Ontario Votes 2022: Question of the Week

As is Expositor tradition during the leadup to the provincial election, this newspaper poses a question each week to the candidates. The question, and the candidates’ responses, follow here:

Last year, the Ontario government spent $2.8 billion to purchase three natural gas plants, and a fourth in 2019, to replace Ontario’s aging nuclear plants rather than looking to renewables or energy efficiencies, in order to meet the province’s growing demand for electricity. This plan is expected to increase the greenhouse gas emissions from gas-fired power plants by 375 percent by 2030 and by more than 600 percent by 2040, meaning Ontario will lose nearly half of the pollution reduction benefits it achieved by phasing out dirty coal plants.

Thirty-two Ontario municipalities have called for a gas plant phase-out, asking the province to return the gas plants’ pollution to their 2017 level ASAP and to achieve a complete gas plant phase-out by 2030, and more than 60 citizens groups have called for a 100 percent gas power phase-out by 2030 as well.

What is your plan for Ontario’s electricity system and for meeting emissions reduction targets?

Michael Mantha, NDP incumbent

The reality of climate change is already here in Ontario. Scientists are clear that we must limit global temperature increases below 1.5°Celsius to avoid the worst effects of the climate crisis. This situation requires attention and action from all levels of government that are committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Sadly, the Ford government’s decision to ramp up gas-fired power production completely wiped out Ontarians’ years of hard work and commitment to reducing our environmental impact. In addition to this great loss, the cost of power from gas-fired plants is more than double the price of power from other renewable energy projects.

People in Algoma-Manitoulin are already struggling with skyrocketing hydro bills, thanks to the privatization of the electricity system. The Conservatives turning back to gas-fire electricity was a shock to all Ontarians. They chose to spend taxpayers’ money to tear up renewable energy projects that were already underway, undoing our progress on lowering emissions, and it has ended up costing Ontarians more on their hydro bills every month.

The NDP is committed to a greenhouse gas reduction target of 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and net-zero no later than 2050. This will mean phasing out emission-intensive energy production, like gas-fired power plants, in favour of renewable alternatives. 

The Ontario NDP has a robust plan to bring down the price of electricity for families and businesses while at the same time meeting our climate goals and creating thousands of good-paying jobs here in Ontario.

We will do this by expanding our hydro capacity, increasing affordable renewables—including wind and solar power—improving grid-scale storage and making major grid interconnections with Québec and Manitoba to enable cost-effective electricity imports.

At the same time, an NDP government will do more to conserve energy and make our system more efficient. Here in the North, we use especially large amounts of energy to heat our homes in winter. This puts strain on our province’s energy infrastructure and raises costs for people and businesses.

The NDP plans to bring in an ambitious energy-efficient building retrofit program to help individuals, families and businesses with the cost of retrofitting their homes and lowering electricity bills. Our ambitious building retrofit program will start with the goal of retrofitting at least five percent of Ontario buildings per year to meet international energy efficiency standards. This will help Northerners use less energy to heat and cool their homes, saving them the cost and reducing the amount of energy consumed.

We will also reduce demand on our power grid by instituting a conservation-first energy planning model in Ontario. We will establish a single-window service system for energy efficiency and conservation planning, program promotion, delivery and upfront financing.

An NDP government will ensure Ontario’s transition to a net-zero economy that will create over a million good jobs in Ontario that will provide salaries on which people can raise a family. We’ll also partner with labour and industry to ensure anyone who wants to learn a skilled trade—no matter at what stage of their career—gets the education, training and job placement they need.

People in Algoma-Manitoulin deserve a government that is ready and committed to making wise investments that are in the best interest of Ontarians now and in the future. Investing in new renewable energy projects and building retrofits will create more jobs and allow us to produce cheaper power for decades to come.

Tim Vine, Liberal Party

We can no longer deny or ignore the climate crisis and the Ontario Liberal Party has a robust climate action plan, part of which deals directly with our electricity generation system. We are committed to responsibly balancing the growing electricity needs of our growing economy with the protection of our environment through the reduction of carbon and methane emissions.

Our plan would reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero by 2050. To achieve this, we will ban new natural gas plants and phase out reliance on gas, focusing instead on a mix of existing nuclear, hydroelectric and renewable energy sources, including harnessing organic waste emissions. We will reverse Ford’s cuts to energy conservation programs, renew the Ontario Electricity Rebate and eliminate connection fees for new residential solar and electric vehicle (EV) charging. Most importantly, we will strengthen Emissions Performance Standards on big polluters to ensure their emissions are in line with 2030 targets and create a carbon offset system that will support businesses that reduce their emissions. We’ll also work on carbon sinking by planting 100 million trees annually for the next eight years.

We know Northern Ontario did not create the climate emergency but as we shift to renewable energy, we will be a key part of addressing this crisis. Ontario Liberals are committed to building on the many solar and wind generation facilities supporting the creation of 25,000 well-paid green jobs many of which will be in the North. We have a plan to expand the use of EVs to help reduce carbon emissions. Many of the minerals required for batteries can be mined here in Northern Ontario and we have a plan to become the leading manufacturer of EV batteries for North America. We recognize that it is key to work with First Nations communities in developing these mines ensuring that they have their share of the benefit from them. This extends to Northern municipalities that support these mining operations, an OLP government would ensure five percent of mining taxes would go to local Northern governments.

Ontario Liberals recognize that damage is already occurring and we need to create climate resilient communities and climate resistant infrastructure. We would create a $250 million fund to support municipalities to upgrade infrastructure for climate emergencies due to extreme weather. We would support Ontarians in home energy and climate resilient retrofits through 100,000 grants of $3,000/year. We would expand the EV charging network and provide EV rebates of up to $9,500 to incentivize the transition to cleaner transportation. The OLP has a much-publicized plan to provide Buck-A-Ride, province-wide until 2024, to transition mostly Southern commuters back to public transit. While this would benefit those taking Ontario Northland and the Chi-Cheemaun walk-ons, I recognize its effects are limited since we rely so heavily on car transportation in the North. That is why we would work to expand public transit routes for Northern Ontario and make Community Transportation Grants permanent for small municipalities to ensure transit is available within our Northern communities.

The Ontario Liberal plan is responsibly progressive and will build on proven emission reduction practices while balancing our economic needs. Ontario’s environment belongs to us all, which is why we will take the politics out of climate action. An OLP government is committed to transparency and accountability and will create an independent Environmental Commissioner and an all-party Climate Action Cabinet committee. We would also bring back the position of Chief Scientist to ensure that we govern with a best practice, science-first approach. For more information on our extensive and fully costed climate action plan, checkout: ontarioliberal.ca/platform/

Ron Koski, New Blue Party

New energy spending is understandably attractive to big business and the communities and companies who benefit in the short term. It’s also very attractive to politicians who can cash votes in within a single election cycle. But Ontario’s energy solutions can’t be bought with short-term spending. 

Ontario needs long-term investment in efficiency and the oversight of independent engineers, not politicized energy programs. That’s a challenge. It’s a lot more attractive to build a new house than to put the one you already have in order.

By building efficiencies into what we already have, we have a viable opportunity to meet both increasing energy demands and emission targets. Pollution simply isn’t cool, and it shouldn’t be rebranded and bought off with carbon credits, carbon taxes or greenwashed energy programs. It’s something both ardent environmentalists, energy engineers, and the New Blue party agrees on.

There is a significant gap between energy production and demand, and it’s not in the direction most people think. Ontario regularly produces more power than it consumes and wastes enough clean electricity to power upwards of 1.2 million homes a year. For context, consider this. The Manitoulin District has upwards of 10,000 private homes. Imagine wasting the clean energy of 120 Manitoulin’s year after year? That’s what Ontario is doing.

Viable solutions need to account for sub-optimal supply mix, energy storage, surplus sale and curtailment issues. Replace the words “surplus sale” with “give away,” and “curtailment” with “waste,” and you have a more accurate view of the opportunity loss we face by not addressing them.

A 2020 article by the Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) helps put this in perspective:

“In addition to curtailment, surplus hydroelectric, wind, solar and nuclear generated electricity was also exported to adjoining power grids from 2014 to 2019 at prices much lower than the cost of production. This occurs because Ontario produces more clean electricity than Ontario consumers currently use, so the province is forced to sell off the surplus at the low wholesale market rate. Total exports in 2019 were 19.8 TWh, compared to 18.6 TWh in 2018. OSPE estimates that about half of those exports were surplus clean electricity, enough to power about 1.2 million homes for one year.”

Let’s put independent professional engineers to work, cut the lobbyists out of the equation, and put real power back into our economy.

Cheryl Fort, Progressive Conservative Party

The Del Duca-Wynne Government left behind a hydro mess, where Ontario had the highest electricity prices in all of Canada. Since day one of being elected, our PC team has been getting it done to lower the cost of hydro bills.

Our PC government: cancelled costly energy contracts for energy Ontario did not need, saving ratepayers $790 million; reigned in executive compensation at Hydro One and scrapped the Liberals’ Green Energy Act which lined the pockets of Liberal insiders at the expense of Ontario hydro customers.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, our government removed time of-use pricing so that those working at home wouldn’t be paying exorbitant bills.

A lot of work remains to clean up the hydro mess left behind by the Del Duca-Wynne Liberals, and our PC team is getting it done.

We can actually reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions by alleviating bumper-to-bumper traffic on other major highways. Having a car, sitting, idling doesn’t help the environment, we need to get these cars off the road.

Our PC team is getting it done by reducing emissions and tackling climate change while working for workers. We know that electric vehicles will play a large role in reducing emissions in Ontario. That’s why we are positioning Ontario as a world leader in the production of electric vehicles and batteries.

This includes: Securing Ontario’s first electric vehicle battery plant with the largest investment in Canada’s history ($5 billion). Creating 2,500 jobs and supplying the North American market; securing the retool of GM’s Oshawa and Ingersoll plants ($2 billion). The CAMI plant will be Canada’s first full-scale electric production facility making the BrightDrop commercial vehicle; securing the retool of Ford’s Oakville Assembly Complex ($1.8 billion). This will transform the facility into a hub for battery vehicle production; securing the retool of Honda’s Alliston plant ($1.4 billion) to launch the production of hybrid cars; securing a $3.6 billion investment from Stellantis ($513 million from Ontario) to modernize and retool its Windsor and Brampton Assembly Plants and build two new research and development centres focusing on electric vehicles and battery technology.

We also partnered with steelmaker Dofasco with a $500 million investment to replace their coal ovens and blast furnaces with a low-emission Electric Furnace. This transformation alone will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by three million tonnes annually and eliminate one of the largest sources of pollution.

Our PC team knows that reducing emissions is a critical part to tackling climate change. That’s why we are getting it done by taking action on climate change, working for workers, and rebuilding Ontario’s economy.

Elect Cheryl Fort to work alongside Doug Ford to ensure we Get It Done for Ontario and Algoma-Manitoulin!