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Ontario's climate policy 'very frightening', says departing environmental commissioner

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 3/29/2019 2:52:00 PM

“It’s easy to break things quickly. It’s hard to build things quickly,” says Dianne Saxe as the curtain falls early on her tenure as Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and she reflects on the environmental policies of 9-1/2 months of Doug Ford government.

Saxe spoke to EcoLog News following the March 27, 2019 release of her 2019 energy conservation progress report, “A Healthy, Happy, Prosperous Ontario: Why we need more energy conservation”, her last. On April 1, 2019, the office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario will cease to exist.

Closing the office is just one of a slew of Ford government initiatives that lead Saxe to describe the state of climate policy in Ontario as “very frightening.”

At a media conference, Saxe said that Ontario had delivered savings to consumers through conservation programs. Without those programs, Saxe said Ontario’s electricity and natural gas use would be seven percent higher. But instead of building on those successes, Saxe said Ontario is turning away. It’s breaking, not building.

“Just last week, the government cancelled Ontario’s successful energy conservation framework and reduced funding for proven, effective conservation programs,” she said, referring to a government announcement of the cancellation of several effective business and consumer programs, and changes to others. “They haven’t given us any evidence to justify cancelling any of these programs. They haven’t replaced them with anything. They’ve just cancelled them.”

“Worse, we have no evidence that we will have any energy conservation after 2020,” she later added. “The government’s environment plan does not even mention conservation.”

Saxe also took aim at urban sprawl, particularly the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe. The plan for the region, which will become home to 4 million more people by 2040, was already flawed according to Saxe, and recent changes will make it even worse, ensuring longer commutes and putting more cars on the road.

“On our largest and most environmentally damaging energy source, petroleum transportation fuels, Ontario is going in exactly the wrong direction,” Saxe said. “Land use is Ontario’s oil sands.”

Saxe said the Ford government’s changes to the growth plan will scatter people even more thinly, pave over more farmland and wetlands, and ensure residents have even longer commutes to distant jobs.

It’s not necessary, Saxe said. “There is lots of room to add reasonably priced housing . . . into existing communities that already have jobs and transit.” A widespread adoption of electric vehicles would overcome much of the air and climate pollution from sprawl, Saxe later told EcoLog News, but it will do nothing to mitigate the other environmental costs.

A final word

The 2019 energy conservation progress report should have been Saxe’s final publication as Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, but she has managed to squeeze one more under the wire. A March 28, 2019 blog addresses one of the most common questions she says she had received from Ontarians over her three-year tenure in the office: “What can I do to reduce my greenhouse gas emissions?”

“It’s real, tested Ontario data on individual carbon footprints and the things that people do that will make a real difference,” Saxe told EcoLog News.

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