Three Provinces and Climate Change: The Good, The Bad, and the Silent

The week was scarcely half over by the time three provincial governments or their advisors had weighed in on Canada’s emerging climate strategy.

The stark differences in approach—from a visionary, ambitious program in Ontario, to outright climate denial in Saskatchewan—point to the challenges ahead in the effort to forge an effective, pan-Canadian response to climate change. And both the good news and the bad show how important it will be for front-line voices —reader, this means you!— to insist on a robust plan that goes far beyond Canada’s current, paltry commitment to a 30% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030.

The Right Level of Ambition

“Higher ambition”—the need to quickly push far beyond the carbon targets behind the Paris Agreement—was one of the most important phrases coming out of last year’s United Nations climate conference.

This week, if you could look up “higher ambition” in the dictionary, you’d likely find a picture of the Ontario government’s climate plan.

The province’s four-year, $7-billion program is aiming for an 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050.

Under the Ontario plan, solar, geothermal, and other forms of electric heat will replace natural gas by 2030.

A new provincial Green Bank will fund energy retrofits and off-gas conversions.

Electric vehicle rebates will run as high as $14,000, EV plug-ins will be mandatory in new buildings, and low-income households will get support to trade in their older cars for electrics. By 2024, Ontario is aiming for 1.7 million electric cars in driveways across the province.

It’s a practical, pragmatic, doable vision—exactly what we need from every province, and every country, to speed up the shift to a post-carbon world.

A Backwards Step (and a Petition to Sign)

But sadly, look no farther than Saskatchewan’s May 17 Speech from the Throne for evidence that not every province is prepared to follow Ontario’s courageous lead.

“It is troubling that today, there are some in this country who, given the opportunity, would shut down major parts of Saskatchewan’s economy and put thousands of hard-working Saskatchewan people out of work, all in the name of some misguided dogma that has no basis in reality,” the Throne Speech states. The next paragraph identifies “oil and gas, coal and uranium, livestock and grains” as the products driving the province’s critics—leading to some questions about whether it referred to climate change or GMOs, another issue where the province is at odds with a great many Sierra Club Canada Foundation supporters.

Saskatchewan is going to great ends to make the case for oil and gas as its best path into the future, and is ignoring the potential of clean energy that much of the rest of the world is embracing.

But if they’re actually embracing climate denial, it puts the province at odds with 99% of the world’s climate scientists and the reality we see before us in our daily lives. It wasn’t long before Vancouver communications consultant and Saskatchewan expat Jason Mogus responded with an online petition that you should sign (just as soon as you’re through with this post).

“I was born in Saskatoon and most of my father's family live in your great province,” he tells Saskatchewan residents in a note on the petition site. “But in 2016 it is a great moral and intellectual affront for your Premier—as much as you love and respect him—to call climate change a hoax, and position it as an unfair attack on your economic well-being. This kind of black and white thinking not only denies science, it makes Saskatchewan look like a backwards province out of touch with reality, which I know it is not.”

A Frustrating Silence

In British Columbia, meanwhile, frustration is focusing not on the provincial government’s actions, but on its silence since Premier Christy Clark’s Climate Leadership Team released its final report last November. The province had promised to come back with a draft action plan in December and a final version in March.

In an open letter to Clark this week, seven members of the Leadership Team said it’s time to get on with things. “B.C. can’t be a climate leader if its carbon pollution is rising,” wrote Chief Ian Campbell, Chief Michelle Edwards, Tom Pedersen, Matt Horne, Merran Smith, Tzeporah Berman, and Nancy Olewiler.

“Climate change threatens our economy, our communities, and our environment,” they noted. “We want to see the province reach its climate targets; delay only increases the costs and makes it harder to succeed.”

Time to Raise Your Voice

The mixed response from the provinces shines a spotlight on the federal government’s climate change consultation, and points to the importance of getting involved and raising your voice. It was great news this week when Ottawa extended the consultation period through its official climate portal until September, but the clock is still winding down on one of the most important decisions the Trudeau government will ever make.

The People’s Climate Plan has been organized by a collective of organizations and local groups, including Sierra Club Canada Foundation. Visit the site today. Encourage your friends, family, neighbours, and work colleagues to do the same. And send us a copy of your submissions. Plan to be involved…because this is our moment to shape Canada’s climate future.


Diane Beckett
Interim Executive Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation 

One Earth • One Chance

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