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Greening ideas for apartment buildings

Hello everyone,

Through my work at Scott Library and my connection with the Institute For Research and Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), I heard of the interesting programme for first year engineering students at the University of Toronto. Each year individuals or groups can submit real world problems that require engineering solutions to the Engineering Strategies and Practice course (APS112 & APS113) in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering. I submitted a proposal for my apartment building in December 2012.

Two teams were eventually selected to handle my proposal to find solutions for either a solar panel installation or a green roof. The overall goal was to increase energy efficiency of the building and/ or have a system to generate energy in an environmentally friendly fashion.

From January to the end of April 2013, I assisted two teams of five engineering students on these projects. I was struck by each team’s professionalism, courtesy and efficiency. The two team leaders communicated with me in a timely fashion, keeping me abreast of the progress of the teams’ efforts, when our next meetings would be held and if there was any additional information required to complete the design plans.

I met with the teams on several occasions for tours of my building and the surrounding area and also to allow for my debriefings on the stages of the planning/ development of the assignment. I found all the participants respectful of each other and everyone played a part in these meetings and answered all my questions and concern. The teams were thorough in their investigation, analysis and solutions. They were always open to considering my suggestions and comments regarding the project and indeed sought them out.

Each group delivered a presentation to which I was invited. Both teams gave very professional summations of their projects. Everyone handled the questions from the audience of classmates and faculty with aplomb and gave detailed responses to whatever issues raised.

apt building

Both teams completed a Final Design Specification (FDS) paper which I found to be thorough and well written, and both included impressive lists of resources used to base their conclusions and findings. I do not have sufficient professional knowledge of the engineering field to offer an in depth assessment of these sources, but as far as I am able to judge, the sources appeared relevant and worthwhile. The papers offered solutions to resource consumption and conservation. One team’s solutions included a “master” on/off switch for non-essential electrical appliances in each unit, an electricity meter in every apartment to allow everyone the option of monitoring their usage, occupancy sensor-assisted lighting in the underground parking and roof top solar panels with tracking systems. The second team designed a system called a “Power Plateau” which consisted of an array of roof top solar panels as well as a rain harvesting unit to supplement the water usage of the building’s occupants.

Summing up, I found both teams were extremely capable and effective and devoted to completing the objectives of the course in a professional and scholarly manner. They were polite and pleasant to work with and I would recommend anyone to participate in this programme. The end product of a professionally researched and written report with grounded engineering solutions geared to the specifics of individual circumstances, at no cost, helps everyone involved in this process. 

Many thanks,

All the best in 2014,

Peter Duerr
Domestic Government Documents Librarian
Disaster & Emergency Management Studies Librarian

“No matter how many setbacks there may be along the road, you may be sure that some day the right and the just will prevail. It will prevail simply because it is right and just.” Tommy Douglas

Creating Energy Justice

This past Saturday, an oil-bearring train derailed and crashed in Gainford, Alberta, a village near near Edmonton; luckily no one was hurt. The event took me back to July when another oil-bearring train derailment in Lac Megantic killed 47 people and the town was left a mess, and is still continuing to recover. Canada has had several derailment spills in 2013 that are largely ignored. This most recent crash came on the same day of the Line 9 rally in Toronto. The rally opposed Enbridge's plan to reverse the flow-direction of the existing Line 9 pipeline, which would require using an additive to the oil that makes the pipes more likely to burst and spill. Line 9 passes through some of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Ontario, , 99 cities and towns and 18 Aboriginal communities also alongside the pipe. 

Rail transport of oil has rapidly expanded in recent years due to the claim of lacking pipeline infrastructure. Rail transport is extremely dangerous in that it is a direct cause of human death in addition to the devastating affects left on the environment by spilling. Some might say that the derailing is one more reason to go forward with the pipeline. That being said, we should not forget the history of pipeline spills, in their frequency, enormous magnitude and most importantly the action (or inaction) following these spills.  The continuing development of oil infrastructure, and the amount of spillage incurring has continued to displace people from their homes while failing to adequately consult community stakeholders and destroy lands and waters required for basic human needs. The environmental destruction caused has harmed people, wildlife and the environment beyond repair. The spills occurring from these pipelines often take an unreasonable amount of time just to cap the spill and even longer for site remediation and clean up. Often this cleanup results in "recovered" areas are made to look like a healthy environment, when in reality they are planted with species that can thrive in oil ridden environments and when you physically dig just below the surface, oil would leach right out of the ground. Seemingly nothing positive can come out of this discussion, and more can be said about the environmental effects of extraction, processing and use of oil. 

Today the Canadian government's main economic objective is to expand the oil industry. The largest inhibiter of growth of the oil industry is lack of infrastructure to transport. It makes no sense to me that oil companies are making billions of dollars a year while we, the people living practically on top of the pipelines,  are suffering the consequences of their mistakes and paying a premium while we watch our oil sold to other countries. These accidents have not slowed and will continue to occur. The Line 9 rally speakers exposed the the public that Enbridge's own data showing that Line 9 would burst after a short time in operation,  and further, that none of the Aboriginal communities had been consulted on the line built next to their homes.

I encourage people to educate themselves on the decisions that are being made in their communities so they can have a voice in the outcome. The pipeline is running just south of York University's Keele campus. At the rally, community voices were heard louder than ever and hearings from the National Energy Board and Enbridge were postponed indefinitely. Be a voice in your community because you are a stakeholder! Without people speaking out, decisions will be made with no consultation and the consequences will be paid by the public. Making change is never convenient but well worth it when it means saving lives and biodiversity. We have seen change in Ontario, when we capped sulphur dioxide emissions to stop acid rain and we became leaders by closing and phasing out our coal-fired power plants.

 Ontario could be at the turning point of its energy supply. Ontario's Nuclear facilities are reaching their age of closure, Premier Kathleen Wynne has just rejected the new build of the Darlington power plant, coal-fired power plants are closing and renewable technologies are expanding. Ontario has the chance to make a shift into clean and renewable energy. Just last week the World Health Organization reported that air pollution is the main cause for cancer. Know what is happening in Ontario and help make decisions that benefit communities. 

You can read more about what happened at the rally this past Saturday here.

The Drummond Report and Ontario’s Future

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield’s blog.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government is widely seen to have survived the province’s October 2011 election less as a result of its own appeal to the electorate and more as a result of errors and misfortunes on the part of PC Leader Tim Hudak. The government was seen to be tired, and out of ideas about how to move forward on the economic, social and environmental challenges facing Ontario. The first few months of the government’s new minority mandate have been notable only for the lack of new initiatives and the ORNG air ambulance debacle.

The Report of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services (a.k.a. the Drummond Report) has, to some degree, now provided a government that was in search of an agenda with one.  Whether it is an agenda that will serve Ontario’s interests well in the long term is another question altogether. The Commission’s report is extremely broad in its scope, and its most interesting, imaginative and detailed aspects deal with health care.

The report’s other elements vary greatly in their depth and originality. Its sections dealing with electricity, the environment, natural resources management and land-use, for example, are generally thin on new analysis and largely endorse the government’s existing policy directions. There are remarkably few new ideas and quite a few old ones of very doubtful value. Further “streamlining” an environmental assessment process that has already been ‘reformed’ to a point of virtual meaninglessness and increasing the reliance on not-for-profit corporations controlled by the industries they are supposed to regulate hardly look like progress  from the perspective of advancing sustainability or protecting public safety, health and the environment.

More generally the report, with its focus on “efficiencies,” lacks any overall positive vision for where the province should be going.  It does ask the government to articulate an “economic vision” for Ontario – highlighting by implication the government’s failure to effectively provide such a vision so far. The lack of any underlying sense of the way forward makes it difficult to evaluate the wisdom of the bulk of Drummond’s proposals. This is particularly true with respect to education, an area with major implications in terms of longer-term economic and environmental strategy.

Moreover, the report is almost entirely focussed on the expenditure side of the equation. In fairness to Mr.Drummond that limitation was imposed by the government. There are strong suggestions that the province review the usefulness of its existing $1.3 billion per year in direct business support and $2.3 billion per year in corporate tax expenditures. However, there are few specific recommendations or any sense of the potential to generate additional revenue by closing loopholes that have long outlived their purposes or which may have been of questionable value in the first place. Some modest opportunities to generate new revenues through user fees (e.g. charging for parking at GO terminals and full cost pricing of sewer and water services) and terminating the pre-election gimmicks of the undergraduate university tuition fee rebate and the Clean Energy Benefit on electricity bills are identified, and there is some discussion of the possibility of road tolls as a transit funding mechanism, but there is no discussion of more substantial options on the revenue side.

The cancellation of the final stage of the government’s corporate tax cuts seems likely at this stage. Given the burdens in terms of lost services and increased user fees that ordinary Ontarians are being asked to accept, some contribution from a business community that has benefitted from a succession of tax cuts will be politically essential.  That step would save about $800 million per year in revenues.

More serious revenue options like occupying some of the tax room vacated by the federal government when it cut the GST  by increasing the provincial portion of the HST, – or better still more ambitious strategies like the introduction of a carbon tax (something Mr.Drummond himself proposed in 2008) have not been put on the table. Given the scale of the impact of Mr.Drummond’s proposals, those options need to become part of the conversation.

Even Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (with considerable prompting from city council) when faced with similar challenges, recognized the need to move on the revenue side to moderate the need for damaging expenditure reductions. The risks of the province mortgaging its future by focussing exclusively on expenditures are far too large for it to ignore the same alternative.

A declining US market for exports, the difficulties for export-oriented value-added economic activities posed by a rising Canadian dollar driven by resource exports from western Canada, the regional impacts of climate change, the rural-urban split evident in the outcome of the 2011 election, and a federal government oriented towards the interests of the Alberta, have all contributed to the challenges facing the province. But more imagination and vision that what Mr.Drummond has offered will be needed to put the province back onto a path towards sustainability and prosperity.

Mark Winfield’s new book Blue-Green Province – The Environment and the Political Economy of Ontario has just been published by UBC Press.

The Drummond Report and the Environment, Energy, Natural Resources and Public Safety in Ontario.

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield’s blog.

General Observations

As expected the Report of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services (a.k.a. the Drummond Report) report is extremely broad in scope. The report’s most interesting, imaginative and detailed aspects deal with health care. Its elements related to electricity, the environment, natural resources management and land-use, by contrast generally lack depth and largely endorse the government’s existing policy directions. There are remarkably few new ideas in these areas and quite a few old ones of very doubtful value from the perspective of advancing sustainability or protecting public safety, health and the environment. Think the “common sense revolution” with a human face with respect to these topics.

(For a more detailed discussion of the report’s overall implications see my February 19th post


Environment, Energy, Natural Resources and Public Safety Highlights

Some of the highlights in terms of energy, the environment, natural resources management, land-use and public administration are as follows.

Chapter 12 – Infrastructure Real Estate and Electricity

Public Infrastructure

• The report endorses a move to full cost recovery on water and wastewater services by municipalities and the Ontario Clean Water Agency, a recommendation made a decade ago by the Walkerton Inquiry and yet to be fully implemented.


• The report recognizes that the gap between Metrolinx’s transit plans and committed funding resources is “the elephant in the transit room”


• The Commission recommends that an Integrated Power System Plan based on the province’s Long-Term Energy Plan be adopted. The recommendation seems to ignore the consideration that the Commission’s own conclusions regarding future rates of economic growth throw fundamental assumptions about the future of electricity demand underlying the plan into doubt.

• The report recommends that the impact of the Green Energy Act on electricity prices be mitigated by lowering FIT rates and introduce digression rates to reduce the tariffs over time – directions in which the government is likely to move as a result of the FIT review. The impacts on electricity prices of cost-overruns on nuclear refurbishment projects are by contrast ignored.

the Report suggests a stronger emphasis on competitive request for proposal bidding processes for acquiring new electricity supply, although it is ambiguous about whether the implied criticism is directed at the FIT program, the province’s approach to procuring conventional supply (particularly nuclear) or both.

• The commission’s other recommendations include the termination of the Ontario Clean Energy Benefit as soon as possible and increases in the ratio of peak to off-peak electricity rates. There are also the usual calls for some sort of “rationalization” of the roles of the alphabet soup of agencies involved in the electricity sector.

Chapter 13 – Environment and Natural Resources

Ministry of the Environment Approvals Reform

• The report provides an unqualified endorsement of the Ministry of the Environment’s approvals reform project. This is despite very serious concerns that have been raised about its impact on environmental protection and the rights of the public to participate in environmental decision-making (see The report emphasizes the importance of “risk-based” approaches to approvals, but makes no mention of the failure of the existing process to deal with the cumulative effects of emissions from multiple sources – a problem likely to be exacerbated by the approvals “reform” process.

Environmental Assessment

• The report pulls out some very old chestnuts regarding environmental assessment. There are calls for further streamlining of the environmental assessment process – a surprising recommendation given the Environmental Commissioner’s recent conclusions that the Ontario process has already been “streamlined” to the point of virtual meaninglessness ( The report also calls for “substitution” of federal and provincial EAs for each other – again a surprising suggestion given that the evidence of federal/provincial overlap in this area in Ontario is virtually nil (the same conclusion applies the Commission’s more general recommendation regarding the overlap of environmental responsibilities between the province and the federal government). The more serious question that exists is the lack of any meaningful assessment by either level of government of the major mining projects taking place (first the Victor Diamond Mine in Attawapiskat and now the “Ring of Fire” development) in Ontario’s far north.

Cost Recovery

• More positively the report recommends moves towards full cost recovery for sewer and water services and environmental approvals, and a more meaningful pricing regime for water takings.

Natural Resources Management and Land-Use in Southern Ontario

• The report includes a vague recommendation of the consolidation of various agencies involved in natural resources management and land-use planning in southern Ontario. Given the diversity of the mandates and functions of the agencies involved this could prove vastly more complex than it sounds. Whether it would lead to better policy implementation on the ground is another question altogether.

Environmental Liabilities and Financial Assurances

One area where the report does recommend strengthening the province’s approach is with respect to requirements for financial assurances for activities which may leave the province with environmental liabilities – mines sites, for example where if an operator goes bankrupt the province could be left with the costs of closure and perpetual care of the site, tailings and waste rock. These requirements were weakened significantly through the Harris governments notorious Bill 26 – the Savings and Restructuring Act. The report also recommends a Superfund-like mechanism to finance the remediation of abandoned contaminated sites.

Chapter 16 – Operating and Back-Office Expenditures

Delegated Administrative Authorities

• The report provides an unqualified endorsement of Delegated Administrative Authority model for government regulatory functions. This is despite some spectacular regulatory failures on the part of such agencies in Ontario (e.g. the Sunrise Propane explosion) and long-standing concerns regarding accountability, performance, cost-effectiveness and desirability of separating regulatory and policy functions (see my commentary on the TSSA and the Sunrise Propane explosion ( and work on this subject for the Walkerton Inquiry (

Mark Winfield’s new book Blue-Green Province – The Environment and the Political Economy of Ontario has just been published by UBC Press.

There’s No Green in Harperland: The Northern Gateway, the “Radical Groups,” and what it means for the future of Canada’s Environment, Economy and Politics.

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield’s blog.

Federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s “open letter” on diversifying Canada’s energy markets and reforming the regulatory approval process for energy projects, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s remarks in an interview with The National’s Peter Mansbridge last week regarding the Northern Gateway pipeline project from Alberta’s oil sands to the BC coast have intensified the already growing debates about energy policy, the environment, and the roles and rights of the public and First Nations in decision-making processes.

The attacks on free speech, public participation, and civil society implicit in the Prime Minister and minister’s remarks and the underlying double standard with respect to acceptability of massive expenditures by international corporations in favour of energy development and export projects in Canada but hyperbolic objections to the relatively small amounts of US foundation money supporting some of the participants in the Northern Gateway hearings (to say nothing of the government’s aggressive lobby in the United States in favour of the Keystone pipeline) have been rightly pilloried in the both cyberspace and the mainstream media (For Rick Mercer’s contribution see

The government’s stance begs some deeper consideration as well. Listening to the Prime Minister and Minster of Natural Resources one comes away with the impression that the Canadian economy and its future prospects are limited to the further expansion of the oil sands and the export of their products. The rest of the Canadian economy and the possibility of paths forward beyond the oil sands do not seem to exist in their minds.

The risks associated with such a view on the part of the federal government are enormous. The environmental consequences in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use and contamination, air pollution, tailings generation and management, and destruction of the boreal forest of the accelerating development of the oil sands are well documented and understood. The Royal Society of Canada, federal Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development and others have highlighted the failures of the Federal and Alberta governments to establish meaningful capacity to even monitor, much less control or mitigate, the environmental effects of these developments.

The overheating of the Alberta economy and the extent to which the pace of development is outstripping the province’s capacity to provide the required physical and social infrastructure has been recognized by some very prominent voices in the province itself. Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, for example, has warned that “The oil sands have created in our province, because of the rapid growth that has occurred in the past decade, a very high-cost economy… That means we have a built-in cost factor here in our province that is very difficult for people in other businesses and I see a growing pressure on the current government to revisit this issue.”

The federal government’s perspective imperils for the rest of the country as well. An economy dominated by a single sector subject to profound boom-bust cycles driven entirely by the vagaries of world oil prices is a recipe for economic fragility. It is also a formula for regional division, a point highlighted by Quebec Premier Jean Charest last week in his observation that “There’s two realities in Canada; there are the economies of oil, gas and potash and others.”

For “the others,” including Ontario, the upwards pressure on the value of the Canadian dollar flowing from the growth in energy commodity exports presents profound problems for value-added economic activities, the outputs of which become less and less competitive in potential export markets as the dollar rises. The situation also reinforces the fractures between the provinces like Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba and, sometimes, BC, who see their futures in a post-carbon global economy, and those, like Alberta and Saskatchewan, who seem determined precisely to prevent the emergence of such an economy.

The narrowness of the Conservative government’s vision carries with it substantial political risks for the government itself. Like the Harris government in Ontario, in which a number of Mr. Harper’s key ministers (Flaherty, Clement and Baird) first served, the Harper government clearly regards environmental concerns as unimportant, and indeed seems unable to grasp how anyone could regard them as being as significant as the economic potential of natural resources development.

The consequence has been a series of blindsiding of the government by environmental issues. The Obama administration’s unexpected (in the government’s eyes) rejection of the Keystone pipeline project this week is just latest example of this pattern. The government’s early attempts to walk away from the climate change file in 2006 and 2007 prompted a resurgence of public concern for the environment and climate change in particular, and compelled it to look as if it had some intention to act, at least for a little while. Canada’s lonely and almost universally condemned exit from the Kyoto Protocol looks like yet another colossal environmental miscalculation, this time on the international stage.

The government’s calculus on the Northern Gateway project looks equally faulty. The Prime Minister and natural resources minister’s public statements in support of the project seem to invite a judicial review of any National Energy Board decision in its favour on the basis that the board could not be seen as acting independently in the face of their remarks. For the BC First Nations affected by the project, the factums regarding the failure of the federal government to fulfill its “duty to consult” with them regarding proposed activities on territories subject to unresolved claims of aboriginal title in a meaningful and substantive way virtually write themselves.

As disturbing as the government’s behaviour has been, the apparent inability of either of the major opposition parties to mount an effective response to the challenges and opportunities presented by the government’s actions and statements has been even more distressing. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has at least attempted to mount some sort of response, ( but is faced with the realities of the boundaries of what a single independent MP can do. The NDP opposition, shattered by the loss of leader Jack Layton, and now lost in the midst of a leadership contest, seems at times to have disappeared off the face of the earth.

As for the Liberals, in face of the government’s attack on the environment, public discourse, civil society and aboriginal rights (to say nothing of the tough on crime legislation, abolition of the long-gun registry, dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, and deconditionalization of federal health care funding to the provinces), the best that the party that claims the mantle of Laurier, Pearson and Trudeau has been able to offer is proposals to legalize pot and abolish the monarchy – hardly compelling responses to the current situation.

One would think that the government’s directions represent a significant enough attack on what are thought to be core values of both the New Democrats and Liberals that more forceful and effective responses are warranted regardless of their leadership situations. If nothing else the stunningly narrow regional and economic frame within which the government has positioned itself offers a tremendous opportunity to the both parties to appeal to both the voices of moderation in the fossil fuel exporting provinces and to the more than eighty per cent of the Canadian population that constitutes what Premier Charest terms “the others.” It also presents an invitation to offer a vision more in line with that of the overwhelming majority of Canadians who have consistently and decisively rejected the sort of environment protection vs. economic development dichotomy favoured by the government over the 25 years in which pollsters have asked questions on the topic.

The one thing that does seem certain is the government’s next move. A further gutting of what remains of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is clearly on tap through the implementing legislation for the next federal budget. Fixed timelines for environmental assessment reviews, regardless of the complexity of the project under evaluation are clearly in the cards. What else might lie ahead is anyone’s guess, but the Harper government seems to be setting the table for a major, and potentially profoundly divisive debate about the future of Canada’s environment and economy.

Hitting Bottom – Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol – Published in the Toronto Star

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield's blog.

Yesterday’s announcement by federal environment minister Peter Kent of Canada’s intention to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol marks the country’s lowest point in the forty year history of modern global environmental diplomacy. The protocol, which Canada signed in 1997 and ratified in 2002, committed Canada to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 6 per cent relative to their 1990 levels by the 2008-2012 period.

Kent rolled out a familiar chain of justifications for Canada’s action – that Canada’s original targets were unreachable, that it was really the fault of the previous Liberal governments for failing to implement effective emission reduction strategies and that action by Canada was pointless unless the United States and rapidly developing economies like China and India were also subject to binding emission targets. The reality is that on the whole Kyoto has been far more a success than failure – most of the parties who were subject to binding emission targets under the protocol have either met or exceeded their goals. Canada is a among a relatively small number of parties, along with Australia, Norway, Spain and Ireland that failed to do so, and is alone in responding by withdrawing from the legally binding agreement.

As for Kent’s excuses, whatever the failings of the governments of Prime Ministers Chretien and Martin, the one thing that is certain is that Stepen Harper’s Conservative government has never really tried to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. The government has proposed a succession of strategies and plans, but the only significant action it has actually taken has been to adopt more stringent vehicle fuel economy standards. Those rules only came into being because the government’s hand was forced by the incoming Obama administration in the United States. Indeed, the federal Commissioner for Environment and Sustainable Development has recently concluded that the government had exaggerated the likely impact on emissions of what other measures it had proposed (but never implemented) by a factor of ten.

The Prime Minister’s antipathy towards serious action on climate change was well known before he took office, having once described the Kyoto Protocol as a “socialist plot.” Until this spring the Conservative government’s hands were tied by the combination of persistently high levels of public concern for environmental issues, with a strong focus on climate change, a minority government situation, the arrival of a new administration in the United States that was apparently intent on taking some sort of serious action on climate change, and the threat of climate change legislation coming out of the US Congress that would impose penalties on US trading partners if they didn’t adopt greenhouse gas emission control regimes comparable to those put in place south of the border.

The decline in top-of-mind public concern for the environment as economic uncertainly has grown, the majority Conservative government produced by this May’s federal election, the disarray of both the federal NDP and Liberal opposition as both parties search for new leaders, and the hamstringing of the Obama administration and elimination of the threat of US climate change legislation as a result of the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives produced by the 2010 mid-term elections all combined to provide an apparently perfect window for the government to make its long dreamt of move on Canada’s international climate change commitments.

The costs of the government’s actions are still unclear. Clearly the chances of any serious effort from the federal government to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions have become more remote than ever. This is despite the overwhelming environmental and economic evidence in favour of early action and with respect to the consequences of inaction presented by the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy many others.

The international reaction (Canada’s decision is being given much more prominent play in the international media than in Canada itself) has been very strongly negative from both developed and developing countries. It seems unlikely Canada will have much company in its decision to formally withdraw from the international legal framework on climate change that does exist, and it remains to be seen to what extent the consequences of Canada’s status as an environmental pariah state will spill over onto other files.

Domestically the government is operating on an assumption that its own core voters have limited concern for environmental issues and, unlike the majority of Canadians, accept the government’s consistent zero-sum framing of the relationship between environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. The government’s environmental performance is an obvious potential wedge issue against the Conservatives in the hands of a new Liberal or NDP leader. If such a person can also persuade Ontario, Quebec, and BC voters that a federal government whose fundamental economic strategy is promoting fossil fuel exports from Alberta and Saskatchewan does not serve their interests well, the Conservatives could be in serious electoral trouble.

The basic elements of a cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reduction strategy for Canada have been well understood and articulated for some time. Carbon pricing, either through a carbon tax or cap and trade system, needs to be established; subsidies for fossil fuel development eliminated; progressively stronger energy efficiency standards for vehicles, buildings, equipment and appliances adopted; better integration of land-use and transportation planning is needs in urban areas to reduce automobile dependency; the massive carbon storage capacity of Canada’s boreal forest needs to be protected; and major investments made in low-impact renewable energy technologies. A meaningful adaptation strategy to deal with the climate change that is already happening is needed as well. What is clearly missing is the political leadership to implement such a strategy and put Canada on a path towards environmental sustainability and economic prosperity.

Letter to the Editor – Globe and Mail – Green Energy Act and Auditor General’s Report

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield's blog.

December 9, 2011

The Editors
The Globe and Mail
444 Front St.
Toronto, Ontario

Re: “Green spendthrifts” (December 9, 2011)

Dear Sir or Madam,

The Ontario Auditor-General’s Report on Ontario’s Green Energy Act seems to me more a more a case of an outright hopping the fence into policy than “mission creep” (Radwanski, December 7). There are longstanding debates about how far auditor-generals should stray into matters of policy, but one thing is certain, that if you are going to go there then you need to do it well.

Unfortunately the Auditor-General’s report fails badly on that front, and in doing so does more to inflame the debate about Ontario’s Green Energy Act than inform it. Indeed, at times the report seems more a recitation of every compliant (however dubious) that has ever been made against the legislation than a meaningful analysis.

The Auditor-General’s most fundamental error is looking at the impact of the GEA in isolation – as if the costs associated with the legislation would simply disappear if it were withdrawn. In such a scenario the power that would have come from renewables as a result of the legislation would need to come from somewhere else instead. The real question that then needs to be asked is what is cost of electricity obtained through the legislation’s feed-in-tariff relative to the available alternative sources? To the extent to which any serious analysis of that question has been done – principally a study published by the Pembina Institute last July – the cost impact to consumers of renewable electricity was marginal relative to the most likely alternative – increased natural gas-fired generation. At the same time renewables obtained under the legislation’s Feed-in-Tariff program avoided a range of cost and environmental risks associated with gas-fired generation.

There are unquestionably aspects of the Green Energy Act that require careful review, but the legislation is neither the cause of nor the solution to all that ails Ontario’s electricity system.

Yours sincerely,

Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Coordinator Joint MES/JD Program
Chair, Sustainable Energy Initiative
Faculty of Environmental Studies
York University

Ontario Throne Speech and Economic Statement: Good News for Green Energy; Bad News for the Environment

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield's blog. 

Last week’s Speech from the Throne and Fall Economic Statement from Dalton McGuinty’s minority government contained a mix of good and bad news for those concerned about green energy and environmental sustainability.

The Throne Speech re-iterated the government’s commitment to the Green Energy Act, noting that “Your government remains fully committed to clean energy and the 50,000 new, good jobs in one of the world’s fastest-growing economic sectors. These jobs are being created by its Green Energy Act in communities across Ontario.” That said, the review of the Green Energy Act FIT program launched on October 31st will almost certainly result in significant reductions to the FIT rates for solar projects, particularly the popular micofit program, where 99 per cent of the approved projects have been solar. The directions of other changes to the program remain to be seen. The energy sector does enjoy the advantage of being relatively insulated from the province’s overall fiscal situation, being funding through the electricity rate base rather than general revenues, but serious challenges continue. Among other things there is an ongoing debate within the government about whether the Green Energy Act helped or hurt the government’s electoral fortunes, attracting younger urban voters on one hand, or cost older rural voters upset about renewable energy projects.

The Throne Speech also made reference to the introduction of a “Great Lakes Protection Act” although what such legislation would add existing legislative authority and mandates is unclear. The Environmental Commissioner, delivering his report a week later, highlighted the government’s failures to complete negotiations with the federal government on the next Canada-Ontario Agreement on the Great Lakes Basin. The Canada-Ontario Agreements, which have been in place since 1972, provide the framework for cooperation between the federal government and the province in fulfilling Canada’s obligations under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. On a more ominous note, the Speech continued to present mining development, specifically the ‘ring of fire’ in the fragile boreal region of the province’s far north, as the centrepiece of its northern economic development strategy.

The fall economic statement provided even more cause for concern, as the government re-emphasized its intention to protect heath care and education expenditures while reducing its $16 billion deficit, with the implication of major reductions to government spending outside of those fields. In fact, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan has been repeatedly quoted projecting “real cuts of upwards of 33 per cent in some ministries.” If implemented these would be reductions on the scale of those seen during the Harris era “common sense revolution” of the 1990s.

As I have noted before the Ministries of the Environment and Natural Resources seem likely to be in the front line for budget cuts, given their substantial operational staffs. This point was implicitly highlighted by the Environmental Commissioner in his report, who noted that despite expanding mandates, compared to budgets in the early 1990s, MNR has suffered a 22 per cent decline in its operating budget after accounting for inflation, while MOE’s operating budget has fallen by 45 per cent.

Indeed the whole situation with respect to the province’s core environmental protection and natural resource management functions is starting to bear an eerie resemblance to the events of Harris era, although with a kinder, gentler face. The Ministry of the Environment implemented the first phase of its approvals “reform” process on October 31st, effectively carrying through on the “standardized” approval process first proposed as the core of the ministry’s “regulatory reform” process of the Harris revolution in 1996. The only thing that seems to be missing is the “who does what” exercise of downloading provincial responsibilities onto municipalities – although as I have noted before, given the centrality of cities and larger towns to the Liberal government’s survival in the October election, a repeat of that exercise seems unlikely. Unfortunately, absent additional revenues the effect will be to further increase the pressures on the budgets of operational agencies of the provincial government.

The consequences of cuts to ministry operating budgets on the scale apparently being contemplated by finance minister Duncan were well documented by the Walkerton Inquiry and others. The province needs to consider other options that avoid serious long-term risks to the health, safety and environment of Ontarians in exchange for short-term fiscal gains. Forgoing the next round of corporate tax cuts, estimated to be likely to cost the province $2.4 billion per year in revenues and whose economic benefits are subject to serious question, would be a good place to start.

What does Ontario’s new Cabinet mean for Environment and Energy issues?

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield's blog.

Re-elected Premier Dalton McGuinty’s new cabinet was sworn-in on October 20. At this stage it looks, on the whole, like good news for environmental issues. Veteran Jim Bradley, who as environment minister from 1985-1990 in the government of David Peterson transformed the ministry from a relatively minor player within the province government to a major centre of influence, returns to the environment portfolio. Bradley put a solid but unspectacular performance in the previous McGuinty government as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing – it is unclear if he is intended to continue in that mode at the Ministry of the Environment or whether his appointment might signal a return to a more activist agenda.

The appointment of the extremely capable Kathleen Wynne as Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing would seem likely to cement the progressive directions on land-use planning in southern Ontario that were established during John Gerretsen’s tenure in the portfolio, including the Greenbelt and reforms to the Planning Act, under the first McGuinty government. The integration of the infrastructure and transportation portfolios under former Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarrelli may strengthen the focus on public transit, and more broadly the integration of land-use planning and transportation, although that remains to be seen. The apparent return of responsibility for forest management to the Natural Resources portfolio, now under John Gravelle, from the economic development oriented Ministry of Northern Development and Mines, also looks like a positive development.

Chris Bentley, the Attorney General in the second McGuinty government has been assigned the energy portfolio. The statement on his appointment from the Premier’s office that he “will continue to drive Ontario’s transition towards clean, renewable energy while ensuring we stay on track to create 50,000 clean energy jobs” would seem to reinforce the message that the Green Energy Act’s Feed-in-Tariff system is secure, although a series of serious challenges lie ahead within the portfolio.

Finally, John Gerretsen has been appointed as Attorney-General. Gerretsen, who was the author of a number of progressive initiatives while minister of municipal affairs and housing and then environment, will be now be handling the question of whether the government will introduce anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation. The likelihood of some sort of legislative initiative would now seem much greater.

Although the new appointments provide some short-term reasons for optimism, it is important to keep in mind that the province’s fiscal situation means that the possibility of a major retrenchment remains very real. The prospect of an extensive restructuring of the province’s approach to environment and natural resources matters, pending the report of the Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services, continues to loom large as well.

Ontario Election Outcome: Is a Return to the Status Quo Ante the Best Thing for Ontario’s Environment?

This blog was originally published in Professor Mark Winfield's bog.

Ontario environmentalists have generally been breathing a sigh of relief over the re-election of the McGuinty government, with its implication of the continuation of the Feed-in Tariff system under the Green Energy Act, and more general avoidance of the major retreat by the province on environmental matters that would almost certainly have accompanied a PC victory. However, as I noted in my previous blog, even with the re-election of the Liberals, the possibility of some sort of retrenchment on the environment, particularly in light of the province’s fiscal situation cannot be ruled out. In fact, I am increasingly of the view that a major restructuring in the province’s approach to environment and natural resources management is likely, most probably through the 2012 budget. Such a development would not be unprecedented – recall the 1996 federal Liberal Program Review budget that followed the relatively progressive 1993 “Red Book” platform. Moreover, in terms of core environmental protection and natural resources management policy, such moves could be seen continuations of the status quo ante for the government.

We have already seen moves in this direction, particularly the 2009 transfer of responsibility for forest management from the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM), clearly signalling a shift in emphasis from multi-functional forestry to economic development. In the case of the Ministry of the Environment, the government has claimed that the shift to a “permit-by-rule” or “registration” system, where project and facilities are ‘deemed’ to have approvals if they indicate compliance with standards established by the ministry, as opposed to detailed review by ministry staff, will permit the transfer of resources from environmental approvals to enforcement and other ministry functions. However, given the province’s fiscal situation, the more likely outcome is for those resources to disappear from the ministry’s operational budget and staff.

The Commission on the Reform of Public Services, chaired by former TD Bank Chief Economist Don Drummond, is scheduled to report in time to influence the 2012 budget. Expect the Commission’s report to contain a strong focus on new public management (NPM) approaches to the delivery of the province’s regulatory functions in relation to public goods. New public management models emphasize self-management and self-regulation by regulated industries. The model is epitomized by the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA) and Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), created by the previous Progressive Conservative government. These not-for-profit corporations, whose boards of directors are dominated by representatives of the regulated sectors, took over the public safety regulatory functions of the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations and Ontario Hydro respectively. The same government’s moves in the direction of replacing compliance inspections by ministry staff with industry self-inspection and compliance reporting in relation to forestry, aggregates and other natural resources sectors reflected the similar principles.

Despite considerable evidence of serious problems with these models in terms of their effectiveness in protecting the public and providing for accountability, transparency and access to information, particularly in light of events like the August 2008 Sunrise Propane explosion, the Liberals pointedly left the NPM structures established by the Harris PCs in place. They were, in fact, extending them to other sectors, like the regulation of nursing homes. A strong push further in this direction in relation to the province’s remaining regulatory functions, particularly at the Ministry of the Environment, as first proposed in the post-Walkerton Gibbons report (and rejected by the Walkerton Inquiry), is almost certain.

A major restructuring among environment and natural resource agencies is also possible. The MNR is perhaps the most vulnerable in the context. It is possible to envision the dissolution of the ministry, with its remaining resource management functions (e.g. mineral aggregates, petroleum, brine, fur and wildlife) being transferred to MNDMF and its conservation and planning functions being moved to what remains of the Ministry of the Environment or even the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Given the centrality of urban areas and larger towns and cities to the Liberals’ survival as a government, municipalities are likely less vulnerable to a repeat of the “who does what” downloading exercise of the “Common Sense Revolution.” The 2004-06 land-use planning reforms (the Greenbelt, Places to Grow plan and Planning Act Revisions) can also be expected to survive, although it remains to be seen how active the province will be in backing up its policies as they are challenged before the OMB by some municipalities and developers.

While the NDP might be expected to oppose some of the potential backsliding, the government will likely be able to bring the PCs on-side both in terms of budgetary measures and any required implementing legislation. None of this can be seen as good news for the protection of public goods in Ontario. The role of self-regulatory models in the financial services sector in permitting the behaviour that led to the 2008 financial crisis is well recognized, even among some of their proponents. Those experiences should have lead to some serious reconsideration of the use of similar approaches in relation to the protection of other public goods, such as the environment, public health and public safety. But in Ontario there is no evidence of any change in course so far.