Policy Monday is a weekly feature during the lead-up to the provincial election where Torontoist will dive into the mean and gritty world of public policy, turning a critical eye at a specific area of the policies and machinations of the four major provincial parties.
Photo by J.A.L.E.X. from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
The environment is kind of a big deal. It has been for a while, but it’s only really been in the public spotlight (and thus, in the minds of policymakers) for a short time. Regardless of whether you’re an old environmentalist who battled Regan in the eighties or a newly benevolent eco-friendly yuppie, the increased voter concern for the environment is a good thing forces more than just the green party to seriously consider their environmental policies, while balancing them with good economic sense.
Let’s take one last whimsical walk in the forest of provincial public policy, shall we?
Back in June, long before the election began, the Liberals came out with their sweeping MoveOntario 2020 plan. The plan promises transit expansion and enhancements up the wazoo, helping Toronto expand the subway to the suburbs and stick LRT systems pretty much everywhere. The plan is due to be implemented if the Liberals remain in power after the election, but very similar promises have been lost to partisan bickering and sheer mismanagement in the past.
Everyone has been pretty mad at Dalton McGuinty for not closing down our province’s coal plants like he promised in the last election. Now he’s proposing a long-term energy plan that hopes to eliminate coal plants by doubling renewable energy sources. The Liberals have set a rough target year of 2014 for a complete elimination of coal plants from the province. It may be a pragmatic move on their part, but that’s an extra seven years of coal smoke heading into our air—and our lungs. To make up for that, the Liberals want to plant a lot of new trees. 50 million of them by 2020. Our only concern is that they may not diversify their tree-planting projects very much, which could lead to a severe monoculture.
Further preventative plans include an outright ban of cosmetic pesticide use, a scheme to identify and reduce cancer-causing agents released in the environment, and a full-scale replacement of old light bulbs with newer, energy-efficient bulbs. Of course, the regular batch of tax-incentives and rebates for consumers willing to go green is included in Liberal promises, which has worked in the past. Each party has their own version of this policy, so it’s nothing too special.
The Liberals are also proposing a fair amount of corporate regulation. They want an emission reduction of 6 per cent under 1990 levels by 2014—this is somewhat along the lines of Kyoto, though the Liberals lack a comprehensive plan of how these reductions will be achieved.
By implementing a regulation that would force companies to reduce their toxic emissions, the Liberals hope to clean up our air. By encouraging companies to reduce their packaging and use of plastic bags, they hope to reduce waste. Hopefully, if elected, they can pull through with some of these promises.
The Progressive Conservatives have their emission-reduction sights set a little lower than most. They want a 10 per cent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020 and 60% by 2050. Their clean-air policies focus largely on the industrial and commercial sectors. They want to offer corporations incentives for engaging more energy-efficient practices, encourage them to create their own clean energy, and toughen up building codes so that companies create cleaner, more efficient offices, warehouses, and factories. They want to invest in and limit regulatory barriers for R & D houses that are researching new, clean technologies, hoping that this investment will pay off in the long run.
In terms of power generation, the Tories have no firm plan for taking our coal plants off-line. Rather, they want to invest in technology that will clean up their emissions, such as scrubbers, and put them into some of our coal-fire plants. Part of the way they want to take the energy load off of coal plants is to build new, modern nuclear power plants. This is a big no-no in the minds of many environmentalists, since the waste is incredibly harmful and takes millions of years to lose radioactivity.
On the individual level, they also want to give out rebates and incentives for being green—such as a rebate for fuel-efficient vehicles and appliances, and incentives for people with older homes to renovate their houses to be more eco-friendly.
Finally, the Tories firmly believe in leading by example, which is admirable. They hope to convert the government fleet’s fuel from traditional gas to ethanol, and then provide tax incentives for gas stations to convert over to ethanol. They’ll already have a customer base—all the government vehicles. Not a bad idea. Also, all government offices will be made more efficient, and new buildings will be built eco-friendly, yet Tory never talks of building government buildings to any sort of internationally-recognized standard, so what they believe to be a clean building may not be quite what we’re expecting.
Howard Hampton is in a tricky place when it comes to the environment. His party was founded with strong ties to workers and unions, and this province is very much tied to automotive production. To hurt the auto industry would erode the NDP’s already-weak voter base. That’s why the NDP is pledging $600 million over the next five years to the province’s automakers as an incentive to create a green car industry. We’ll see if such a plan would actually help save our province’s auto workers, and more importantly, if it will put more fuel-efficient cars on the road.
Furthermore, the NDP are really emphasizing their Right-To-Know legislation, which was quashed when parliament was ended early by the Liberals in the spring. This would allow people to know what dangerous substances are in the environment around them and where they are coming from. The logic behind this is that the companies that are the biggest polluters would incur the public’s wrath and be forced to change their polluting ways. The issue with this is that most people already know which companies pollute the air, land, and water.
The NDP want an shutdown of the Nanticoke coal power plant by 2011, a complete elimination of coal power by 2014, and to rid the province of nuclear power, replacing it with a yet-to-be-named source of cleaner energy.
They also want to support public transit, and have an excellent plan for doing so—a return to the province funding 50 percent of transit operating costs. This was taken away by the Tories years ago, and would be a welcome return to our ailing TTC. They also want to fast-track public transit projects, which means that they may be able to get us a much-improved transit system sooner than the Liberals’ MoveOntario 2020 plan. Spiffy!
Finally, the party that dominates in environmental policy. The environment is the number one priority of the Green Party, and they’ve got some good policies. They’ve also got a number of unrealistic ones.
The Green Party of Ontario supports a tax shift—one away from income and onto environmentally harmful things. This would be a gradual process, and would include removing the Liberals’ health tax. This would be a dynamic change to how we control our finances, yet it can also serve to make governments encourage resource use and environmentally-detrimental practices—more money for them.
In terms of emissions reductions, they want to follow the Kyoto Protocol to the letter, and also institute a “cap-and-trade” system that would allow businesses to buy and sell “carbon credits” for carbon offsetters. Additionally, all government activities would have minimal environmental impact, going well beyond the promises of the Tories’ policies.
Energy-wise, the Greens want to take all subsidies off of electricity and allow it to rise to a ludicrous price in order to encourage conservation. This would just plain piss people off. No one wants their electricity bill to go up. Seriously. No one. Otherwise, they want to immediately ban the construction of new nuclear reactors, get rid of all coal plants by 2009, and ban the exporting of non-renewable, non-emergency power to anywhere outside of the province.
There’s a bunch of excellent ideas to legislate the construction of green buildings, such as requiring solar power heating on new buildings, and to be built to LEED certification. Speaking of LEED, the Green Party wants to make sure that all their plans hit international certifications and standards. Not too shabby.
The best of their policies are the ones involving transportation. They want to immediately divert 75 percent of money allocated to highway construction to transit in order to improve service. They want to enlist municipalities to create comprehensive public transportation plans, much like our own city’s Transit City plan. The goal is to make public transit the primary method of transportation for urbanites. That’s something we can agree with.
We hope this series has helped reveal some of the confusion around provincial policy. Elections are about more than partisan loyalty or the more charismatic M.P.P. They’re about the policies that each party wants to implement. These policies will affect your life more than a mere party name.
Remember—look at each party’s policies, and then vote for the representative whose policies you agree with the most. It’s all up to you.
Top photo by room929. Bottom photo by S.S.K. Both from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.