Energy Transitions in the Age of Populism

Mark Winfield, "The Environment, Climate Change and Market Populist Politics", working paper for J.Malloy and C.Collier, Eds., The Politics of Ontario (Forthcoming UTP) 

This chapter examines the evolution of environmental politics and policy in Ontario, with a focus on the 2nd Wynne government, and the first Ford government, covering the period just following the 2022 election. The chapter argues that the arrival and apparent political success of the Ford government reflects the introduction of a new dimension on ideational/discursive spectrum of Ontario politics, one that might be termed “market populism.”  In practice this seems to combine a relatively neo-liberal policy approach, with a populist focus on reducing costs to consumers (e.g. taxes, hydro rates) in the short term.  

2022 Ontario Election Climate Change Platforms

By Mark Winfield | May 18 2021

Issue Green Party Platform and Costing Liberal Party Platform and Costing NDP (Platform and Green New Democratic Deal) Progressive Conservatives (No Platform released to date. Entries based on 2022 budget and Made in Ontario Environment Plan).
Targets 50% reduction by 2030 relative to 2005;  Net-zero by 2045 *50% Reduction by 2030 relative to 2005.

*Projected reductions rely heavily on federal carbon pricing.

*Net Zero by 2050; 50% reduction by 2030 relative to 2005. *30% reduction by 2030 relative to 2005
Carbon Pricing *Take over administration of the federal carbon fee system and
increase the price by $25 until it reaches
$300/tonne in 2032.*All carbon fee revenues collected from individuals will be re- turned to individuals as dividends.*Assumes $500m/yr from industrial carbon pricing.*Fund a $6B climate bonus for low-income
households by adding a 1% climate surcharge levy on the province’s top 10% in-
come earners.*Levies on parking and fossil gas ($2 billion/yr)*Assumes $5 billion in federal funding
*Appears to continue federal carbon price on heating and transportation fuels

*Will ‘strengthen’ system for industrial emitters including introduction of carbon offsets. Projects $361 million/yr in additional revenue by 2025-26.


*New cap and trade system to replace federal ‘backstop.’ Estimated revenues $30 billion 2022-26. *Implication of focus on industrial emissions; *Scope of coverage for heating and transportation fuels unclear.

*Revenues retained by province (25% to rural, northern and low-income families).

*Implicit continuation of federal carbon price on heating and transportation fuels.

*“Smooth” transition for industry from federal to Ontario system.

*Phase-out industrial use of coal.


Electricity *Phase-out Fossil gas by 2030.

*Double electricity supply by 2040 and “electrify everything practicable.”

*Quebec interconnections; *expand storage;

*No new nuclear; close Pickering as scheduled or sooner.

*Redirect energy subsidies ($6 billion/yr) to reduce energy poverty and to increase energy efficiency


*Transition to ‘fully clean’ electricity system (no timeline)

*Develop a long-term energy plan that includes energy conservation programs the right, cost-effective
mix of nuclear, hydroelectricity and renewables

*Phase-out natural gas as baseload power.

*Expand conservation and renewable energy, including interconnections with Manitoba and Quebec. *Continue electricity rebates
Transportation *Cancel planned unnecessary highways such as Highway 413, Holland Marsh Highway (a.k.a. Bradford Bypass), and the widening of Highway 417.

*EV rebates and charging infrastructure

*Phase out the sale of new gas and diesel

passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks,

and buses by 2030.

*Restore provincial operating support for transit.

*Cancel 413 highway and “reassess” Bradford Bypass; *Maintain other highway expansions.

*$1-ride transit

*Maintain “all existing funded transit plans.”

*Require Metrolinx
to provide “greater transparency, engagement
and community benefits”

*EV rebates and charging infrastructure

*Require all new passenger vehicles sales to be net-zero by 2035

*Cancel 413 Highway and Bradford Bypass

*ZEV Strategy including 100% ZEV sales by 2035.

*Restore provincial operating support for transit

*Make Metrolinx transparent, and accountable, to the public

*Build 413 and Bradford Bypass and other highway projects


*Cut gas tax and take tolls of Highways 412 and 418.


*Continue transit plans.


*Focus on EV manufacturing and supply chain, but not strategy for electrification of transport.

Buildings *Retrofit 40% of existing homes and workplaces to net-zero (conservation
plus heat pump and solar) by 2030 and 100% by 2040 to help people save money by saving energy*Upgrade building code to net-zero by 2028.
*Building retrofit programs and upgrade building code *Building retrofit program (5% of building stock per year)
Transition Strategy *Extensive and detailed. *Create 25,000 green jobs

*Establish Ontario as a global leader in cleantech, clean energy and manufacturing and electric vehicles solutions

*Harness hydrogen power as an economic driver

*Green Democratic New Deal

*Strong focus on EV and transit vehicle manufacturing

*Limited to steel, EV manufacturing and supply chain and ‘critical’ minerals. *Hydrogen strategy published
Adaptation *Plan for impacts; *Adaptation fund;

*Integrate climate resilience into land use
planning and when designing, sizing and
siting infrastructure.


*Restore role of Conservation Authorities

*Repeal environmentally-harmful changes to legislation related to conservation, land planning *Infrastructure and flooding adaptation *Infrastructure fund references climate impacts


*Climate impact assessment underway.

Accountability *Restore the Office of the Environmental
Commissioner.*Restore a robust environmental assessment process and reverse changes that allow for assessments to be “streamlined.
*Restore powers of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario
The Bottom Line The most comprehensive and most daring – proposes increased carbon pricing, reallocation of electricity rebates, climate surcharge on high income earners, parking lots and fossil gas Comprehensive, picks up on themes from 2017 climate strategy (buildings, EVs); appears rely on continued federal carbon pricing with a strengthened regime for industry. Comprehensive but less detail than Greens. Ambiguous about carbon pricing – does the burden shift fully from consumers to industry? Relies on updated 2018 made-in-Ontario strategy, around which there has been virtually no implementation. Only major initiatives are ‘Greening’ steel sector and EV supply chain.

Highway expansion a central element of platform.

Overall Assessment

The PC Government

The Progressive Conservatives would continue their current pathway, with a weak emission standard for industrial emissions and by implication a continuation of the federal ‘backstop’ carbon price on consumer heating and transportation fuels. The two major climate mitigation actions for the PCs would be the ‘greening’ of the steel sector, which may produce emissions reductions of 1.9MTCO2e/yr by 2029, and a focus on EV manufacturing and supply chains. The latter will have no direct impact on reducing emissions, as there is no strategy to promote EV adoption in the province. There is also a risk that increased mining activity in Ontario’s far north boreal region (e.g. the ‘Ring of Fire’) could significantly affect the carbon sink and storage functions of the region and lead to major increases in emissions of GHGs, particularly methane, if not managed very carefully.  This consideration is ignored in the government’s recent critical minerals strategy.

The Major Opposition Parties

All three major opposition parties oppose the Ford government’s plans for the 413 and Bradford Bypass highways. All have similar targets and have strategies around EVs, building retrofits and energy efficiency, green industrial and renewable energy development and phasing out gas-fired electricity generation.

The big difference among the opposition parties is on approaches to carbon pricing. The Greens would develop a provincial system to replace the federal ‘backstop’ carbon price on heating and transportation fuels, and increase the price significantly relative to the federal plan (to $300/tonne), although revenues would continue to be rebated to taxpayers. The system for industrial emissions would be strengthened (Ontario currently operates under an ‘equivalency’ exemption for the Federal Output Based Pricing System (OBPS)) to generate an additional $500 million/yr in revenues. There would also be climate surcharges on high income earners, parking lots and fossil gas.

The Liberals would seem to retain the federal ‘backstop’ carbon pricing system on heating and transportation fuels, but would strengthen the system for industrial emissions to generate an additional $361/million/yr in revenues.