During a trip to Alberta this week, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has blamed "false reports" for suggesting the province's Climate Change Action plan will "ban" natural gas from the province.
"I want to directly address the critics who jumped on last week's false media reports suggesting that our plan will ban natural gas in Ontario. That is not true," she told reporters at the Alberta legislature Thursday. "Let me be clear. We are not banning natural gas and have no intention to force people off natural gas." Later in the day, Sudbury Liberal MPP Glenn Thibeault used nearly identical language in an e-mail sent to Liberal supporters and Ms. Wynne repeated similar comments in a speech Friday to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce.
Ms. Wynne and the Liberals appear to be referring to a May 16 report in The Globe and Mail, which was based on a 57-page draft of the climate plan. As the story said, the plan has yet to be approved by cabinet but it is currently circulating for discussion, debate and review (the draft obtained by The Globe is dated May 11, 2016). The final details will be made public some time in June.
What do the documents say?
Two sections of the confidential draft include actions designed to reduce the province's dependence on natural gas as a fuel for homes and buildings.
"Set targets for updating the Building Code so that new homes and small buildings built in 2030 are not relying on fossil fuels for their heating and cooling. Expand this requirement to all buildings before 2050," according to action no. 13 outlined in the document.
Another section says the province's electricity system will consider "the use of natural gas in buildings and the role of electrification."
Other portions of the draft plan offer grants for homeowners and landlords to install solar and geothermal heating systems in homes in order to switch off gas.
Do these measures constitute "banning natural gas"?
Some people would argue they do, at least for future buildings. Others would say they don't, because the government plan is not mandating that no one ever use natural gas ever again – simply phasing it out over time through public policy.
And the wording in the draft plan itself is vague: When the government says "all buildings" will no longer use fossil fuels for heating and cooling by 2050, it is not clear if they are referring to all new buildings, or to existing buildings as well.
So, what's going on here?
It's possible that the Liberals were always planning to tone down or remove the sections of the climate plan that would cut back on natural gas before the final release in June. Plans can change, after all, after cabinet members have a chance to examine the options.
But so far the Premier, the Environment Minister and other officials have not answered questions on the specific proposals that are contained in the Liberals' own draft – phasing out natural gas for home heating by 2030, for instance – preferring instead to deny a "ban" that arguably never existed.