Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says critics of her government's sweeping climate-change strategy must wait for the "final plan" but provided no details about whether her government has changed course in regards to a scheme to phase out the use of natural gas for home heating.
"The final plan will come out. You will see that in very short order," she told reporters in Calgary on Friday.
"I think what you should do is wait for the plan."
Ms. Wynne responded to questions regarding what she agreed was a "draft" document outlining the province's long-term climate-change plan. The document, which was obtained by The Globe and Mail this month, said a key plank of the program would be setting targets to update "the Building Code so that new homes and small buildings built in 2030 are not relying on fossil fuels for their heating and cooling," and to "expand this requirement to all buildings before 2050."
More than three-quarters of Ontario households use natural gas for heating. This week, Ms. Wynne distanced herself from that part of the climate blueprint, which had spurred criticism – from her provincial political opponents as well as Canadian energy executives – that it would result in a massive increase in costs for Ontario consumers.
The draft plan obtained by The Globe also said the government would offer rebates of up to $20,000 to individuals who purchase a high-performance new home that doesn't rely on natural gas or other fossil fuel for home heating or appliances.
During a speech at the Calgary Chamber on Friday, Ms. Wynne reiterated her contention that "reports that said that we were banning natural gas in Ontario were wrong, they were not true, and that has never been our position."
Without responding to specific elements of her government's plan for natural-gas use, she later told reporters: "I've been very clear about the reality that we are not banning natural gas, that in fact we are expanding the use of natural gas into rural and northern communities. … It's part of our long-term mix of energy in the province."
But Calgary Chamber president and chief executive Adam Legge later told reporters he was pleased to hear "the change around the position, or the thoughts around natural gas," from Ms. Wynne.
"That's a positive for Alberta because there actually is more opportunity for Alberta to displace some U.S.-purchased natural gas in Ontario."
Ms. Wynne shared a table with a number of energy executives in Calgary on Friday, including TransCanada Corp.'s Russ Girling and Enbridge Inc. chief executive officer Al Monaco. Earlier this week, Mr. Monaco – head of the country's largest gas-distributing firm – publicly warned against the Ontario plan for a long-term phasing out of natural-gas heating for homes and businesses, and said new generation and distribution capabilities would require a $200-billion investment.
Ms. Wynne's government also put out a news release this week that said natural gas will continue to play a key role in Ontario's energy supply, but the focus will be on "renewable natural gas" – a gas product that comes from the decomposition of organic matter from sources such as landfills, livestock manure or food and beverage manufacturing waste.
During her Chamber speech, Ms. Wynne also took great pains to emphasize interdependence between Alberta and Ontario, and commerce between the two provinces. She noted the two provinces represent 50 per cent of Canada's population, and contribute more than half of the country's GDP.
Ms. Wynne also paid heed to Alberta's push to build new pipelines to get more of its oil to new markets, both in Canada and overseas. She referenced TransCanada's proposed Energy East project that would transport oil from Western North America and ship it across the country, for domestic use and export. Ms. Wynne said she believes the Alberta NDP government's climate-change plan – which includes a significant price on carbon and a cap on oil-sands emissions – "makes a real difference in advancing this project," which has been mired in environmental controversy.
She later told reporters that the project must still meet a number of conditions she has already laid out – including exacting safety standards and consultations with First Nations – but she offers "practical support" for the project.
The Ontario Premier acknowledged during her speech that the Alberta economy's reliance on oil sands, and conventional oil and natural gas production, makes the task of reducing greenhouse gases in the western province more challenging.
"Alberta is Canada's energy leader. The task here is more complex," Ms. Wynne said.