Auditor poised for sharp critique of Doug Ford’s climate change plan

The Ford government is bracing for a sharply critical report from Ontario’s auditor general that will cast doubt on its forecasts for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk has the authority to review the government’s progress toward hitting its climate change targets, partially replacing the role played by Ontario’s environmental commissioner, a position the Ford government scrapped this year. 

Multiple sources close to the government tell CBC News that Lysyk’s report will question whether the measures in the Progressive Conservatives’ “Made in Ontario Environment Plan” will be sufficient to meet the province’s commitments on cutting carbon emissions by 2030, in line with the Paris Accord.

Lysyk declined comment ahead of the release of her report, expected in the next two weeks. 

Ontario’s former environmental commissioner, Dianne Saxe, says she saw “no credible evidence” supporting the government’s emission-reduction forecasts by the time her post was terminated at the end of March. 

Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk is about to release a report that will cast doubt on the Ford government’s ability to meet its climate change targets, sources tell CBC News. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

“I don’t know what the auditor general is going to say but I do know that the government’s climate plan doesn’t add up,” Saxe said in an interview Friday.

“I don’t know of anything this government has done that’s actually going to reduce our [carbon] footprint and I can think of quite a few that will increase our climate pollution.” 

Saxe said the forecasts in the plan don’t account for policy changes that she believes will increase emissions, such as cancelling green energy projects, expanding natural gas pipelines and encouraging lower-density housing developments. 

“All of the things they’ve done to worsen our climate pollution are left out of the plan,” said Saxe. 

She doubts the government’s proposals for action will achieve the greenhouse gas reductions laid out in its plan. For instance, while the plan forecasts reduced emissions through wider use of electric vehicles, the government has scrapped all incentives for consumers to buy them. 

Hitting the targets relies significantly on what the government says will be industry innovations to cut emissions, encouraged through a provincial fund. It’s modelled on the Australian government’s climate plan, a system criticized for failing to reduce emissions.  

There is “no evidence it’s going to do what they say,” Saxe said.

Dianne Saxe was Ontario’s environmental commissioner until the Ford government eliminated her post at the end of March. (CBC)

CBC News asked Environment Minister Jeff Yurek whether the government is on track to meet its climate change targets. 

“I believe we’ve made a number of steps forward,” Yurek said Thursday. “This is a plan that is going to evolve over time. We’re in the first year of it, so we’ve done a lot of the groundwork.” 

Yurek added: “I believe we will reach our target as we evolve this plan.”  

Ontario is already more than two-thirds of the way towards reaching the 2030 Paris target of reducing emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels. The bulk of those reductions are from the previous Liberal government’s closure of the province’s coal-fired generating stations.  

Jeff Yurek is Ontario’s minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks. (The Canadian Press)

Yurek announced the creation of a 10-member advisory panel on climate change Thursday. His choices for the panel immediately faced criticism from environmental groups for focusing solely on coping with the impacts of climate change while lacking expertise in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The government has been struggling all week to stamp out a controversy triggered Monday when Energy Minister Greg Rickford said in the Legislature that a climate-change denial blog is “one of my favourite periodicals.”

The website, Climate Change Dispatch, says its purpose is highlighting “studies and papers that consistently contradict the theory of CO2-driven global warming.”

On Tuesday, when questioned by CBC News about the blog’s leanings, Rickford said it is important to “consider all periodicals and sources of literature with differing views.”

On Wednesday, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek declined to criticize Rickford for citing the blog. Then on Thursday, Rickford refused to state in the Legislature his views about climate change.

After question period, Rickford emerged to face reporters at Queen’s Park and said, “I believe in climate change and I believe it’s a consequence of human activity. Thank you,” then walked away.