A photo of climate activists with "Election Ontario" written at the bottom

On June 2nd, vote for climate justice in Ontario

Vi Bui
1 month ago

In April 2019, I was among countless other Ottawa residents watching anxiously as the flood water rose past the historic level it had already reached only two years prior. This was just a few weeks after Premier Doug Ford made cuts to the funding and mandate of Conservation Authorities, including flood management programs. Hundreds of homes along the Ottawa River were destroyed, families were evacuated, and the military was brought in to support the flood relief efforts.

That same year, my home country Vietnam saw record high temperatures at the beginning of the summer, right outside where my grandparents live. Hospitals across the country filled up with children and elders suffering from heat stroke while others had to work through the unbreathable hot air and cancer-inducing radiation.

The climate crisis is here. The reality of it is impacting communities in Vietnam, including where my family lives, as well as other countries in the Global South. It’s also affecting many here in Canada, especially the most marginalized.

In summer 2021, wildfires in northwestern Ontario forced six First Nations communities to evacuate. Across Canada, First Nations reserves make up one-third of all evacuees from wildfires in recent decades, a recent study suggests, and these communities will continue to be disproportionately affected by wildfires as the climate emergency worsens.

Similarly, climate crisis-induced heat waves are causing more death and illness among lower-income and racialized communities, where homes are less insulated and have less access to air conditioning. As Joanna Eyquem, a researcher on climate adaptation, puts it, “extreme heat is the compounding factor of inequality.”

Ontarians understand the stakes. There are a lot of past and ongoing efforts to demand climate action at the provincial level. However, progress has stalled in the last four years under Ford, as the climate clock keeps ticking. 

Time to end our reliance on fossil fuels

In 2014, Ontario closed its last coal-fired power plant. The result was dubbed “the single largest greenhouse gas reduction measure in North America” by the Ontario Power Authority. That same year, the number of smog days in the province dropped to zero, down from 53 in 2005. However, Ontario still needs to address its reliance on natural gas-fired power plants to fully decarbonize its electricity grid.

Unfortunately, the Ford government has had no interest in meeting that challenge. As soon as he came to power, Ford axed the cap-and-trade program, cancelled 758 renewable energy projects, and set the province on a path towards rising emissions.

While municipalities are working to tackle the climate crisis by planning and designing more sustainable communities, investing in renewable energy, and passing resolutions that call on the province to phase out natural gas, the Conservative government has added fuel to the fire instead. It has bought three gas-fired power plants and cancelled green energy projects. As a result, Ontario’s emissions from the electricity grid are expected to increase by 400 per cent as the province increasingly relies on natural gas, according to the Independent Electricity Systems Operator.

Support workers and communities transitioning to a low-carbon economy

A just transition for workers and communities must be at the core of any climate plan. In Ontario, we have a lot to learn from the phase-out of coal. According to a report from the Labour Education Centre, the closure of Ontario’s coal power plants “was undertaken without a specified relationship to the principles or process of Just Transition.” Although the union and management put together transition measures including relocation, redeployment, and retraining, the process still left behind workers not able to take advantage of those opportunities, and in some cases, caused tension due to lengthy periods of uncertainty.

Any vision for a just transition must also include improving the wages and working conditions of those already working in low-carbon sectors like care, education, and farming. These workers still lack basic protections, as we saw when heat waves exacerbated the working conditions of migrant workers and turned long-term care homes into “death traps.”

And there are a lot of jobs to be found in the low-carbon economy. Pembina’s analysis has found that investing in retrofits and low-energy building systems can add 76,000 long-term jobs annually in Ontario and grow the provincial economy by $18.4 billion per year.

The fight for a just transition must guarantee that these will be good jobs. That starts with raising the minimum wage, providing paid sick days, guaranteeing status for all workers, and strengthening protections for workers’ rights.

It will also take a significant shift in the way we build communities. The last four years have seen a growing movement of residents pushing for smarter growth within the existing urban limits instead of sprawling over greenspaces and farmlands. This vision of climate-conscious, smaller-scale, connected, and less car-dependent communities goes directly against the developer-backed, growth-at-any-cost strategy of the Ford government. We wrote more about Ford’s developer-friendly agenda here.

Invest in critical infrastructure

Alongside scrapping the cap-and-trade program, Ford also cancelled the electric vehicle (EV) rebate program as soon as his government took office. The Conservatives are now touting support for manufacturing EVs in Ontario. But it’s important to note that this pivot was done at the behest of a major donor and automotive tycoon. The new EV plan relies on opening the Ring of Fire for mining of rare minerals, but huge questions remain regarding the economic viability of mining in the region, as well as the need for free, prior, and informed consent from the First Nations whose communities and territories will be forever altered by roads and mining.

Whether electric or gas-powered, private vehicles still contribute to car-dependent sprawls that displace greenspaces and farmlands. What we need are bold investments in public transportation infrastructure and operations, cycling and walking infrastructure, and accessible communities.

However, provincial support for this critical infrastructure under both Liberal and Conservative governments has come in the form of public-private partnerships (P3s). All transit projects supported by Infrastructure Ontario are P3s, despite widespread evidence linking such projects to long-standing delays, poor quality, lack of transparency, and downloaded cost onto municipalities and riders. At the same time, there is a growing call for investments in inter-city bus and trains, especially as Greyhound’s departure from Canada left remote and rural communities stranded. What we urgently need is public investment in these critical infrastructures and to keep them in public hands, not wasting billions on highways and road expansions.

Vote for climate justice on June 2

As the most populous and prosperous province in Canada, Ontario has a moral responsibility to fight the climate crisis, and it must do so by putting the most affected workers and communities first. However, the last four years, Doug Ford has made policies that put his donors and corporate friends before the future of the province. Ontarians deserve better.

Write your local candidates and ask them to put communities before corporate interests and commit to building the Ontario we want.

The Council of Canadians has endorsed the Ontario Climate Emergency Campaign and its Climate Action Plan. You have the power to make a difference by asking candidates about their plan to tackle the climate crisis. Specifically:

  • How will you reduce Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions in line with global efforts?
  • Will you respect Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and autonomy?
  • How will you invest in a just transition for Ontario that centres workers and most affected communities?
  • Will you end all fossil fuels subsidies and work to wind down all fossil fuel use?
  • Will you invest in and expand public ownership of essential infrastructure, services, and utilities?
  • How will you protect Ontario’s farmlands and greenspaces, ensure food security across the province, and support local, organic, regenerative agriculture?

Find a downloadable summary of key issues in the June 2 election here.