As smoke from the forest fires in Ontario and Quebec settled over Toronto last month, the climate crisis was top of mind for many.
The smoke emphasized the need for urgent action at all levels of society, from individuals to corporations to governments, to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and other sources that are rapidly warming our planet.
Unfortunately, the actions taken by the Ontario government of Premier Doug Ford continue to fall severely short of what climate science requires.
As individuals, we can make changes in our daily habits to lower our emissions.
My family, for example, recently switched from an oil furnace to an electric heat pump for heating and cooling our home, with support from Toronto’s Home Energy Loan Program and the federal Greener Homes Grant.
Many residents are working to lower their emissions in other ways, by using public transit, cycling and walking, driving electric vehicles, installing induction stoves, and other conservation initiatives.
The City of Toronto has also embarked on an ambitious plan, Transform TO, to reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2040.
The positive effect of these efforts to reduce emissions are being undermined by the province, who is pushing ahead with its short-sighted plan to increase gas-fired electricity production at six plants, including the Portlands Gas Plant in Toronto’s east end. Under the plan, Ontario will experience the biggest increase in gas-fired power in more than a decade. According to the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), seven per cent of Ontario’s power supply came from gas- and oil-fired power in 2020. Under Ford’s plan, this will rise to nearly 27 per cent by 2043 – a 600 per cent increase in our province’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead of investing in cost-effective renewable options such as wind and solar, energy storage, and energy efficiency – investments other jurisdictions across Canada and globally are already making – Ontario is going in the opposite direction.
In fact, IESO commissioned its own report (the Dunsky Report) which shows Ontario can forgo more gas burning and meet increased demand by rapidly scaling up renewable energy. We can also avoid burning more gas by reinstituting canceled contracts with Quebec to import its surplus hydroelectricity during the summer.
In addition to the ecological and global impacts of increased greenhouse gas emissions, there are direct human impacts of the Ford government’s plan.
Burning fossil gas produces nitrogen oxides, which decreases air quality and increases respiratory problems for people who live near the plants, especially the elderly, children, pregnant people, and those with underlying health conditions.
This short-sighted plan also comes with financial risks. While the Ford government writes guaranteed contracts for expanded production with plant operators, the federal government is currently drafting its Clean Electricity Regulations (CER), which seek to achieve a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2035. If the federal government’s CERs require the closure of these expanded gas plants, Ontario taxpayers will be on the hook for these expensive contracts.
The Ford government continues to implement policies that work against our individual and collective efforts to address the climate crisis, policies that will exacerbate the effects of a warming planet, and ultimately cost us more in both economic and human health terms.
We need to push back against this plan by contacting our federal MPs to support the release of strong Clean Electricity Regulations, our provincial MPPs to insist on a different path, and our local city councillors to oppose increased gas-powered electricity production in Toronto.
East End Resident and Member of For Our Kids Toronto