Ontario’s climate change plan is “not yet supported by sound evidence,” will miss its emissions-reduction targets, and is still predicated on programs – such as subsidies for electric cars – that Premier Doug Ford’s government has already cancelled, the province’s fiscal watchdog says.
In her annual report released on Wednesday, Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk says the Progressive Conservative government’s environment plan will not reduce greenhouse gases enough to hit the global targets to which Canada agreed in the 2015 Paris accord.
“Key aspects of the province’s plan to address climate change and reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions are not yet supported by sound evidence,” Ms. Lysyk writes in a summary of her 2019 annual report. “In its current early state, the plan is not likely to achieve its proposed emission reduction-target.”
It’s her first report since Mr. Ford’s government eliminated the province’s environmental commissioner position last year, rolling the responsibilities into Ms. Lysyk’s office. In her introduction, Ms. Lysyk said Ontario has not lost its environment watchdog, and her office will perform “the environmental audit work using the same high standards and proven practices that apply to all of our work.”
In its official response, the Ministry of the Environment acknowledges its plan is still a work in progress: “The province will continually evolve the plan with updated modelling, information and actions so that it contains the most effective and affordable ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Ontario’s plan sets a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. But the report found the government “overestimates the emissions reductions expected,” relies on “double counting” for its estimated reductions from industrial emitters, and does not account for recent decisions by other ministries that may increase emissions.
While the Ministry of the Environment assumes the number of electric vehicles will increase from 41,000 this year to 1.3 million by 2030, Ontario recently cancelled subsidies for these cars and for the charging stations they need. And the government has yet to put forward any plans of its own to increase their number on Ontario roads.
Ontario’s environmental plan sets a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 143 megatonnes by 2030. To achieve that target, the plan proposes initiatives that will result in reductions of 17.6 megatonnes. However, Ms. Lysyk’s report found the current initiatives will only reduce emissions by 6.3 to 13 megatonnes.
The report finds that the government’s modelling for its estimated emissions in 2030 included programs it axed in its first year, including a large group of solar and wind projects across the province and the previous government’s cap-and-trade system designed to make large polluters to reduce their emissions. This means the government’s plan underestimates the emissions level it will have to make to meet its own reduction targets.
Other elements of the plan, such as increased renewable and compressed natural gas use, “have no feasibility analyses,” the report says, while the plan also promises “future innovation” will bring down emissions, without any identifying any new programs.
Ms. Lysyk also found that several ministries, including environment, have not complied with the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights, citing the government’s move to repeal the cap and trade program without first holding public consultations.
On other issues, the Auditor-General’s report concludes that the government’s own accounting of its balance sheet is “fairly presented and free from material errors,” after accounting changes made by the new government to take the province’s net pension assets off its books.
But the report says the agency that manages the province’s debt, the Ontario Financing Authority, “has not sufficiently analyzed” the province’s ability to pay back its $338-billion debt. It also spent more than $500-million on commissions to banks when issuing domestic debt while failing to consider whether to use debt auctions, which are cheaper and commonly used by other governments.
The report also takes aim at a variety of other government programs, including rampant court delays and inadequate jails. It is critical of the government’s approach to supervised drug-use sites – which it capped last year – saying the Health Ministry has not determined whether the number of sites “align with regional needs.” It also says that wait times for addictions programs were seeing people die or end up in hospital before receiving treatment, and that most funding for opioid-related programs was not being distributed based on need.
On patient safety in acute-care hospitals, she found that non-disclosure deals negotiated by nurses’ unions on behalf of members fired for poor performance mean their record is hidden from a new employer, and that some nurses banned for incompetence had worked again for another hospital or agency.
Road fatalities between 2008 and 2017 involving commercial vehicles are higher in Ontario than in the rest of Canada and the United States, the report reads, while the number of roadside inspections has decreased between 2014 and 2018, meaning as many as 10,000 more unsafe vehicles were left on the road.
And most trucks, including those with bad safety records, have not been inspected in more than two years. This finding comes after the Ford government has pledged to allow double-length tractor trailers on Ontario’s roads, as part of its campaign to reduce red tape for businesses.
The Auditor-General’s other findings include:
- Businesses that operate only within Ontario can market their products as “organic” even though they are not certified to Canadian organic standards, while six other provinces have laws that restrict this practice.
- Coroners “perform death investigations with little supervision and many deficiencies have gone undetected.” Sixteen coroners performed death investigations while under disciplinary practice restrictions imposed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.
- While the cost of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is up 75 per cent over the last decade, the government is only verifying a fraction of recipients to determine whether they are actually eligible, meaning it could claw back as much as $165-million more a year in overpayments.
- Hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for the horse-racing industry have done little to achieve its goal of being self-sustaining.