The leaders of Ontario’s main political parties highlighted their climate plans Tuesday after a deadly weekend storm ripped across the province, offering different approaches to dealing with severe weather events that are likely to become more frequent.
New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath and Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca focused on long-term climate solutions while Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford touted electric vehicles and clean steel as key ways forward.
Ford, who is looking to hold on to the premier’s office, said the province is investing in converting some steel plants to use electric arc furnaces rather than using coal. He also doubled down on electric vehicles, manufacturing their batteries and building roads.
“I believe in climate change, let’s make that clear, and we’re doing everything to prevent it by building electric vehicles, having an investment into the battery plants,” Ford said at a campaign stop in Brampton, Ont.
Ford also touted his party’s plans to build subways and highways in an effort to alleviate traffic congestion.
“One of the worst examples of pollution: go stand on the bridge of the 401 and watch bumper-to-bumper traffic,” Ford said.
“That’s why we’re building roads and bridges and highways to get people home quicker so that they don’t have to sit in gridlock and smell someone else’s fumes.”
Horwath said her party, if elected, would fix the disaster relief program to get money to affected residents quicker after a severe weather event. New Democrats also have plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, she said.
Horwath said Ford was “out of touch” with climate change.
“It’s really just obvious he was a crusader against the environment for the entire time he was in office,” she said during a virtual press conference. Horwath, who tested positive for COVID-19 last week, said she had tested negative but was continuing with a remote campaign Tuesday due to a few lingering symptoms.
Horwath also pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. Her government would electrify all transit systems in the province. They would also plant one billion trees and mitigate shoreline erosion.
The plan will be financed by a cap-and-trade system, she said.
“That is going to help us finance the big, big changes that we need to make,” she said.
Del Duca said his party, if elected, will help communities deal with climate change.
“We specifically set aside (money) on our sustainability plan to deal with climate resilience to support conservation authorities or municipalities or both,” Del Duca said at a campaign stop in Toronto.
The Liberals state in their platform that they will restore and expand natural infrastructure like wetlands and green roofs and support communities in becoming more resilient to extreme weather through a new $250-million annual fund.
The party has also promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Del Duca has further promised to require all new passenger vehicles sold in Ontario to be zero-emission by 2035 and has promised a Liberal government would plant 800 million new trees over eight years.
Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner has touted a long list of environmental initiatives, including halving climate pollution by 2030, protecting 30 per cent of lands and water by 2030 and reaching net-zero emissions by 2045.
He has proposed a $2-billion-a-year fund that would go to municipalities to help them get their infrastructure ready for climate change.
“We have to have a government that’s going to put the policies in place to help us reduce climate pollution,” Schreiner told The Canadian Press.
Schreiner has also called for a provincial emergency fund to be set up for small businesses to help deal with disasters — be it COVID-19, the recent occupation of Ottawa or the devastating storm.
“I’m thinking of the hospitality sector, for example, who have food that is highly perishable in refrigerators that don’t work — we need that special fund to help small businesses that have been so negatively impacted,” he said.
Anneke Smit, an assistant professor at the University of Windsor and director of the Centre for Cities, said this weekend’s storm highlights the need for parties to address climate change throughout their platforms.
Smit said the best thing the government could do to make a dent in the climate crisis is to focus on the right kind of housing — everything else will flow from that.
“To address the affordability and climate crisis, we need a fundamental rethink about the patterns of settlement in our communities,” Smit said.
Cities must “build inward” to create density; urban sprawl must cease; the Greenbelt, wetlands and farmlands must be preserved; and heavy investment in transit is needed, she said, if the province hopes to truly tackle a changing climate.
She said electric vehicles are only a small part of the solution, and more roads are not.
“We need to get off fossil fuels as quickly as possible, so electric vehicles are part of that,” Smit said.
“But what also can’t be overlooked is that there are environmental issues with the whole supply chain on electric vehicles.”
Saturday’s storm left a trail of destruction with at least 10 dead, while tens of thousands remain without power.
– with files from Noushin Ziafati and Holly McKenzie-Sutter
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