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The Ontario Election, the Environment, and the Economy

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

The run-up to the October 2011 Ontario election was defined by a strong and long-standing lead by Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives. Polls over the summer of 2011 consistently gave the Progressive Conservatives margins in excess of ten per cent over the Liberals, and there were projections of strong PC majority government. Right wing-populist Rob Ford’s victory in the November 2010 City of Toronto mayoralty race and the strong showing of the federal Conservatives in Ontario in the May 2011 federal election reinforced expectations of a Progressive Conservative win at the provincial level.

Election night on October 6th yielded a very different result. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals were re-elected as a minority government, with 53 seats, just one seat short of a majority. The Liberals received 37.6 per cent of the popular vote, putting them two per cent ahead of the PCs, who obtained 35.4 per cent of the vote and gained 37 seats. Andrea Horwath’s NDP made a strong showing with nearly 23 per cent of the vote, giving 17 seats. Green Party support, on the other hand, collapsed badly, with the party receiving less than three per cent of the popular vote and at 127,000 votes, little more than a third of the total vote it received in 2007. The Liberals and the NDP dominated in urban areas and the north, while PC support was concentrated in rural southern and central Ontario. The election saw the lowest voter turnout in Ontario history, at 49.2 per cent.

The Liberals, who ran a solid, consistent and largely-error free campaign, benefitted from a series of PC misfortunes and mistakes. The inability of Toronto Mayor Ford to find the promised “gravy” of wasteful spending at city hall and consequent proposals for profound and deeply unpopular cuts to city services in midst of provincial election campaign, along with a hopelessly ill-considered proposal to abandon well-advanced plans for revitalization of the city’s waterfront, did serious damage to the provincial PC effort. The situation in Toronto came be to perceived as foretaste, particularly in the city itself, of what a Hudak government, running on a platform very similar to Ford’s approach to the November 2010 Toronto election, might look like at the provincial level. In the result, the PCs failed to win a single one of the City of Toronto’s 22 seats in the legislature on election night.

PC leader Tim Hudak’s attacks, principally in response to a Liberal proposal for a modest tax credit for workers new to Canada, on “foreign workers” further undermined his party’s fortunes. The leader’s statements invited suggestions of racial intolerance on the part of the PCs. The effect was to push new Canadian and moderate voters away from the Tories, particularly in the crucial 905 region surrounding the City of Toronto, with its large population of first generation immigrants to Canada, denying the PCs any gains in the region.

Other factors worked against Tories as well. The outcomes of the 2010 Toronto municipal and 2011 federal elections prompted concerns over the possibility of a Conservative “trifecta” in Ontario at federal, provincial and municipal levels. There was also disquiet, particularly in urban areas, over the enthusiastic embrace of themes of the US Republican “tea party” movement by rural branches of the Ontario PC Party.

NDP, for its part, moved in a decidedly populist/materialist direction, proposing the removal of the HST from electricity, natural gas and gasoline prices as the centrepiece of its campaign. The party’s platform contained a number of important environmental elements, including opposition to new nuclear construction or refurbishment projects, a renewed focus on energy efficiency, increased transit funding, anti-SLAPP legislation, addressing the impact of the government’s ‘open for business’ initiative on the Environmental Bill of Rights, continued participation in the Western Climate Initiative, and action on waste management. However, the HST proposal, commitments to terminate the FIT program under the Green Energy Act and turn renewable energy development over to a resurrected Ontario Hydro, and an enthusiastic embrace of resource development in the far north led to suggestions that the party was wavering in its traditional support for environmental issues. Given the apparent electoral success of the NDP’s “pocketbook populist” approach and its gains in northern Ontario, the future positioning of the party on environmental matters may become increasingly contentious.

The Greens’ poor showing reflected the party’s struggle for space throughout the campaign. New leader Mike Schreiner put in a respectable performance, and the Greens again presented perhaps the most interesting platform of all of the major parties, including proposals for a modest carbon tax and a detailed strategy for sustainable agriculture and food. Unfortunately for Greens, the party found itself a victim of the overall eclipsing of the environment by economic concerns, with little more than three per cent of voters identifying environmental and energy problems as leading issues in the campaign.

Moreover, the Greens were squeezed by the Liberals’ emphasis on their Green Energy Act, especially its role in job creation and the risks of a PC government repealing the legislation. At the same time, the Greens received little benefit from the NDP’s shakiness on environmental issues, and were unable to exploit the Liberals’ inconsistencies on the environmental front, such as their continuing commitment, notwithstanding the Green Energy Act, to an electricity system that is 50 per cent nuclear in a post-Fukishima world. The situation was in part a result of the Green Party undermining own its appeal among voters seriously engaged on environmental issues. Such voters might have been put off by the Liberals’ inconsistencies and NDP’s vacillation on the environment, but may have found the elements of the Greens’ platform intended to attract anti-wind, anti-greenbelt and anti-source water protection voters in rural Ontario equally unappealing.

The Greens’ failures were perhaps even more surprising given that the Liberals presented a platform that was remarkably thin on new commitments on the environment and energy fronts. A vague promise to expand the greenbelt, an option first presented in the party’s 2007 platform, was the only new element. The remainder of the platform focused on past achievements and the continuation of existing initiatives like the Green Energy Act, transit funding and mining development in the far north. There have been suggestions that local opposition to Green Energy Act-inspired wind energy projects cost the Liberals a number rural seats, including those of environment minister John Wilkinson and agriculture minister Leona Dombrowsky. There is little hard evidence to support that hypothesis, and it is also likely that the Liberals’ strong focus on the legislation strengthened their appeal among younger voters.

The government seems likely to treat its re-election as an endorsement of its current path on the energy file. However, the divergence between those plans and the facts of the likely continuing decline in electricity demand, the uncertain availability and costs of nuclear projects, and the growing investments in green energy may hit sooner rather than later. Nuclear projects, aspects of the Green Energy Act and energy conservation efforts all have the potential to be victims in the resulting fallout.

The province’s fiscal situation means that the possibility of a serious financial retrenchment cannot be ruled out, even if the government’s narrow electoral success leaves it tempted to continue with its facilitative and managerial orientation. In reality, neither approach is likely to provide an effective response to the serious environmental and economic stresses now facing Ontario. The decline of the US market for Ontario’s 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 the need to recover Toronto’s role as the anchor of the Greater Golden Horseshoe and as an emerging global city all present tests that will require vision and leadership as well as managerial competence. It remains to be seen whether Premier McGuinty’s renewed government will be able to meet those challenges.

What would a minority government mean for energy and environmental policy in Ontario?

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

Recent polls are pointing to a minority government coming out of the October 6th Ontario election. It may be useful to reflect on the potential implications of such an outcome for energy and environmental policy in the aftermath of the election. Baring any unexpected developments over the remaining few days of the campaign, the NDP is almost certain to emerge holding the balance of power between the Liberals and Conservatives (the most recent Laurier Institute seat projection (, based on September 26 polling data is Liberals 46, PCs 42 and NDP 19). Despite a solid effort by new leader Mike Schreiner the Greens seem on track to a 4th place finish, with a slight loss in their popular vote relative to 2007 (5-6% seems likely relative to 8% in 2007), and are unlikely to elect any members.

Although the NDP and PCs have come to share considerable ‘pocketbook populist’ policy space, particularly with respect to the removal of the HST from electricity, natural gas and gasoline, party history and the overall distance between the two mean that the possibility of a Hudak government supported either formally (e.g. via an accord similar to that signed between David Peterson and Bob Rae in 1985) or informally on a vote by vote basis, by the NDP, is remote.

The much more likely outcome is a continuation of Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government, with some form of support from Andrea Horwath’s New Democrats. Predicting the direction of such a government offers some challenges. The Liberal platform, for its part, is decidedly thin on new commitments on the energy or environment fronts. A vague promise to expand the greenbelt, an option first presented in the party’s 2007 platform, seems the only new element. The remainder of the platform focuses on past achievements and the continuation of existing initiatives like the Green Energy Act, transit funding and mining development in the far north.

The NDP platform is more substantive on energy and environmental matters, presenting clear opposition to new nuclear construction or refurbishment projects, major new commitments on energy efficiency and combined heat and power, and maintaining the FIT program for small and community based renewable energy projects. Larger renewable projects would however be moved into the hands of a recreated Ontario Hydro, an institution whose principal successor Ontario Power Generation, has no experience in developing renewable energy sources other than hydro, and is noted for its institutional commitment to hard path technologies like nuclear and coal.

Otherwise the New Democrats have committed to increased funding for public transit, continued participation in the Western Climate Initiative’s greenhouse gas emission cap and trade system, Anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) legislation, protecting public participation rights under the Liberal’s “Open for Business” inspired reform of the environmental approvals process, and action to transfer a greater portion of recycling costs onto product manufacturers and importers.

Given all of this it is possible to speculate on the possible directions for the 2011 version of a Liberal-NDP accord.

• Both parties have committed to a phase-out of coal-fired electricity. It will almost certainly proceed.
• The new build nuclear projects contained in the Liberal’s Long-Term Electricity Plan would almost certainly not proceed. As I have noted in previously blogs the proposed two new reactors at Darlington were already in serious doubt, given declining electricity demand, rising cost estimates and, with the recent sale of Atomic Energy of Canada, the lack of a viable vendor. The need to make peace with the NDP could provide the government with a way out on the projects.
• Although a renewed commitment to energy conservation seems likely, the fates of the Darlington and Bruce B refurbishment projects will be more contentious. Some delay is likely at least as some sort of review of the province’s options is undertaken, perhaps even under the Environmental Assessment Act as the NDP has proposed.
• The fate of the Green Energy Act, particularly the FIT program for larger renewable energy projects, is very uncertain. The popular MicroFIT program for small household and farm level projects is likely to survive given the support from both parties – although probably with reduced rates, particularly for solar. There is far less common ground on the main program. The NDP has yet to clarify how it would maintain the renewable energy industry development aspects of the Liberal initiative if its leadership were transferred to a resurrected Ontario Hydro. Potential compromises include reductions in the FIT rates, or even moves back to competitive bidding (RFPs) for larger renewable energy projects. The continued strong backing of the FIT system by Germany, and the powerful connections the Germans have made between their FITs and the development of what is now a very robust renewable energy manufacturing sector should give the New Democrats cause to rethink the desirability of major changes on the green energy front.
• The NDP’s proposal to remove the HST from energy prices has the potential to create some serious challenges as well. Notwithstanding the obvious contradictions with the NDP’s emphasis on energy conservation and its implications in terms of revenue losses in the context of the province’s overall fiscal situation, the proposal has been central to the party’s ‘pocketbook populist’ campaign, making a compromise with the Liberals on the HST front difficult. A middle way may be to introduce additional tax credits and other supports, especially for energy efficiency investments for low-income households and others for whom energy costs present particular hardships or challenges.

Climate Change
• The government has been backing away from any serious action on reducing the province’s GHG emissions, beyond the coal phase-out, for some time. Although the NDP has committed to continuing participation in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI), the Liberals and NDP have retreated from any suggestion of introducing carbon pricing, especially given the WCI’s difficulties on the US side. Although Quebec remains a potential partner engaged on the WCI cap and trade system, in the short term the most likely outcomes for Ontario are to further reinforce the focus on energy conservation and transit funding.

Land-Use and Transit
• The existing policy framework for land-use and infrastructure planning, established through the 2005 Greenbelt legislation and 2006 Places to Grow Act seems likely to be maintained. Some enhancements to funding for specific transit projects may emerge, although this is complicated by the presence of the Ford administration in the City of Toronto.

Far North
• The NDP’s positions on the north are in many ways even more pro-development than the government’s, which has itself enthusiastically backed the “ring of fire’ and other mining developments and transferred of forest management from the more conservation-oriented Ministry of Natural Resources to the development focussed Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forests. Good news on the northern conservation front seems unlikely under a Liberal-NDP alliance.

Anti-SLAPP Legislation
• Some form of anti-SLAPP legislation seems probable, given the backing from both the NDP and the government’s own pre-election advisory panel on the issue. The low cost of such legislation (from a government perspective) makes it even more likely win for the New


Democrats and environmental groups pressing for legislation.
Approvals reform and ‘Open for Business’
• With some pushing from the environmental groups (principally CELA and EcoJustice) that have led the criticism of the government’s ‘regulatory reform’ proposals, some movement on their worst aspects may be possible, particularly with respect to their impact on public participation rights under the Environmental Bill of Rights. The legislation was virtually the only part of the 1990-1995 NDP government’s environmental legacy to survive the Harris ‘Common Sense Revolution’ intact.

• As with some aspects of the energy file, some pressure from the NDP might provide the government with the opportunity for a reset and restart on the blue box and household hazardous waste funding issues, which have been stalled since last summer’s ‘Eco-fee debacle.

Ontario’s Electricity Election – Published in the Toronto Star

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

Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives have enjoyed a long-standing lead in the polls in the run up to the October 6th Ontario provincial election, but the race has tightened considerably over the past two months. With the PCs, Liberals, NDP and Greens moving into full election mode, the outcome now looks like anyone’s guess. What we do know is that the issues of electricity and energy are likely to be central to the campaign.

The electricity sector in Ontario has been in turmoil for the better part of the last two decades, following the Harris government’s experiments with a competitive market model for the system. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government was seen to make a decisive move in the direction of ‘greening’ the system through its 2009 Green Energy and Green Economy Act, establishing a feed-in-tariff system for renewable energy projects. But the government’s behaviour on the file became increasingly contradictory following the departure of the legislation’s architect, Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman in the fall of 2009. The government abruptly went, for example, from providing incentives for off-shore wind development to imposing ban on such projects this past spring.

The Liberals have now clearly decided make ‘green’ energy a wedge issue against Hudak’s Tories, who have promised to repeal the 2009 legislation. The green energy focus offers the government some potentially significant electoral advantages, particularly among younger voters for whose loyalty the Liberals are competing with the NDP and Greens. The complication for the Liberals is that you can’t claim to be all that green when, regardless of the Green Energy Act, your are irrevocably committed (as the government seems to be) to keeping the province’s electricity system 50% nuclear in a post-Fukishima world.

PC Leader Tim Hudak is a politician who has lived by the catchy sound bite, epitomized by his party’s powerpointish ‘changebook’ platform. But now the Conservative leader finds himself in deepening waters as questions from the media, municipalities and the public, aware of where the same sort of content thin platform has lead Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, grow about what Hudak would actually do on complex files like electricity.
The Tories have already been vilified in the press for their suggestion that they can make the billions in debt, largely left over from the old Ontario Hydro’s nuclear projects, that underlie the debt retirement charge appearing on Ontarians’ electricity bills, magically disappear. Otherwise, beyond repeal of the Green Energy Act, the PCs have been decidedly vague on what their actual plans for the electricity system are. Recent work by the Pembina Institute has made clear that abandonment of the commitment to green energy would actually do very little to reduce electricity rates. At the same time it would increase the risks of higher costs and environmental impacts as a result of the need to rely more heavily on natural-gas fired power plants instead of wind and other renewables.

The number of new solar and other renewable energy installations apparent to anyone travelling the Ontario countryside this summer raises another question – whether the Tories have miscalculated the appeal of the Act’s feed–in-tariff system in their own rural heartland.

Andrea Horwath’s NDP has presented a platform that is strong on energy efficiency and in its opposition to both new nuclear faculties and further refurbishments of existing ones. But its commitments on energy efficiency are undermined in part by the party’s promise to remove the HST from energy bills, and thereby reduce the incentives to consumers to conserve. A better strategy would be to target support specifically at the impact of the HST on low-income Ontarians.

The NDP platform contains another, even bigger contradiction, proposing to put Ontario Power Generation in charge of the large scale development of renewable energy in the province. Presumably the product of an effort at reconciliation with the Power Workers’ Union, the proposition would put the future of renewable energy in Ontario in the hands of an institution whose focus and expertise is on ‘hard path’ energy technologies like nuclear and coal.

Mike Schreiner’s Greens, for their part, share a certain amount of energy policy space with the NDP, with a strong focus on energy efficiency and conservation and opposition to new nuclear facilities. But while the NDP proposes to put Ontario Power Generation at the helm of renewable energy development the Greens emphasize locally-owned, community-based combined heat and power and renewable energy projects and the possibility of imports of hydroelectricity from Quebec and Manitoba. But the Greens’ platform also plays to local opponents of renewable energy projects, making references to “restoring” local decision-making over energy projects, an idea shared by Progressive Conservatives.

So far, none of the parties has put together a compelling picture of how they intend to stabilize the province’s electricity system and put it on a path to environmental and economic sustainability. They all deserve to face tough questions about their electricity plans as the campaign unfolds.

Should Ontario implement a cap-and-trade system even if other jurisdictions keep putting it off?

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

Going into this fall’s provincial election the leaders of the Liberal, Progressive Conservative and New Democratic Parties rejected a call from Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner to introduce a price on carbon, either through a carbon tax or a cap and trade system. All three parties argued that other jurisdictions in Canada and the US are backing away carbon pricing, and that therefore Ontario should to the same to make sure that our industries are not put at a competitive disadvantage. Only the Green Party, currently running at less than 5 per cent in opinion polls, has endorsed the idea of introducing a carbon tax in Ontario. But Pricing carbon is essential to fulfilling Ontario’s existing commitments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It will help prevent what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has termed “dangerous climate change.” And it is in our economic interest as well.

The reality of climate change means that widespread introduction of carbon pricing is almost certain to happen in the next five to ten years. Introducing carbon pricing now will signal to Ontario’s industries that they need to invest in energy efficiency, low carbon technologies, and renewable energy sources that will enable them complete in the carbon constrained world to come. Industries in jurisdictions that put off introducing carbon pricing will be at a disadvantage when that reality hits.

Ontario is already committed to participating in the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) cap and trade system. This gives Ontario a seat at the table in designing the rules for cap and trade that is likely to strongly influence whatever system for controlling GHG emissions emerges in North America. This ensures Ontario industries are not unfairly impacted by whatever system is established.

Finally, while debate on a GHG emission cap and trade system is on hold in the U.S. for now, we know, based on past Congressional bills, that any national legislation the U.S. adopts will include provisions for trade penalties against any jurisdiction with less stringent GHG emission reduction systems than its own. Participating with BC, Quebec, Manitoba and the leading US States on the climate change issue in the WCI cap and trade system is one of our best guarantees of maintaining access to the US market no matter what the US Congress does.

Analyses by the National Round Table on the Environment and Economy and others suggest that only a few sectors in Ontario – cement, steel, and parts of the pulp and paper and chemical manufacturing industries – would be vulnerable to competitiveness impacts as a result of the introduction of carbon pricing. The situation of these types of energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries can be addressed in the design of a carbon tax or cap and trade system, and through other forms of transitional assistance.

While it seems most of Ontario’s political leaders would like the climate change issue to just go away, that just isn’t going to happen. Rather, Ontario’s best route to safeguarding its environmental and economic interests is to move forward with a carbon pricing system now, before its too late.

AECL sale: The price says it all – Published in the Toronto Star

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

Last week’s announcement by the federal government of its sale of the reactor division of Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) to SNC Lavalin for a mere $15 million comes as no surprise to those who have been following the nuclear industry in Canada over the past few years. The Harper government has been clear about its desire to offload the AECL financial “sinkhole” (in the words of the Prime Minister’s former Press Secretary) for some time. With more than a decade since AECL’s last sale of a new reactor, the failure of the $800 million MAPLE isotope reactor project, the controversy over the shutdown and safety of the NRU reactor at Chalk River, delays and cost overruns on power reactor refurbishment projects in Ontario and New Brunswick, and a perpetual need for annual bail-outs running into the hundreds of millions, the federal government has decided to cut its losses.

AECL, which has absorbed more than $20 billion in federal taxpayers’ money over the sixty years of its existence, has never come close to being a commercially viable entity. As if to drive home this point the federal government is providing an additional $75 million subsidy (five times the purchase price) with the sale for reactor development. Federal taxpayers will remain liable for the cost overruns on the company’s existing reactor refurbishment projects and the long-term clean up costs, estimated to run into the billions, at AECL’s facilities.

Most observers are of the view that SNC has no interest in new reactor sales, given the scale of the capital investments and cost risks involved, as well as AECL’s past record of cost overruns and delays. Rather, it is thought that SNC’s primary interest is the maintenance and refurbishment of existing CANDU reactors.
The strongest response to the sale – aside from the surprisingly loud objections from the nominally anti-nuclear federal NDP – is predictably from Ontario, whose Long-Term Electricity Plan includes as many as four new CANDUs at the Darlington nuclear power station east of Toronto. The province, reeling from the reported $26 billion “sticker shock” of AECL’s ‘all in’ cost bid for just two new CANDUs, had been demanding that the federal government ‘share’ some of this cost. Any cost-sharing options with the federal government, which probably anticipated questions from its western Canadian base about why federal taxpayers from Alberta and BC should pay for nuclear reactors for Ontario, are now off the table.

The case for new reactors in Ontario was already shaky, given the decline in electricity demand over the past five years and the strong response of renewable energy developers to the province’s Green Energy Act. In the context of the Fukishima disaster the federal environmental assessment hearings on a Darlington new build project that wrapped up last month took on a distinct air of unreality. Jurisdictions around the world are now reassessing the role of nuclear in their long-term energy strategies.

The case for Ontario to do the same is now stronger than ever. The renewable energy supply and services industry in Ontario that is emerging in response to the Green Energy Act has already made up for the 800 jobs that are likely to be lost in the immediate aftermath of the AECL sale many times over.

Rather than continuing to make an increasingly hopeless case to the federal government for support for its nuclear-based plans, the Government of Ontario should be seeking federal investments for the creation of a truly national electricity grid. Such an undertaking is far more likely to win backing from other provinces and would enable Ontario to connect its enormous, but intermittent, wind energy potential with those provinces that have large-scale hydroelectric storage capacity. Similar arrangements are being employed among countries in Northern Europe to facilitate the large scale integration of intermittent renewable energy sources into their electricity grids. Water is stored up behind hydro dams when wind-based supply is strong, and released to produce electricity when there is less wind. In Canada, such arrangements could provide the foundations of a sustainable national electricity system.

The AECL sale compels Ontario to revisit is long-term electricity plans, and to embark on a serious and open review of the full range of alternatives in the future design of its electricity system. Province needs to face this reality and respond accordingly.

Comments on OPA 2011 IPSP Planning and Consultation document

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

June 17, 2011

Ontario Power Authority
IPSP Consultation
120 Adelaide St. W., Ste 1600
Toronto, Ontario M5H 1T1

Re: Submission on Planning and Consultation Document.

To whom it may concern,

I am writing to you to provide my comments on the IPSP Planning and Consultation Document

I general I note that the OPA is largely proposing to follow the same approach to the development of the 2011 IPSP as it followed with the original 2007 Plan. Such approach seems likely to reproduce many of the problems that emerged with the original IPSP, particularly with respect to the consideration of environmental sustainability in the development of the plan, as documented in the attached paper authored by myself and colleagues at York University and the University of Waterloo, and published in the international journal Energy Policy August 2010. The OPA’s approach is particularly surprising in light of the developments from 2006 onwards with respect to electricity demand in Ontario, the outcome of the province’s new build nuclear procurement process, continuing serious questions about the capacity of either of the proponents in the 2009 procurement process to file viable new bids in the forseeable future, the Fukishima nuclear disaster, continuing delays and cost-overruns involving current nuclear refurbishment projects in Ontario, the response to the Green Energy and Green Economy Act and changes in the North American natural gas supply and market. Indeed, these developments indicate that fundamental assumptions that underlay the 2007 IPSP were flawed, and that a different approach to electricity system planning in Ontario was required.

I am particularly concerned regarding the reliablity of the demand forecasts to be incorporated into the second IPSP. My understanding is that the medium demand forecast on which the plan is to be based reflects peak demand and annual consumption net of successful conservation efforts as per the province’s conservation targets as expressed in the February 2011 Supply Mix Directive. However, in reviewing recent and historical patterns of electricity demand in Ontario, the projections would seem more reasonable estimates of potential demand before the impact of conservation is taken into account. Many of the points on this matter raised by the Pembina Institute in its 2006 submission on the IPSP demand forecast seem to me to remain relevant today. I therefore attach that document, for which I was the primary author, to this submission (

A plan based on these forecasts, if net of conservation, would suggest that either:

1) The plan will result in a massive overbuild of supply if the province’s conservation efforts are successful; or
2) The plan is assuming that the conservation will in fact, largely be unsuccessful and that a realistic demand scenario will have to be meet through supply-side options.

The demand forecast on which the 2011 IPSP is to be based should be reviewed in light of these considerations and a more realistic forecast employed as the basis for the plan.

Yours sincerely,

Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Coordinator Joint MES/JD Program
Chair, Sustainable Energy Initiative
Faculty of Environmental Studies
York University
4700 Keele St.
Toronto, Ontario
M3J 1P3
Tel: 416-736-2100 ext. 21078
Fax: 416-736-5679

Green Party platform analysis – Edited Transcript of Interview with Global News

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

Mark Winfield’s take

Q: Who are the Greens targeting in their platform and why?

They are playing to their core constituencies, although there are things here as well that are broader.

The Greens’ base is relatively young, in terms of their demographic relative to the other parties. They share the same basic, post-materialist positioning as the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP supporters
Conservatives supporters are what political scientists tend to refer to as materialists – a very bread and butter, crime, law and order — exactly the sort of stuff the Conservatives are pitching on.

Green voters are more post-materialist and the environment is part of that – so is a higher concern for social issues. You see some of that reflected here as well. It is a relatively broad platform that is more than just environment, although environmental issues are very central to it. It is very clearly positioning the party in the post-materialist, centre-progressive part of the Canadian political universe.

Q: The Green party is best known for its focus on the environment. Does the platform do enough to address other policy areas?

For about 50 per cent of Green voters the environment is the vote-determining issue. They do have to have a strong component there, but I think it is noteworthy that they are presenting a fairly comprehensive platform. Environment is quite central to it, but it is not just an environmental platform. I think that was notable in the previous election as well. It is a fairly comprehensive platform that covers off all of the major points in terms of foreign policy, governance, social issues. All of the major components are there. It’s not that different from what you are seeing from the other parties in that sense. Clearly there is an emphasis on the environment and an emphasis on the relationship between environment and economic development, but that’s not terribly surprising.

Q: What’s in there for the environment? Are these policies sound?

What they are proposing on the environment front reflects pretty mainstream thinking about where we need go in terms of environmental policy. They are making some very strong connections between economic strategy, environmental protection, greening the economy, and not seeing environmental protection and economic development as being at odds with each other.

If you look at the Conservatives and some of their statements and they have really kind of gone with the language of balance and competition between economic development and environmental protection. They see it as being a zero-sum game, where one can’t win without the other losing. The Greens, consistent with present thinking about these things, are envisioning some degree of integration between environmental policy and economic policy.

That makes sense and a number of observers have argued that one way or another in the long-term there will be movement on the climate change issue on the global level and that we want to be positioning ourselves to supply the goods and services that support that kind of economy.

They talk about a carbon pricing architecture and 33 billion dollars of revenue coming from that. Clearly that is pretty central. They’ve actually got both a cap-and-trade and a carbon tax. Exactly how the two would interact is not clear.

Clearly they are moving in the direction of carbon pricing, but that again is entirely consistent with what anybody who studies climate change policy will tell you. Indeed, even the National Roundtable on Environment and Economy, which is now dominated by Conservative appointees, said exactly the same thing a few months ago. So this is pretty mainstream stuff. A lot of this wouldn’t look terribly out of place in a Liberal or NDP platform.

Q:Did anything from the Green platform surprise you?

Not really, given that they have kind of signalled some of this stuff before. It’s largely consistent with fairly mainstream thinking in environmental policy in Canada these days. It’s not a terribly radical platform from that perspective.

There’s obviously a pitch around moving towards some form of proportional representation, but given the nature of how the Greens performed in the last election, that’s hardly surprising. They got nearly a million votes and elected zero MPs, whereas the Bloc Quebecois got not that many more votes and elected 55 MPs. It’s not a radical notion that the current electoral system is rewarding parties that have a strong geographic concentration of their vote and penalizing parties that have a relatively even geographic distribution of their votes, which is very much the case with the Green party. It’s geographic distribution is remarkably even and the electoral system doesn’t reward that, which is a problem from a national unity perspective as well because it produce parties that play to a particular region – the Bloc Quebecois being the poster-child of this – instead of to the country.

Q: What do you think about the cost of this platform and how the Green is proposing to pay for it?

Clearly there’s not a lot of detail other than the budget detail page. The centerpiece is to adopt some kind of carbon pricing and to have offsetting reductions is EI and CPP contributions – what they are calling a carbon tax holiday. In effect there is a tax shifting onto carbon, which in theory is activities we want to discourage, and we want to reduce taxes on employment, which is effectively what the EI and CPP contributions are. In theory that again is consistent with what most people who have looked at these things have suggested in terms of the political strategy you would need to pursue to introduce carbon pricing.

The scale of it in terms of moving to relatively quickly to a $33-billion carbon tax within the next fiscal year is ambitious to put it mildly. This would be a fairly massive shift in the federal government’s revenue base, so from that perspective, it is interesting. It is daring. How much acceptance of that shift would actually be, I don’t know, but it is a very clear signal in terms of moving in a direction. In principle it is very consistent with what the basic policy discussions around this have suggested need to happen.

Q: Will this platform help or hurt the Green party?

It’s an interesting question. It’s helpful in the sense that it puts more substantial policy content into the conversation, which has been missing so far from the campaign. And it adds an environmental policy dimension.

It’s an interesting question as to whether it helps them or not. Their support has shrunk back a bit relative to where it has been in pre-election polling. It’s not clear where they are bleeding that support given that no other parties have, at this stage, presented a particularly bold or interesting environmental platform. It will certainly appeal to their base of environmentally-concerned voters and the younger cohort of voters within that. Whether it helps them pull voters back from the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP, it’s hard to say.

There is the question of strategic voting tied up in all of this as well. If those four parties are all competing for the same chunk of the vote and that constitutes somewhere in the range of 65 per cent of the electorate, I suspect a lot of people are thinking about strategic voting.

Q: Why launch the party platform as one big document and what do you think of the timing?

The timing is as good as any. The Liberals already have a platform out on the environment and the Greens have to get something out there too, particularly given that in the last couple of elections the biggest source of Green voters has been ex-Liberals. They need to draw them into the Green party and that means they have to come up with something that is more ambitious and more interesting than what the Liberals are offering, which is pretty vague at this stage of the game.

Q: It’s clear that May’s strategy has been to work her riding so far during this campaign. She’s released the platform in Toronto, should she be out selling it on the campaign trail?

That’s a complex question that goes to whether the Green’s interest is winning a seat in parliament for their leader or in maximizing the Green vote overall. There are interests both ways. Clearly the issue of the debate has reinforced that they need parliamentary representation of some sort. On the other hand, their numbers are going down quite dramatically from where they were in pre-election polling and where they are relative to their electoral performance last time. That suggests that if they want to maximize the vote, she has to get out of her own riding and generate some interest and activity.
It’s a bit of dilemma. You can see the argument both ways. Maximizing their overall vote in some ways increases the leverage and influence of environmental concerns in the other parties’ platforms because it demonstrates that a chunk of voters out there are prepared to vote on the issue of the environment. Maximizing the vote also increases their financial return because we finance parties now on a per-vote basis.

Q: Does the debate hurt Elizabeth May’s ability to sell her platform?

There’s no question that it does.

Q: What do you think is a more important factor for people in deciding who they vote for – party platform or the personality of the leader?

Both is the short answer. The platform is in theory what you are actually giving the government a mandate to do. A platform is an expression of what the leader and the party stand for and it’s what they would be held to. The platform articulates the choice for voters; in that sense it needs to be quite central. Part of what you are judging about the leader is their ability to follow through on the platform.

Reconsidering Ontario’s Nuclear Path – Published in the Toronto Star

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

The unfolding nuclear catastrophe in Japan has reopened the debate about the role of nuclear power around the world, including here in Ontario. The provincial government’s December 2010 “Long-Term Energy Plan” proposes to maintain a commitment to an electricity system that relies on nuclear power for 50 per cent of its output. Nuclear’s contribution would come through a combination of building new plants, and refurbishing existing facilities as they reach their normal end-of-life.

The viability of the government’s plans on the nuclear front were already subject to serious doubts even before the disaster in Japan. Ontario has a long history of major cost-overruns and delays on nuclear construction and refurbishment projects. The province’s bidding process for two build reactors at Darlington produced proposals whose costs, at between $23 and $26 billion, were between three and four times higher than the Ontario Power Authority’s original estimates. The outcome prompted the province to terminate its procurement process in June 2009. These experiences have led many to suggest that the $33 billion nuclear cost estimate to replace or refurbish the province’s entire fleet of reactors in the government’s Long-Term Energy Plan is wildly optimistic.

Moreover, there are very serious questions about the ability of either of the proponents who filed bids under the 2009 process to deliver viable new proposals in the foreseeable future. Areva of France has suffered a number of difficulties, particularly with respect to its reactor construction project in Finland. Atomic Energy of Canada, for its part, has been put up for sale by the federal government. It is not clear that the company will even exist in any recognizable form a year from now.

Questions about the future role of nuclear in the system have not been limited to the usual ‘green’ suspects. The province’s Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO)has been commenting for some time on the presence of ‘surplus baseload generation’ (read nuclear) in the system, particularly in the context of declining and less stable demand.

Nuclear supporters argue that Ontario has no viable option but to remain dependent on nuclear power, apparently regardless of whatever challenges of cost, safety, reliability, security and waste management exist or may emerge. In reality, considerable effort has gone into exploring electricity options for Ontario that involve significant reductions or even phase-outs of nuclear power as the existing fleet of plants reaches its normal end of life over the next two decades. The most detailed work began with the 2004 Power for the Future study by the Pembina Institute ( and has been followed up with the Renewable is Doable initiative ( In both cases the nuclear and coal-phase out options, relying on increased efforts on electricity conservation and demand management, and larger roles for low-impact renewable energy sources like wind and solar, and combined heat and power (cogeneration) facilities, emerged as viable, and economically and environmentally superior to the nuclear based plans proposed by the province. These findings were based on what we now know were very conservative (i.e. low) assumptions about nuclear costs, based on the OPA’s estimates before the outcomes of the new build bidding process and the recent refurbishment projects were known. Similarly, the modeling accepted the Ontario Power Authority’s assumptions regarding the growth of future demand. In practice, electricity demand in Ontario has turned out to be in decline, and is not projected by the IESO to increase significantly anytime before the end of the decade.

The federal environmental assessment process for a Darlington new build reactor project, for which public hearings are scheduled to begin next week, is especially poorly configured to explore the questions that need to be answered before Ontario commits to further nuclear construction or refurbishment projects. The key issues about the role and need for nuclear energy in the province’s electricity system have been ‘scoped’ out of the hearing. Any exploration of safety issues is hampered by the consideration that, given that the proponent and nature of the reactor design that will be employed are still unknown, the assessment is ‘generic’ rather than focused on any specific type of reactor.

So far the province has hidden behind the federal process rather than permitting a meaningful environmental review of its own plans. That needs to change in light of the developments of the past few days. Other jurisdictions are reconsidering their nuclear plans in light of the Japanese disaster. Ontario needs to do the same, and initiate a serious public exploration of the options for the future of the province’s electricity system.

Response to “Keep building nuclear plants” Globe and Mail

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

March 19, 2011

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

Dear Sir/Madam

Re: “Keep building nuclear plants” (March 19, 2011)

A team of researchers from York University and the University of Waterloo recently undertook a sustainability assessment of the major electricity supply options available to Ontario, including nuclear, coal, natural gas (conventional and unconventional), a range of renewables, and energy conservation and demand management. The study employed criteria related to social, economic and biophysical impacts, the distribution of risks and impacts in the present and future, resiliance and adaptive capacity, and democratic governance. The major conclusions, published in the leading international journal Energy Policy last August, were that nuclear and coal preformed equally poorly, although for different reasons. Greenhouse Gas emissions, air pollution and permanent upstream landscape distrubance emerged as key considerations for coal, while accident, cost, security and weapons proliferation risks, along with extemely hazardous and long-lived up and downstream waste streams were the critical challenges for nuclear. In the result, neither offers an attractive option for environmentally and economically sustainable global energy supplies in the long-term.

In contrast, energy consevation and demand management performed extremely well on all criteria. Renewables also performed well, with some variation depending on the specific technologies. This is good news, as it highlights the potential to avoid the no-win nuclear vs. coal trade-off, particularly given the very high energy intensity of emerging economies like those of India and China and consequent potential for major efficiency gains. Moreover, last year more power capacity was added in the United States and Europe from renewable energy sources than coal, nuclear, oil and natural gas combined. Rapid growth in renewables is occuring developing economies as well, where serious questions exist about whether large centralized electricity systems represent the best way to meet the energy needs of their citizens.

The Japanese nuclear disaster has renewed the debate of the best path to global energy sustainability. Unfortunately the kind of emotional, ‘we have no choice but nuclear’ nihilism suggested by Doug Saunders’ article does little to contribute to the debate.

Ontario’s Green Energy Debate: Three Points to Consider

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

March 10, 2011

The Ontario government’s surprise decision to place a moratorium on offshore wind power development has again put the spotlight on the province’s Green Energy Act and the McGuinty government’s overall approach to electricity issues. While the 2009 legislation is not without its flaws, the debate about the role of renewable energy in the province’s future seems to have lost track of three essential points.

First, any discussion of the alleged health and environmental effects of wind turbines must consider the impacts of the energy sources that would need to be built or retained if we do not pursue the large-scale development of wind energy. Recent analyses attribute over 300 premature deaths per year in Ontario to air pollution from coal-fired electricity (down from 660 per year when coal use was at its height a few years ago). The upstream impacts and risks of coal mining, ranging from the occupational risks of underground mining to the destruction and consumption of entire landscapes via open-pit or mountaintop removal mining, must be considered as well.

Nuclear power carries with it enormous cost, security and weapons proliferation risks. It is also associated with extremely hazardous up and downstream wastes streams that will require management and care over hundreds of thousands of years. The extensive contamination of biota and surface and groundwater around uranium mine-mill operations with radioactive, toxic and conventional pollutants results, among other things, in significantly elevated cancer risks for consumers of ‘country’ food near such facilities.

By comparison, the biophysical impacts of wind turbines, for which the evidence in the formal literature is decidedly thin despite two decades of large-scale deployments in the densely populated landscapes of Western Europe, look rather less serious. Leaving aside the utterly ridiculous notion that wind turbines located far offshore could constitute some sort of threat to the province’s drinking water, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health has noted that “the scientific evidence available to date does not demonstrate a causal link between wind turbine noise and averse health effects.” If we are to build more sustainable energy systems, then low impact renewable energy sources like wind will have to play a major role in the process

Secondly, with respect to costs, it is important to remember that the current market electricity price bears no relationship to the actual costs of providing the new sources of electricity needed to replace the province’s aging nuclear and coal plants. Compared to the current market price of 3.13 cents per kilowatt-hour, 13.5 cents for wind power under the Green Energy Act Feed in Tariff Program sounds excessive. But compared with the likely costs of new build nuclear facilities that emerged from the province’s efforts to procure new reactors of somewhere in the range of at least 20 cents per kilowatt hour, it starts to look very reasonable. The reality is that all of the available sources of new supply, with the exception of conservation, will cost more. The government does deserve some credit for attempting to be honest about that reality.

That said, those who are concerned about future costs should be far more upset about the government’s unwavering commitment to 50 per cent of the province’s future electricity supply coming from nuclear power. Based on what we have learned from the province’s procurement efforts and the rebuilding projects at Bruce and Pickering, the government’s estimated $33 billion cost for the nuclear component of its “Long-Term Energy Plan’ can only be regarded as wildly optimistic. Moreover, there are increasingly serious questions about the capacity of the province’s would-be nuclear suppliers Areva of France and Atomic Energy of Canada, to present viable new bids in the foreseeable future.

Third, it is important to consider that the goals of the Green Energy Act extended well beyond providing new supplies of electricity. The act was very much a product of a decision by the province to embrace the concept of building a ‘green’ technology sector, particularly the manufacturing of renewable energy technologies like wind turbines and solar panels, as part of its response the climate change issue, public concern over environmental issues and the 2008 economic downturn.

Unfortunately, other jurisdictions who found themselves in the same situation, including many of Ontario’s neighbours on the US side of the Great Lakes had exactly the same idea at the same time. If the province’s strategy was going to succeed, Ontario needed to get a competitive ‘jump’ on these jurisdictions, creating a critical mass of activity and investment around renewable energy before they did. The Green Energy Act’s Feed-in Tariff mechanism provided the means to do that, prompting investment commitments in the range of $8 billion in renewable energy. The uncertainty promoted by the government’s reversals on renewable energy now threatens to undermine that advantage.

GEA is neither the cause nor the solution to all of the problems facing the Ontario’s electricity system. The province still needs to have a serious conversation about the system’s future direction in the face of rapidly changing circumstances, something which none of the province’s party leaders have offered Ontario residents so far in this election year.