The agency that operates Ontario’s electricity system is distancing itself from controversial climate-change comments made by its chair, Joe Oliver, a former federal finance minister appointed to the board last spring by Premier Doug Ford’s government.
Concerns about how seriously the environmental challenge is viewed by the province grew Monday as opposition parties — who last week took aim at Energy Minister Greg Rickford for quoting from a website denying the scientific consensus on climate change — flagged remarks from Oliver.
Oliver, 79, leads the board of the Independent Electricity System Operator, which runs day-to-day needs of the power grid and plans for its future needs. The agency, for example, is handling compensation for developers of more than 750 renewable energy contracts cancelled by the Ford government in July 2018.
In a commentary written for the National Post on August 15 and headlined “Canada will benefit from climate change,” Oliver referred to a study on its impact by Moody’s, a U.S. business and financial services company, and wrote the country has “enormous agricultural potential if the land warms up” and “let’s not ignore the greater personal comfort of living in a more hospitable climate.”
He also argued Canada is responsible for just 1.6 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and thus “cannot achieve a measurable impact on global temperatures.”
The New Democrats and Green party said Oliver’s remarks are troublesome amid escalating warnings about climate change from the scientific community and the United Nations, which has appointed former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney its special envoy on climate.
“To suggest, somehow, that Canada is going to benefit from global warming is the height of insanity. And it is a very, very dangerous opinion to have,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. “If he was being flip, shame on him, because this is nothing to joke about.”
The Independent Electricity System Operator said it “has no comment on personal views expressed by Mr. Oliver” and noted “addressing non-traditional threats to grid reliability such as climate change and cyber-attacks is part of the IESO’s corporate strategy to ensure the reliability of Ontario’s electricity system.”
The IESO did not reply to a request for an interview with Oliver, who also wrote in the Toronto Sun on Nov. 26, 2018 that opposition to oil pipelines fuelled by fears of climate change causing “irreparable harm to life on the planet” are “at best grossly exaggerated or simply false.”
Green Leader Mike Schreiner described the comments from Oliver — a former cabinet colleague of Rickford’s in Ottawa under Stephen Harper’s Conservative administration — as offensive.
“It’s outrageous that we have a minister citing climate-change denial websites to justify his positions and he appoints a chair of IESO who is saying climate change is going to benefit Canadians,” Schreiner said.
“He doesn’t get the whole world is in this together. The bottom line is Canadians are still in the top 10 of total emitters and we’re the top of the list when it comes to per capita emissions. We have an obligation, just like everyone else around the world, to do our part to ensure a livable future for our children.”
In the latest National Post article, Oliver went on to say, “we cannot make a practical difference, but surely we have to try, if only as a symbol of our determination to help the world counter an existential threat. Mind you, that is tantamount to elevating a meaningless gesture to a moral imperative.”
He also said not enough is being done to address “extreme weather.”
Rickford has been under fire as the government has earmarked $231 million in compensation costs for the cancellation of more than 750 renewable energy projects it says will save electricity ratepayers $790 million in an effort to keep prices down. Previously, the government had suggested the projects could be cancelled at no cost.
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Although the government insists the renewable power was not needed because of a surplus of electricity, critics maintain now is not the time to cancel green energy projects given the growing impact of climate change.
Environment Minister Jeff Yurek said Monday that Ontario is on track to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets. The government will get a reality check on that Wednesday from auditor general Bonnie Lysyk in her annual report.