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The Globe and Mail

Recently, Ontario’s Conservative politicians were photographed filling up their tanks at gas stations, with all the natural enthusiasm of hostages in ransom videos. In particular, I felt sympathy for the Attorney-General, Caroline Mulroney, a promising newcomer to the political scene who has been reduced to a prop in one of the foolish, most dangerous battles this government has picked – which is saying something, because they’ve picked a few.

We, the taxpayers – for this is how citizens are invariably described by Doug Ford’s government – were meant to cheer on our brave gas-pump champions. There they were, fighting the federal government’s imposition of a 4.4-cent-a-litre levy on fuel (part of the Liberals’ comprehensive plan to fight climate change, this money will be returned to Ontario households in their tax refunds). Instead, all I could think of was the scene in Zoolander where the idiot male models decide to have a gasoline fight, and blow themselves up with cheery abandon. Because that’s what we’re doing in Canada’s most populous province: walking right into a climate disaster with gasoline spewing and a lit cigarette in our mouths.

Stage 2 in the great gas-station war of ’19 is a propaganda campaign featuring stickers on gas pumps, which I would find hilarious if it were an item in The Beaverton. Alas, it is not. With great pomp – and, yes, two cabinet ministers at the pumps – the stickers were revealed at a news conference. At an untold cost, these stickers will be placed on gas pumps across the province, reminding motorists that they will be asked to pay a tiny bit more for the gas that they put in their cars – gas that will turn into emissions that exacerbate our climate-change problem. Oddly, the stickers do not mention the rebate the federal government will be delivering at tax time.

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, centre, stands with Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek, left, and Minister of Infrastructure Monte McNaughton during a news conference in Toronto on April, 10, 2019.

Chris Young/The Canadian Press

This is a propaganda war that the Ford government is going to lose. It is a war that people in this province and across the country are already losing, as we fail to meaningfully address the climate-change crisis. You know who has better propaganda than any government? Mother Nature. Her campaign takes the form of increasing wildfires, droughts, flooding and extreme weather events that are already happening across the country, and will get worse if we keep on our path of short-sighted, miserly, future-sacrificing retail politics.

The devastating effects of climate change are already here. Severe weather cost $1.9-billion in insured damages across the country last year, as the Insurance Bureau of Canada noted. And yet, in Ontario, we are doubling down, betting against our own future. The Ontario Conservatives are paying to take the federal government to court over its (actually useful) carbon levy, at a cost of millions of dollars. They cancelled the previous government’s cap-and-trade program, at a cost of $3-billion over four years, according to the province’s Financial Accountability Officer. Premier Ford is fond of talking about the little guy, but I’m starting to think the little guy has a “kick me” sticker on his pants.

The cost of ignoring climate change will be incalculable. Don’t take my word for it. Instead, read Canada’s Changing Climate, a new report from Environment and Climate Change Canada, which reveals that our country is warming at double the global average, and offers perilous scenarios if emissions are not curtailed. “In the future, a warmer climate will intensify some weather extremes,” the report reads. “Extreme hot temperatures will become more frequent and more intense. This will increase the severity of heatwaves, and contribute to increased drought and wildfire risks.” Failure to rein in greenhouse gases means there will be coastal flooding, and “extreme fire weather” and melting glaciers and ocean acidification that will threaten marine ecosystems. But hey, what does that matter when you could be saving a few bucks every time you fill up?

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The provincial government’s sticker war was announced on Pravda – sorry, I mean Ontario News Now, the government’s self-stroking media arm – as “Introducing Transparency Measures to Expose the True Cost of the Federal Carbon Tax.” That’s a breathtaking claim from a government that has proved, on environmental measures particularly, about as transparent as filthy snow bank at the end of March.

A truly transparent government might have had the integrity to highlight the final report of the province’s environmental commissioner, Dianne Saxe, whose office has just been eliminated. I searched in vain on government websites for A Healthy, Happy Prosperous Ontario: Why We Need More Energy Conservation. I finally had to ask Dr. Saxe to e-mail me the report.

It’s a very interesting read, if you can find it, although depressing in the manner that so much is depressing in the province these days. Because, instead of building on existing conservation efforts – which as Dr. Saxe points out are good for the economy and for the environment – the Ford government is actually moving toward gutting them. Just before the report was released, the government announced it would be eliminating several key energy-conservation programs, even if they were popular and cost-effective.

You can still find Dr. Saxe’s news conference on YouTube, where she notes that “climate change is already here, and it’s doing enormous damage.” She called the province’s climate response “very inadequate, very frightening.” Where the country’s richest province could be leading the way, it is instead moving backward: “We have all the science, we’ve known the basics for 40 years,” Dr. Saxe said. “And we keep doing the wrong thing. In Ontario we’re doing the wrong thing.”

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Well, the Ford government won’t have to worry about hearing from the Office of the Environmental Commissioner anymore. Those alarm bells have gone silent. The province has won that propaganda battle. But when Ontarians look out the window, when we see school children protesting for climate justice because their elders have let them down, we’ll know we’re losing the war.

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