Last February  at Toronto’s Spring Fishing and Boat Show, then Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Doug Ford dropped in somewhat unexpectedly at the fishing industry’s annual breakfast for an impromptu meet and greet. During a brief address, Ford talked about how he and his late brother, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, loved fishing at their Muskoka cottage and enjoying the outdoors, implying he was one of us and would watch out for our interests. As most know, Ford indeed won the party leadership and would go on to also topple the Liberals and become premier of Ontario that June.
Fast-forward to this past September, when the new government made good on Ford’s election vow to scrap Ontario’s carbon cap-and-trade program, which he had denounced as a “government cash grab” that does “nothing for the environment.” Fair game. As Ford likes to say, “promise made, promise kept.” But here’s the thing, the program did do something for the environment.
For those not familiar with how the cap-and-trade system works, in a nutshell, it sets a cap on a company’s greenhouse gas emissions, and if the company goes over that cap, it can buy a credit from the government to compensate. That money, here in Ontario, was then used to fund programs to promote energy-efficiency in homes, schools, hospitals, public transit and so on. (Inversely, a company can sell credits if it comes under the cap.) The end goal was to help stave off the economically ruinous implications of climate change.
By all accounts, the program was working, leading Ontario’s environmental commissioner, Dianne Saxe, to criticize the axing of the program as “bad for our environment, bad for our health and bad for business.” In a report, the independent officer of the legislature also stated that Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions had dropped to the lowest level ever reported, and that the program was “providing the motivation and billions in funding for meaningful emission reductions across the province.”
Well, that’s all gone now, and what’s worse, the Ford government scrapped cap-and-trade without first announcing what it was going to put in its place. Sure, the government says it believes in climate change, but what is it going to do about it? Even if the new provincial government didn’t like the cap-and-trade regime, at least it was something.
Climate change aside, Queen’s Park has issued several other edicts that similarly reveal an abiding disregard for the environment. In early November, for example, no less than Dianne Saxe got her walking papers after the province deep-sixed the 26-year-old Office of the Environmental Commissioner altogether. That was just days after Saxe issued her annual report, in it warning about the dire state of Ontario’s freshwater resources. You know, that stuff fish live in? Oh, and by the way, her office was also responsible for monitoring wildlife disease (chronic wasting disease is now at our doorstep) and the loss of forests and wetlands.
And the disbanding of the Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario wasn’t an isolated event. In early July, the Ford government also dismissed the province’s chief scientist, Molly Shoichet. Her job was to advise the province on key scientific matters and help ensure policies were based on sound science. At the time of Shoichet’s firing, a Ford spokesperson said a replacement would be found. That has yet to happen, and the office’s website is now dormant.
These are unsettling trends for someone like me who so cherishes our environment. Premier Ford, you say you and your government are for the people—as you should be—and that’s a good thing. So, I have to ask, are you also for the anglers and hunters of this province, and anyone else with an abiding interest in the health and ongoing sustainability of our environment? We trust you’ll show us that you are. Tax cuts and the snipping of red tape are fine and welcomed, but they won’t matter a whit if they come at the expense of our wildlife and wild places.
This editorial first appeared in Outdoor Canada’s Ice-Fishing Special 2019. For an online-only follow-up editorial, please click here.