The Progressive Conservatives are introducing a $500-million environmental plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions — including an industrial “polluter-pay” component — and ensure Ontario meets federal reduction targets, the Star has learned.
Senior government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss Thursday’s announcement, said the 53-page blueprint will help the province cut the carbon pollution that contributes to climate change.
“Ontario will hit Justin Trudeau’s targets that he agreed to in Paris,” a high-ranking official said Wednesday.
That means the province’s carbon emissions will drop from 161 megatonnes this year to 143 megatonnes by 2030, which is 30 per cent below 2005 emissions as agreed to by 175 countries at the Paris climate change conference three years ago. Ontario is now at 22 per cent below 2005 pollution levels.
Within the plan, sources said there will be an “industrial performance standard” that will force big carbon-emitting businesses to pay to pollute, but families won’t face any new levies.
Also contributing to the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will be a new federal fuel standard increasing the levels of cleaner and cheaper ethanol in gasoline.
Environment Minister Rod Phillips will formally release Preserving and Protecting Our Environment For Future Generations: A Made-In-Ontario Environment Plan on Thursday afternoon at the Cold Creek Conservation Area in Nobleton.
“There’s not going to be a carbon tax,” Phillips told reporters at Queen’s Park.
“But obviously, we’re going to lay out a comprehensive environmental plan that includes our approach to reducing greenhouse gases and preparing Ontario families and communities to deal with climate change,” said the minister.
“Climate change is a big deal. We really went around the world and saw what’s working,” he said.
“There’s no silver bullet in terms of dealing with something as complicated as climate change.”
After winning the June 7 election, the Tories moved quickly to extricate Ontario from its cap-and-trade environmental alliance with California and Quebec, which brought in $1.9 billion to provincial coffers.
The proceeds went toward environmental initiatives such as retrofitting schools, public buildings, and homes as well as subsidies of up to $14,000 toward the purchase of electric cars.
In a cap-and-trade system, businesses have greenhouse-gas emission limits — or caps — and those that pollute less can sell — or trade — the difference to those that pollute more. Over time, an industry’s cap is lowered, creating an economic incentive to curb emissions.
But Premier Doug Ford decried it as a “carbon tax” and eliminated it.
Killing it helped lower gasoline and natural gas prices, but it has also exposed Ontario to the federal carbon pricing plan that the Tories are now spending $30 million to challenge in court.
Under Trudeau’s federal plan, the average Ontario household will pay $244 more annually on gasoline, natural gas and home heating oil, but will receive $300 back in rebates for a net gain of $56 a year.
That payout will be bankrolled by big industrial polluters.
In the provincial plan, there will be new natural gas conservation measures to encourage homeowners to burn less fuel to save more money.
But the Tory environmental roadmap will tackle more than just greenhouse gas emissions — there are elements aimed at cleaning up the water supply and reducing litter.
The government will force municipalities to do “real-time monitoring” of sewage to reduce the waste that is going into the water supply.
“They haven’t had to tell people,” said the senior official, emphasizing “transparency” is key to guaranteeing Ontario’s water and air are clean.
Municipalities will also be given greater say over where landfill sites can be located.
As well, there will be unspecified improvements to municipal blue box programs as recycling systems evolve.
And the government will push to increase annual visits to provincial parks to 11 million from 10 million through more campsites and extended camping seasons.
Ahead of Thursday’s announcement, Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner insisted the best solution to reduce greenhouse gases is putting a price on carbon pollution and returning the proceeds to citizens.
“That gives the incentives for businesses not to pollute, and by putting the money back in peoples’ pockets it helps people manage the transition to the low-carbon economy,” said Schreiner, predicting Ontario will adopt an Australian model that makes it easier for industries to pollute.
“Pollution’s gone up and I think it’s wrong to basically take money from taxpayers, put it into a fund and then companies can apply for money to reduce their emissions,” he said.
“That’s like reverse cap and trade, but worse. Essentially, it is corporate welfare and essentially it is picking winners and losers.”
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) cautioned against looking Down Under for solutions.
“In a recent speech, the minister of the environment … mentioned that the government might use Australia’s climate-change policies as a model for Ontario. This would be unfortunate because Australia’s emissions have been going up, not down,” said Tabuns.
“Not only that, instead of a polluter-pay system, Australia forces taxpayers to pay polluters with what is known as a ‘reverse auction’ system,” he said.
Liberal MPP Nathalie Des Rosiers said “we are very worried about seeing the report.”
“If you are not going to use market tools like carbon pricing or cap-and-trade then you are forced to do either nothing, or do the Australian model, which uses government money to create incentives,” said Des Rosiers (Ottawa-Vanier).
“There’s a lot of contradiction in this government — they say they are against corporate welfare, and then let’s see (Thursday) if they provide any incentives for greening the economy.”
Des Rosiers noted that without revenues from the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade system, Queen’s Park is “losing a lot of money” that was earmarked for environmental projects.
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Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy