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Opinion: Government has Ontario on the wrong climate road

Sudbury climate activist Cathy Orlando says under Premier Doug Ford, the province is plowing ahead on new gas pipelines and gas-powered electricity projects 
Sudbury climate activist Cathy Orlando participated in a media scrum on March 6 at Queen's Park alongside MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam, MPP Sandy Shaw and fellow Citizens' Climate Lobbyists Guy Hanchet (Peterborough) and Dr. Doug Pritchard (Toronto East). 

My name is Cathy Orlando, and I am a climate advocate based in Sudbury. Lately, I feel like I am akin to Alice, running as fast as I can in the Red Queen's race, as depicted in Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass," as progress on the climate crisis seems elusive.

The "Red Queen" effect implies that doing nothing results in falling behind, and one must exert considerable effort just to maintain the current position. Presently, the Government of Ontario has plans to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure. 

This decision propels the Ontario economy and environment in the opposite direction of where we need to go and will not contribute to cost reductions in a world where almost every country is struggling with affordability issues. 

I am also unnerved by the fact that the end of the winter snowpack in Sudbury is at record lows, as well as Environment Canada's temperature anomaly forecast covering March, April, and May 2024. It shows a warmer than normal spring for most of the country, with Ontario being no exception. The potential for more record-breaking high temperatures cannot be ruled out. 

But I also have hope, because I know climate action now will make our lives more affordable and we have everything we need to decarbonize our economy.

On Feb. 27, I watched proceedings at Tom Davies Square. I was asked afterward by a reporter about my thoughts on the fact that our city is not on track to meet its net-zero goals by 2050. I was not surprised. The fact is 85 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) come from burning fossil fuels. 

No amount of tree planting can offset expansion of infrastructure in the fossil fuel industry. We must unwind our energy systems off fossil fuels. 

It is 100-per-cent possible and there is an example right here in our city. Naneff Gardens on Donnelly Drive in Garson, built in 2010, is a subdivision heated by geothermal energy. Boris Naneff asked me way back in 2010, "How come we can't get Greater Sudbury to build more subdivisions heated by geothermal?" 

I did not have the answer back then, but I do now. The Ontario government controls the energy file and they are being misled. 

The Ontario Energy Board (OEB), our independent government watchdog, warned the Government of Ontario not to invest in any new gas pipelines for home heating. Yet, Ontario is plowing ahead. If Bill 165 passes, it will be the first time ever the Ontario government has turned down a decision by the OEB. 

If Bill 165 passes, ratepayers will hand over to Enbridge $400 million per year or $120 per Enbridge ratepayer per year for the next five years. Yet, in 2023, their CEO earned $19 milliona year, and their company had record profits of $16.5 billiion.This is an excellent example that shows how corporate greed is causing inflation.

The Ford Government is standing in the way of decarbononizing our electricity sector, too. Despite the fact the largest funder of fossil fuels on the planet, the Royal Bank of Canada, concluded Ontario should not invest in gas-powered electricity, our government is plowing ahead to do that, too.

In addition, in 2023 insurance rates increased by 7.7 per cent according to Statistics Canada, with premiums increasing and coverage diminishing as well. More than 1.5 million high-risk households cannot obtain affordable flood insurance in Canada. As an ever increasing portion of these costs fall on taxpayers (whether through increases in direct payments or increases in tax dollars spent on coverage), the need for urgent reducing fossil fuel pollution that is heating our planet becomes clearer. 

Why is this happening? The fact is climate disinformation is accelerating just as fast as the climate crisis. We may be living in a  Vladimir Putin-disinformation-infested world, but I am confident I am not alone in my worry because I don't work alone.

So, for the second time in six months, I co-directed a breakfast at Queen's Park with our MPPs. The date was Feb. 26 and it was done in collaboration with 10 organizations, including Citizens' Climate Lobby Canada and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment – Ontario. 

The room buzzed as 12 MPPs and staffers from six other offices, representing all four political parties gathered to listen, alongside 58 climate advocates, to our guest speakers. Evan Wiseman of The Atmospheric Fund emphasized the imperative of clean energy and improving health in Ontario. A poignant moment came from family physician Dr. Jane Pritchard, who shared a sobering firsthand account of the impact of the climate crisis on the mental health of youth in her practice. 

Her message to youth, "Climate anxiety is an appropriate response."

What made this event truly empowering was the presence of young advocates like our conference facilitator, Vanessa Fiore, who has been leading a Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter since the age of 16, and teenagers such as Maggie Fu and Sophia Mathur, both of whom started lobbying with us at the tender ages of 11 and seven, respectively. 

I returned to Queen's Park for a media scrum on March 6 with MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam, MPP Sandy Shaw and fellow Citizens' Climate Lobbyists Guy Hanchet (Peterborough) and Dr. Doug Pritchard (Toronto East). 

Our message to the government is their plans will cost Ontarians more, is bad for the planet and it is undemocratic for the Ford government to succumb to climate disinformation and disregard the expert advice of the Royal Bank of Canada, the Ontario Energy Board, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), all of whom bluntly advise against building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

I was also in the Queen's Park Gallery on March 6 when party leaders paid tribute to former prime minister Brian Mulroney. I had the pleasure of meeting Mulroney twice in the 1980s, and I was a huge fan. He demonstrated that the environment and the economy are intertwined, and  his legacy as Canada's greenest prime minister includes the fact that both the IPCC and the UNFCCC were established in the early 1990s during his tenure.

The truth is that the current developments in Ontario, specifically the plans by Energy Minister Todd Smith to invest in new fossil fuel energy infrastructure, will incur higher costs, hurt the planet, and pose a threat to democratic principles and fly in the face of the IPCC and UNFCCC.

Premier Doug Ford, I suspect your government is being misled by Enbridge. Citizens' Climate Lobby Canada members will be at the committee hearings for overturning the Ontario Energy Board, and we are already planning our next event at Queen's Park.

We are here to help create the political will for a liveable world and will stand behind politicians of any stripe who stand up for the climate. 

Sudburian Cathy Orlando is the director of programs for Citizens’ Climate International.

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