Premier Doug Ford brushed aside controversial climate-change comments from his appointee heading the board of Ontario’s electricity agency as opposition parties said the evasion shows the government doesn’t take the problem of global warming seriously.
The New Democrats zeroed in Tuesday on Joe Oliver, a Conservative and former federal finance minister who is now chair of Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, for commentary in the National Post saying Canada has “enormous agricultural potential if the land warms up.”
“It’s a big job for a partisan appointee, but still, Mr. Oliver has found some time on the side to denounce what he calls climate alarmists and even suggested ‘Let’s not ignore the greater personal comfort of living in a more hospitable climate,” said New Democrat MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex).
“Apparently, Mr. Oliver shares the same love of periodicals as the minister of energy,” he added in a shot at Greg Rickford, who last week quoted from the Climate Change Dispatch website denying the scientific consensus on the danger of rising greenhouse gas emissions to justify cancelling more than 750 renewable energy projects at a cost of $231 million to taxpayers.
“We believe climate change is real,” Ford replied during the exchange in the legislature’s daily question period, dodging a direct question about Oliver’s comments to heap praise on Rickford.
“He’s an absolute all-star. The minister of energy has one of the toughest jobs down there, cleaning up the mess that the NDP and the Liberals created for this province — creating a mess that made us uncompetitive,” Ford added, blaming green energy projects for high electricity bills.
The IESO refused to disclose Oliver’s annual compensation Tuesday and did not reply to a Star request for an interview with him. The agency released a statement Monday saying it has “no comment on personal views expressed by Mr. Oliver.” The IESO manages the day-to-day needs of Ontario’s power grid and plans for its future needs.
“It shows they don’t want to have the organization tainted by the views of their chair,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner, who first spoke out against Oliver’s patronage appointment last spring, said it is shocking that he hasn’t muted his views on climate change while at the IESO.
“I spoke out against appointing a climate denier into that position in the first place and now it’s coming back to bite the government,” added Schreiner, MPP for Guelph.
“It’s unacceptable that we have a minister of energy reading climate denial blogs and appointing somebody to be head regulator of our electricity system who doesn’t seem to believe in climate change either, who even tries to spout rhetoric that climate change can be good for Canada. Tell that to the people who are experiencing floods, fires, ice storms and other extreme weather events.”
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the experience with Oliver and Rickford show Ford needs to send a signal that his government understands the environmental challenges facing the planet.
“They’re not serious about climate change. This is just symptomatic of a larger problem inside the government. I want to see who the next denier is going to be. There’s got to be another one in there.”
Ford pledged to exceed Ontario’s target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“We’re well on our way. We’re actually going to exceed that goal and focus on making sure we have clean air, clean lakes, clean rivers and making sure that we respect the environment.”
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The premier touted a memorandum of understanding with New Brunswick and Saskatchewan to pursue the possibility of small modular nuclear reactors to provide electricity free of greenhouse-gas emissions. Critics, however, have questioned their affordability and there are no such designs in operation in Canada.
On Wednesday, Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk will release results of an audit on the Ford government’s climate change plan.