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Ontario environmental watchdog pans government move to scrap cap and trade

Last Updated Sep 25, 2018 at 6:58 pm EDT

Ontario’s environmental watchdog criticized the Progressive Conservative government on Tuesday for dismantling the province’s cap-and-trade system without putting in an effective climate change program to replace it.

In a report released Tuesday, environmental commissioner Dianne Saxe said the government’s decision could reverse the progress Ontario has made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions over more than a decade.

“Ontario has gutted most of its climate change programs,” she said in a statement. “Most of the cap and trade money was funding energy efficiency programs in Ontario communities – in schools, in public housing, transit and hospitals, for example – that would have reduced (emissions) and saved millions of dollars in energy costs.”

“Dismantling a climate change law that was working is bad for our environment, bad for our health and bad for business,” she said.

The cap-and-trade system was complex and poorly communicated, but was on its way to delivering economic and environmental benefits for the province, the report said.

The cap-and-trade system aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions by putting caps on the amount of pollution companies in certain industries can emit. If they exceed those limits, they must buy allowances at quarterly auctions or from other companies that come in under their limits.

By comparison, the climate change provisions in proposed legislation to scrap cap and trade – known as Bill 4 – are “much too weak,” Saxe said.

“A meaningful climate law needs science-based emissions budgets, a legal obligation to stay within those budgets and credible, transparent progress reporting,” she said.

The bill requires the government to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to publish a climate change plan, but doesn’t entrench either in law.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford made cancelling cap and trade one of his key campaign promises and further vowed to fight Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan for provinces that don’t have their own.

Environment Minister Rod Phillips defended the move on Tuesday, saying a more detailed climate change plan will be presented this fall and the environmental commissioner will be better able to judge then.

“As I said to her directly when we met, respectfully, we do not take well to folks telling us that we should not live up to the promises that we made,” he said.

Critics, however, said the report shows the government is unprepared to tackle climate change.

“It’s clear that Doug Ford’s cancellation of Ontario’s climate change plan without providing any alternative will hurt families and communities across the province,” said NDP legislator Peter Tabuns.

“Ontarians and businesses who want to help stop climate change should be rewarded, not punished. It’s time for a climate action plan where polluters pay, and families get cleaner air and water.”

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner said the government’s decision would shut Ontario out of the burgeoning green economy as well as hurt the environment.

Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada, called Bill 4 “a giant leap in the wrong direction that will damage our economy and environment.”

“Minister Philips may not take well to being told the truth, but his government’s actions make it clear that they already have a plan: drive up carbon pollution by giving polluters a free ride and damn the consequences,” he said.

The organization launched a court challenge against the government, alleging the province had breached legal requirements for consultation on the proposed legislation and a regulation that effectively ended cap and trade.

The government posted the bill for consultation hours later, with the process expected to end on Oct. 11. The group is proceeding with the lawsuit.