Ford’s move serves to sabotage environmental responsibility

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By cutting government taxes on gasoline, Doug Ford is actually decreasing the envelope available for investment in public transit expansion across the province.

By Sheila Copps

First published in The Hill Times on July 9, 2018.

OTTAWA—Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s very first political act was to scrap the provincial cap and trade system.

He framed the decision as “promise made, promise kept,” circulating a video tweet that features gas tank prices going down.

As of last Thursday, 32,000 people had viewed the tweet and almost 2,000 liked what they saw. But the Twitter discussion following the announcement seemed more focused on Ford family dynamics than the substantive setback for real climate action that Ford has set in motion.

The premier’s ill-conceived plan to dump the cap and trade system without having anything to replace it is eerily reminiscent of the decision-making style ushered in by Donald Trump. Don’t bother with the facts, don’t consult the experts, don’t involve your cabinet. Simply govern by Twitter. And if the number of followers grow, and they like what they see, you can simply bypass conventional media sources to sow the information seeds you would like on your own mini-communication network.

The Ford feed included a brief comment from his minister of environment, conservation and parks, reassuring citizens this would be a seamless transition. Minister Rod Phillips used all the right calming vocabulary, promising to work with stakeholders to ensure that the course correction on climate change is not going to cause any problems.

But the single biggest culprit in global warming is the automobile. The more we are able to encourage public transit, bicycling, and alternative fuels, the fewer greenhouse gases will be created.

Leadership involves making the link between consumer choices and our collective carbon footprint. It is simple for politicians to blame all environmental problems on some anonymous smokestack. Asking people to pay for their own pollution comes at a price.

The previous Liberal government took a huge political hit in on energy files; from gas plant locations to hydro prices. But reminding the public that there is a cost to the energy we consume is what leadership should be all about. If Canadians are truly interested in climate solutions, we need to change the way we move around the planet.

Almost one-third of American greenhouse gases come directly from the automobile. Giant, gas-guzzling super trucks are the vehicle of choice in many major cities, where only a single person is driving the vehicle at any given time.

The premier’s move serves to sabotage environmental responsibility. By cutting government taxes on gasoline, he is actually decreasing the envelope available for investment in public transit expansion across the province.

Until last week, every time an Ontarian gassed up at the pump, 2 cents per litre of the fill-up was being turned over to municipalities to improve public transit. According to the Ontario ministry of transportation, for every $100-million of public infrastructure investment, the province’s GDP is increased by $114-million, especially in construction and manufacturing sectors.

More importantly, easily accessible rapid transit is what gets people out of their cars and opting for public transportation. A single bus takes 40 cars off the road, accounting for 25 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

By abolishing the cap and trade system, and reducing gas prices by 10 cents a litre, Ford has restricted available government revenue sources for infrastructure designed to reduce our emissions via public transit, and kneecapped the plan to put a real price on the creation of carbon. Now the government must either cut spending, reduce public transit investment, or increase general taxes to cover the shortfall. A general tax hike has the perverse effect of forcing the poor, senior citizens and those without cars to subsidize gas guzzlers and polluting corporations.

The move to encourage more use of public transit has been working. According to Ontario ministry statistics, in 2014, there was a hike of more than 217 million trips on municipal transit systems, compared to 2003—equivalent to cancelling approximately 181 million car trips.

But Ontario also supplanted Alberta last year as the province with the most per capita new automobile purchases. In a province that loves its’ cars, Ford has dialled back the clock and doomed future generations to pollution problems with no real solutions.

The province’s population is also slated to grow by 40 per cent by 2041, spawning more energy consumption, urban sprawl, and dependence on automobile transport.

The cap and trade plan provided a roadmap in our fight to reduce carbon emissions.

Thanks to last week’s announcement, Ontario has turned back the clock in the fight against climate change.

Bad promise made and kept. Trump that, Doug Ford.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.