Horwath said during a campaign event in Toronto.
"We have no choice. This isn't a matter of choice, it's a matter of determination. And it's a matter of Ontario solutions, so that we can do our part to fight the climate emergency that is upon us."
The NDP's plan says the party would implement a net zero target of 2050 and features other promises to reach that goal, like planting a billion trees by 2030 and retrofitting at least five per cent of the province's buildings annually.
The former Liberal government entered Ontario into a cap-and-trade system with California and Quebec, but the Progressive Conservatives withdrew the province from it after they were elected in 2018.
In this election, the Liberals are not proposing to re-establish a cap-and-trade system, rather their environmental platform proposes to strengthen requirements on large industrial emitters.
Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said his party would also plant 100 million trees over the next eight years, add five new provincial parks across the province, give 100,000 households a $3,000 grant to retrofit their homes each year and reinstate an incentive for people to buy electric vehicles.
"Taken together, we have the most effective plan that will make it that much easier and will in fact hit our targets so that Ontario is net zero by 2050," Del Duca said Monday during a campaign stop in Thornhill, Ont.
When asked about his emissions reductions plan on Monday, PC Leader Doug Ford touted electric vehicle manufacturing and making steel production greener.
"I'll give two examples: Sault Ste. Marie, up in Algoma, and Dofasco in Hamilton, they were using coal fired furnaces. We're changing over to electric arc furnaces. That's like taking a million cars off the road," Ford said at a campaign stop in Ottawa.
"We're pouring billions of dollars with the (electric vehicles) partnership with the federal government."
Ford's government previously committed to a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030.
The Green Party's plan, meanwhile, promises to get to net zero emissions by 2045 and proposes to increase the carbon price per tonne until it reaches $300 in 2032, returning the revenue to individuals, and eliminate fossil fuels from electricity generation.
"The NDP’s cap and trade plan fails to understand the urgency of how fast we need to crush climate pollution, and the math on the financing of their plan does not add up. Reintroducing the Liberal’s old plan will be a time consuming process and introduce even more uncertainty for businesses making climate investments," the Greens said in a statement Monday.
"(We) will take over administration of the federal carbon fee and dividend, implementing a more ambitious fee and using the dividend to put money back in the pockets of most Ontarians."
In a separate statement, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner stressed the need for immediate action to address climate change, pointing to the heat warning that Environment Canada issued for much of southern Ontario that's expected to last into Tuesday.
"Summers are getting hotter, extreme heat is getting more intense and common. And it’s those in more vulnerable situations that will be impacted the most — people without a safe place to live, elders, or people with existing health conditions," he said.
"We need to urgently work together to crush climate pollution, protect the nature, water and greenspaces that help cool communities, and build a climate-ready Ontario."
Mark Winfield, a professor in the faculty of environmental and urban change at York University, said the political parties' emissions reductions plans all have "potential strengths," and deemed the Greens' and NDP's the "most ambitious" with their cap-and-trade and carbon pricing plans.
However, he said the proposals raise the question of whether it's "economically viable to impose that much of a carbon pricing burden on industrial sources in Ontario."
Winfield also noted that decarbonizing the province would require investments in transportation and buildings because that's where the bulk of emissions growth comes from.
"So you're going to have to electrify transportation, that means electric vehicles, but also charging infrastructure," he said.
"And then you're going to have to do stuff on buildings, energy efficiency retrofits, replacing certain air conditioning units and heating, ventilation cooling systems with heat pumps, for example, and other ones, all of which (are) very, very difficult to do with carbon pricing on its own."
Although the Tories are campaigning on big investments in electric vehicle production and charging infrastructure, Winfield said their plans to build highways could potentially embed "very high emission transportation patterns."
Regardless of which party is elected June 2, Winfield said it needs to take emissions reduction and the impacts of climate change seriously, particularly given recent extreme weather events like the deadly storm that swept through the province earlier this month and modelling from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that suggests climate change is widespread, rapid and intensifying.
"We have the (IPCC) sort of emphasizing the need to take action in this space, but we also need to consider that what Ontario does has a national impact as well," he said.
"Ontario is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions among the provinces, after Alberta, so what happens in Ontario has national implications at the moment."
- with files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa and Maan Alhmidi in Thornhill, Ont.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2022.
Noushin Ziafati, The Canadian Press