Ontario’s new climate change plan creates a multi-million dollar “carbon trust fund” bankrolled by taxpayers to encourage investment in clean technologies and gives homeowners tips on preventing basement flooding.
The province will commit $400 million to the fund over the next four years and bolster it with penalties paid by polluters to help leverage $1 billion in private-sector investment in commercially viable solutions to fighting greenhouse gas emissions, Environment Minister Rod Phillips said Thursday.
As first reported by the Star, his long-awaited blueprint follows months of criticism from environmentalists after Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives moved over the summer to withdraw Ontario from a cap-and-trade environmental alliance with California and Quebec, with $1.9 billion in proceeds going toward environmental initiatives.
Phillips called that “an ineffective, regressive carbon tax” as he unveiled the new measures at the Cold Creek Conservation area in Nobleton, north of Toronto.
“This plan sparks the right balance between a healthy environment and a healthy economy,” he added in a statement.
Measures of interest to homeowners include well-known basement flood prevention ideas, such as installing backwater valves, alarms, sump pumps and storing valuables in watertight containers.
For new homes and structures, the provincial building code will be updated to make sure homes are “better able to withstand extreme weather events” like more frequent heavy rains.
As part of the plan, polluters will be forced to pay their “fair share” and face emission performance standards that can, however, be waived for highly competitive industries like auto assembly on an “as-needed” basis, says the 53-page document, which is light on details and specifics.
In contrast to cap and trade — which sets a maximum greenhouse gas emission level and allows companies below it to sell the difference, creating an incentive to curb pollution — the standards will not involve a blanket cap and will concentrate on industries with “room to improve.”
Phillips said the carbon trust will be managed by an independent board tasked to work with private-sector companies in identifying projects that will reduce emissions and cut costs. There will be $350 million from taxpayers and $50 million in funding from a “reverse auction” in which bidders send proposals to the government for emission reduction projects, with the lowest-cost bids winning the work.
The efforts will be enough to ensure Ontario reduces its greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, aligning the province with Canada’s target for that year under the Paris Agreement, Phillips said.
Building on his “commuters are not polluters” remarks recently, Phillips’ plan sticks with previously announced gasoline tax reductions. He acknowledges, however, that the transportation sector is responsible for the largest amount of emissions and says gasoline will have to contain 15 per cent ethanol “as early as 2025.”
The plan goes beyond greenhouse gas emissions to litter and waste, with Phillips, who is also minister of conservation and parks, pledging to find better ways to reduce trash headed to landfills by expanding green bin collection systems and banning food waste from garbage dumps and improving food donations to charities.
Phillips is also taking aim at excess plastic, working with other governments to bring in tougher standards on recycling and limiting micro-plastics that end up in waterways, and promising an annual litter cleanup day province-wide.
The plan comes two weeks after the government said it will downgrade the province’s environmental commissioner, an independent watchdog that has reported to the legislature for years, to a subordinate post within the auditor general’s office.
Ford’s move to kill cap and trade, while lowering gasoline and natural gas prices, has exposed Ontario to the federal carbon pricing plan for which $30 million has been earmarked to wage a court battle.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plan will require the average Ontario household to pay $244 more annually on gasoline, natural gas and home heating oil, but families will get an average of $300 back in rebates to offset the higher costs. The measure is intended to encourage energy conservation, leaving more in Canadians’ pockets the less carbon fuel they use.
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie