Because the environment is too important to be left entirely to the government, the Environmental Bill of Rights requires the provincial government to consult the public, via the Environmental Registry, before making environmentally significant decisions. One such decision was the government’s decision to repeal Ontario’s 2016 climate law, the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-carbon Economy Act, 2016.
After Greenpeace Canada sued the province for allegedly failing to comply with its Environmental Bill of Rights obligations, the provincial government posted Bill 4, the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018, on the Registry for the legal minimum period of public comment (see Registry #013-3738). In the 30 days provided, the public responded with over 11,000 comments. The Bill was passed and came into law on October 31, 2018, with minor amendments.
As part of our mandate to support public use of the Environmental Bill of Rights, the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario has carefully reviewed most of the 11,000 comments that were submitted on the proposed Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, 2018. It was mostly concerned commenters – including parents, grandparents, teachers and doctors – that took the time to write to the government, either in their own words or building from letters drafted by environmental organizations.
Almost all commenters wrote to express their support for decisive action on climate change. Less than 1% of the comments we reviewed expressed clear support for cancelling cap and trade. Many commenters were dismayed that cap and trade had been cancelled, particularly before an alternative plan had been released. Some suggested different policies, like replacing cap and trade with a carbon tax.
The loss of clean economy opportunities was the most common concern expressed in the submissions. Many were concerned that weakening Ontario’s climate policies would hurt investment in clean technology and risk long-term job creation in a low-carbon economy.
"I work in tech development and green tech is the fastest growing industry globally. A cap and trade (or carbon tax) program that incentivizes and accelerates the green tech sector will be a huge boon to Ontario. Handicapping it, causing uncertainty and pushing investment and professionals elsewhere is going to be hugely damaging to the Ontario economy."
A number of commenters shared stories about how they benefitted, or had hoped to benefit, from programs that re-invested revenues from cap and trade. Some common examples included electric vehicle purchases and energy efficiency retrofits.
"Many excellent projects were being funded by this. Badly needed projects, like repairs to schools that would save taxpayers on energy bills in the immediate future while also improving the learning environment. "
"I received a rebate on an electric car and heat pump cooling system for my house that were both supported by the cap and trade program. It was a win-win in that I saved money; jobs were created; and I reduced my reliance on fossil fuels. A 10 cent savings at the pumps will not have the same effect!"
"We intend to purchase an electric vehicle, but being retired it will likely take 5 years to save for it given the current prices. We could buy it sooner with a significant rebate."
Another common thread throughout the comments was concern for future generations. Parents, teachers, and young people are worried about the future impacts of climate change in Ontario.
"We all try to do the best for our children. Investing in addressing climate change now is the most important thing we can do for them. The cost of action now will be far less than the cost of inaction."
Many were proud of the climate leadership that Ontario had demonstrated, and wanted to ensure that this trend continued – both from a sense of responsibility to do our part, and concern of falling behind other countries and missing out on economic opportunities. Numerous comments spoke to the urgency of action on climate change, with a noticeable minority specifically referencing the most recent climate science report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"Ontario had distinguished itself as a climate leader, we are now moving towards a future where we are not even a follower. An entire green energy economy had been created in Ontario, which we are now threatening to destroy. Not only is this a bad idea from an environmental perspective, but it is also a bad idea from the perspective of the economy."
"Despite having a limited income, I am more than willing to pay more for clean energy sources that will allow Ontario to do their part in lowering carbon emissions. I also believe that if I am willing to pay more for a clean and healthy environment, then industry must as well."
Commenters shared their experiences of extreme weather events, and were anxious that natural disasters would become even more costly and damaging in the future.
"Unpredictable changes in long established weather patterns, loss of species, wildfires, flooding, erosion, storm damage – these represent the real 'carbon tax', and we have been paying it for decades!"
"I am concerned about saving my money, saving my household investment, and saving a profitable future for the generation that will support me in my retirement. I do not want to spend my money on higher insurance premiums for the disasters that the insurance industry foresees, I do not want to waste my money on fragile investments in a carbon dependent economy, and I want my children and grandchildren to thrive on the profits of a leading edge green economy. And so, I am willing to invest my money now, through a price on carbon, in an economy that will support a return to a dependable global climate."
Finally, the risks to human health associated with climate change were another reason that commenters wrote in support of strong environmental policies.
"I'm also an MD, which has given me another view of the effects of pollution and extreme weather on our most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, and the children. On very hot days with poor air quality the ER is packed with elderly suffering from heat stroke and kids suffering from more aggressive asthma attacks."
Want to see more comments on this proposal? Click here to read more than 5,000 comments that were submitted through the Environmental Registry.