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Ontario’s climate plan is more of a ‘glossy brochure’ than a law. So says the government itself


Ontario’s climate plan is more of a ‘glossy brochure’ than a law. So says the government itself

Ontario says its climate plan has no power to reduce emissions.

And for that reason, it shouldn’t be reviewed or overturned by the courts, provincial lawyers argued in Superior Court this week.

The emissions-reduction plan put forward by the province’s Progressive Conservative government is not a law, but a “communications product” and has no legal force, lawyer Zachary Green told the judge.

The province finds itself arguing that its own climate plan cannot bring about change, in response to seven youth who have brought a landmark lawsuit against Premier Doug Ford’s government for watering down climate legislation in 2018.

The young people from across Ontario claim that their Charter rights were breached when Ford passed the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act, which weakened emission targets set by the previous Liberal government. Instead of the previous emissions reduction target of 37 per cent below 1990 levels, the new law established a plan to reduce emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels, which were 13 per cent higher.

The new target is “woefully inadequate,” lawyers for the young people argued, and puts the province on “a path to climate disaster.”

In response, the province did not argue that the target was sufficient, nor did its lawyers explain its scientific basis. Instead, they claimed the new target is merely aspirational, part of a plan that has no legal force.

“It has no compulsory effect on emitters,” Green said this week. “It was never intended — and is not on its face — a statement of the maximum allowable greenhouse-gas emissions in the province of Ontario in 2030.”

So even if the courts were to order the government to change the plan and establish a more ambitious emissions-reduction target, it “would not affect emissions,” Green said.

Describing Ontario’s carbon-reduction plan as a “glossy brochure,” Green said: “What it looks a lot like is the vast array of government communications that announce policy priorities, aspirations and plans for the future.

“It is not a law that allows, authorizes, permits, prohibits or requires any emissions,” he said.

Nader Hasan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs bringing the case, said the province cannot insulate its actions from the Constitution by claiming they’re simply communications exercises.

“If the target and plan are not reviewable, then I fear that governments’ action in this country on climate change will be immune from judicial scrutiny,” he said.


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Over the course of three days, lawyers for the province and the young people sparred in court over Ford’s climate policies, saying they were either insignificant or critical for humanity’s collective future.

The province claimed that Ontario’s emissions are too small to make a difference globally and that there is no way to prove emissions in Ontario caused any harms suffered by Ontarians due to climate change.

“Climate change … is not a problem that can be solved within the bounds of Ontario,” Green said. “The negative effects that will be suffered here are 99.7 per cent caused by people outside of Ontario’s borders.”

“If the global climate catastrophe foretold by the applicants is going to be avoided, it’s not going to be avoided by making minute reductions to Ontario’s already 0.3 per cent contribution to the problem.”

Ontario’s lawyers also claimed that Ontario shouldn’t be held responsible for cutting emissions because the Supreme Court, in upholding the constitutionality of the federal carbon tax, gave jurisdiction over climate change to Ottawa.

“This is an area where the federal government has the power to regulate, has committed Canada to a certain level of reductions and has all the tools they need to do it,” said Green. “How then does that leave room for the province to somehow be responsible for the adverse effects of climate change because of its own target?”

Climate policy should be left to international negotiations, argued provincial lawyer Padraic Ryan.

“That is the appropriate venue for solving this problem, not mandatory supervisory orders from this court,” Ryan said.

Hasan characterized the province’s defence as “a blueprint for rendering governments immune from constitutional judicial review on some of the most important decisions that any government in this country will be making for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately, their position is not supported by law,” Hasan said.

The climate plan and emission-reduction target is not a PR exercise; rather, they “represent Ontario’s omnibus, whole-of-government approach to curb emissions,” he said.

Not only is the plan required by the law, but it was subject to 60 days of public consultations and approved by the lieutenant-governor, Hasan said.

The province previously held up the plan in court as a serious commitment to combating climate change. In its Supreme Court filings, Ontario said its climate plan rendered the federal carbon tax unnecessary.

In summing up his remarks, Hasan said the province’s case relies on “shallow excuses for governments having done next to nothing to combat one of the most serious threats to humanity that we have seen.”

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