Ontario’s climate-change plan is “not yet supported by sound evidence,” will likely miss its emissions-reduction targets and is predicated on some programs – such as subsidies for electric cars – that Premier Doug Ford’s government cancelled, the province’s fiscal watchdog says.
In her annual report released on Wednesday, Auditor-General Bonnie Lysyk says the Progressive Conservative government’s plan relies on “overestimates” and “double counting." And without changes, she concludes it will fall well shy of reducing greenhouse gases to the required 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, which is the global target to which Canada agreed in the 2015 Paris accord.
The Auditor-General’s report was praised by environmental groups and opposition leaders for its stark criticism of the government’s plan. Mike Schreiner, Leader of Ontario’s Green Party and its only MPP, said the report shows that the climate-change plan was “made to fail.” Greenpeace said Wednesday that the report showed Mr. Ford’s proposals were “a fraud.” NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the plan was an attempt to “pull the wool over our eyes.”
Defending the plan, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek described it as a “living document” and a “draft,” that would “evolve.”
“We have a plan, the Auditor-General didn’t say it was terrible. She said it needed to be tightened up. We totally agree with that,” Mr. Yurek said.
It’s the Auditor-General’s first report since Mr. Ford’s government eliminated the province’s stand-alone environmental commissioner position last year, rolling some of that office’s responsibilities and staff into Ms. Lysyk’s office.
And it comes after months of criticism of Mr. Ford’s government for its environmental policies, which have included cancelling wind and solar projects across the province and continuing its court challenge against the federal government’s carbon tax, along with Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.
The Auditor-General says Ontario’s environment plan assumes that the number of electric vehicles on the province’s roads will increase to 1.3 million by 2030 from just 41,000 this year – even though the government cancelled subsidies for these cars almost as soon as it took office last year. The report also says Ontario is banking on emissions reductions from “future innovations,” but never spells out what those might be.
When the government released its plan in November, 2018, it used a figure for baseline projected emissions for 2030 that still included reductions from the previous government’s plans – plans Mr. Ford had campaigned on cancelling, including energy-conservation programs, a series of renewable-energy contracts and the Liberals’ cap-and-trade system. The PC government only recalculated this figure in August of this year, when asked by the Auditor-General’s office.
The Auditor-General’s report also revealed that Ontario spent $4-million on its anti-carbon-tax advertising campaign. And Ms. Lysyk said she would not have approved the ads under the previous rules that allowed her to restrict taxpayer-funded advertising that she deemed partisan. (Mr. Ford’s party pledged to reinstate those rules, which were repealed by the Liberals, but did not do so.) Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy defended the ads as money well spent.
In addition to climate change, the Auditor-General’s report also takes aim at other government programs, outlining growing backlogs in the court system and warning that jails are not prepared for the growing number of mentally ill inmates.
It warns that many long-term-care homes are serving food to residents that is not up to nutritional standards. At one inspected by audit staff, residents were fed liquid whole eggs more than three months past their best-before date.
The report is critical of the government’s approach to supervised drug-use sites – which it capped last year – saying that the Health Ministry has not determined whether the number of sites “align with regional needs.”
On patient safety in acute-care hospitals, Ms. Lysyk found that non-disclosure deals negotiated by nurses’ unions on behalf of members fired for poor performance mean their record can be hidden from a new employer.
On commercial-vehicle safety, the report says that the number of roadside inspections for trucks has plunged, potentially leaving 10,000 more unsafe trucks on Ontario highways.
On the coroner system, it warns that coroners “perform death investigations with little supervision and many deficiencies have gone undetected.”
And the report says that while the cost of the Ontario Disability Support Program is up 75 per cent over the past decade, the government is only verifying the eligibility of a fraction of recipients, meaning it could recover $165-million more a year in overpayments.
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