Hard Paths to Decarbonization?: Assessing Ottawa’s paths to net zero through an energy sustainability lens
Mark Winfield | August 2022
Working paper for D.VanNijnatten, Canadian Environmental Politics and Policy 5th edition OUP Forthcoming
This chapter examines the federal government’s approach to designing a net-zero pathway, and looks at the implications of some of the key choices that are emerging from an energy sustainability perspective. The chapter finds that although the Trudeau government has adopted a broadly ‘ecological modernist’ discourse around its approach to decarbonizing the Canadian economy, there appears to be no consistent framework for evaluating or making choices around specific pathways and technologies towards that end, other than to pursue “every tool in the toolbox.”The situation presents potentially significant problems, as some of the technologies that are being emphasized are far from mature and their potential contributions to achieving significant reductions in GHG emissions within the required timeframes open to serious question. Many also carry very serious environmental, social, cultural, economic, legacy and lock-in risks of their own.
Institutionalizing Regulatory Capture as Regulatory Practice
Mark Winfield | January 2021
Working paper for B.Campbell ed., Corporate Power in a Time of Pandemic, Inequality and Climate Emergency: Pathways to Transformative Change (Toronto: James Lorimer and co., for publication 2021).
“Regulatory capture” can characterized through the existence of very close operational relationships between regulatory agencies and regulated entities, the sharing of policy goals and objectives, the favouring of the interests of regulatees, and the regular exchange of personnel between regulatory agencies and regulated firms. One of the most striking features of the past quarter century has been the extent to which what might in the past been called “regulatory capture” has been embedded or normalized into the practices and operational models of regulatory agencies at the federal and provincial levels in Canada.
The following chapter argues that different paths forward need to be found, ones that better balance the interests of the public and those of regulated entities.
Phasing-Out Coal-Fired Electricity in Ontario - Chapter 19
Mark Winfield and Abdeali Saherwala | January 2021
Working Paper for Policy Success in Canada (Oxford, 2022)
The phase-out of coal-fired electricity production in the Canadian Province of Ontario has been widely described as one of the most significant measures taken by any government in the world to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The phase-out of coal, which in the early 2000s constituted a quarter of the province’s electricity supply, was completed in 2014. The phase-out was associated with dramatic improvements in air quality in southern part of province. As such, it is regarded as a core environmental legacy of the 2003-2018 Liberal governments of Premiers Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne.
Although an undeniable success in terms of emissions of GHGs, smog and acid rain precursors, and heavy metals, like mercury, the province’s approach to the phase-out did involve significant trade-offs in terms of the environmental and economic sustainability of the province’s electricity system. The phase-out was associated with a substantial re-expansion of the role of nuclear energy in the system, and the period over which the phase-out took place characterized by major increases in electricity costs for residential consumers. The phase-out was also a product of a wider politicization of decision-making around the system, the consequences of which continue to affect the province’s politics profoundly.
This paper explores the evolution of the role of coal-fired electricity in Ontario, the environmental, health and political drivers of the concept of a coal-fired electricity phase-out, and the processes through which the phase-out was completed. The paper examines the environmental health benefits and trade-offs associated with the phase-out, as well as the impacts of the phase-out on electricity costs, and the configuration of the province’s electricity system, including the rise and demise of the 2009 Green Energy and Green Economy Act. The paper assesses the impact of the phase-out process on the province’s overall all approach to decision-making around the electricity system, and the long-term political impacts of the phase-out.
An Ontario Recovery Plan: Energy, Electricity and Climate Change
Sustainable Energy Initiative, York University | May 2020
The Government of Ontario has created a Provincial Committee on Jobs and Recovery to discuss options to support jobs and recovery of the Province once the Emergency Orders have been lifted.
Based on our recent research, the Sustainable Energy Initiative has identified the following key challenges and potential responses in the areas of electricity, climate change, land-use and transportation and buildings and energy efficiency. A list of relevant SEI research publications from which the information is drawn and recommendations developed is provided at the end of this document, along with specific references for the points in the document.
Ontario and a Changing Climate
M. Winfield and C. Kaiser | April 2020
Working Paper for Ontario Since Confederation
This paper examines the impacts of climate change on Ontario, and the evolution of climate change policy in Ontario from the late 1980s to the present day. The paper highlights the specific challenges of GHG emission reductions in the province, particularly in areas like buildings and transportation, that are difficult to address through carbon pricing strategies alone.
Enabling community energy planning? Polycentricity, governance frameworks, and community energy planning in Canada
Mark Winfield, Scott Harbinson, Susan Morrissey Wyse | January 2020
Submitted to the Canadian Planning and Policy Journal
This paper focuses on the CEP experiences within the three Canadian provinces: British Columbia; Ontario; and Nova Scotia studied through the CEKAP project. Each province is examined in terms of the presence of supportive CEP policies, the relationship between CEP and broader provincial energy and climate change policies, and the integration of CEP into land-use planning policies. More broadly, the assessments consider the extent to which the CEP experience reflects conventional multilevel governance model in which authority is shared between different levels of government, versus more polycentric approaches. The case studies reveal the complexity of locally focused energy planning initiatives which, so far, still fits more within a traditional model of multilevel governance than true polycentricity. The experiences in all three provinces also highlight the importance of stable and consistent enabling and supportive policies from senior levels of government in advancing CEP initiatives.
Federalism and Canadian Climate Change Policy
Mark Winfield and Douglas Macdonald | July 2019
Working Paper for G.Skogstad and H.Bakvis, Canadian Federalism (4th ed) (Toronto: Oxford, In press) – Do not Quote or Cite without permission
Political resiliency and institutional design: A case study of energy efficiency governance in six North America cases
James Gaede, Scott Harbinson, Brendan Haley, Peter Love, Ph.D, and Mark Winfield, Ph.D | June 2019
Working Paper presented at the International Sustainability Transitions Conference, Ottawa ON, June 23-26 2019 – Do not Quote or Cite without permission
Competing paradigms, Policy Windows and the Search for Sustainability in Ontario Electricity Policy
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D and Becky MacWhirter | June 2018
Working paper for Divided Province: Ontario Politics in the Age of Neoliberalism (Kingston/Montreal: Queens-McGill University Press 2019)
This paper explores the reasons for the instability in Ontario electricity policy over the past three decades. During this period the province has moved through a succession of apparently contradictory policy models: supply planning; “soft” energy paths and integrated resource planning; a “market” model; a “hybrid” model combining market and planning elements; a renewable energy paradigm centred around the Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEGEA); and most recently an ad hoc approach driven by political management considerations. The paper argues that this situation reflects the extent to which the long- standing historical consensus around the objectives of the province’s electricity system of providing cheap and abundant electricity, and the planning models used to support those objectives, has broken down. The result has been a highly unstable policy environment in which different constituencies have been able to take advantage of the “policy windows” created by convergences of problems and ‘crises’, political circumstances and the availability of new policy ideas, to take control of the electricity policy agenda - until the arrival of the next window. The paper concludes that the pattern of radical changes in direction is destined to continue unless steps are taken to build consensus around the system’s goals and structure and to ensure that it advances energy sustainability.
This document is based on a review of the platforms that have now been posted by the four major political parties in the 2018 Ontario Provincial Election.
Justice Denied: Why was there no public inquiry into the Lac-Mégantic Disaster?
Mark Winfield | September 2017
Final version published - Winfield, M., “Justice Denied: Why was there no public inquiry into the Lac-Mégantic Disaster?” Ottawa Law Review (2018) 48 R.G.D. 131-154
This paper examines the reasons why, despite the magnitude and significance of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, no formal public inquiry was called into the tragedy. In doing so it explores the substantive and political rationales for establishing public inquiries in circumstances like Lac-Mégantic, and the reasons why the various investigations that have been undertaken by the Transportation Safety Board and others into the disaster do not constitute an adequate substitute for a formal inquiry. The paper then employs a modified institutional-ideological analytical framework to examine the landscape, ideational, societal, and institutional factors that have worked against the calling of an inquiry. The paper concludes that the concept of a formal inquiry likely faced major opposition at the political and official levels within the Government of Canada, as well as major non-governmental actors in transportation and fossil fuel sectors. Finally, the paper discusses the implications of the decision not to call an inquiry in the Lac-Mégantic case for the role of inquiries in similar circumstances in the future.
International Climate Change Policy in the Harper Era
Mark Winfield, Ph.D and Vanessa Scanga | September 2017
For P.McKenna, ed., Canadian Foreign Policy in the Harper Era (Toronto: University of Toronto Press) In Press.
This paper focuses on the Canadian government’s approach to the international dimensions of the climate change issue during the government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, from its coming into office in January 2006, to its defeat in the October 2015 federal election. As a case study, the Harper period provides an opportunity to examine the extent to which international obligations and considerations constrained and shaped the behaviour of a government that was fundamentally disinclined to take the climate change issue seriously, and eventually came to regard it as a threat to its core economic agenda. The paper also includes a discussion of important transnational initiatives that emerged around climate change policy among sub-national (provincial and state) governments in North America during the Harper period.
The 2015 Federal Election - One Year Later. The Liberal Platforms vs. Progress to Date
Mark S Winfield | October 2016
This analysis, developed by SEI Co-Chair Mark Winfield, critically examines the key platform commitments made by the Liberals in the 2015 Federal Election and assesses the progress made thus far.
The Lac- Mégantic Disaster and Transport Canada’s Safety Management System (SMS) Model: Implications for Reflexive Regulatory Regimes
Mark S Winfield | June 2016
Final Version Published Journal of Environmental Law and Practice (JELP 28.3) September 2016
In the context of the July 2013 Lac-Mégantic railway disaster, this paper examines the Safety Management System (SMS)-based dimension of the railway safety regulatory regime employed by Transport Canada as an example a smart, or more specifically, reflexive regulatory framework. The paper assesses the railway safety SMS regime through a series of criteria build on the wider literature around smart and reflexive regulatory models. The paper identifies significant weaknesses within the SMS framework, and notes significant parallels between the current railway regulatory regime and early phases of environmental regulation in Canada, particularly with respect to approaches to enforcement. Drawing on subsequent experience in Canadian environmental law over the past three decades, specifically with respect to enhanced enforcement regimes and the expansion of officers’ and directors’ liability, the paper explores ways in which effective and reflexive responses can be prompted from regulated entities, while avoiding key problems that have emerged from Transport Canada’s SMS model. The paper concludes that Canada’s railway SMS experience provides a cautionary tale regarding the risks associated with the pursuit of reflexive regulatory models at the expense of direct regulation, particularly in areas where the consequences of regulatory failure may be catastrophic.
Planning for Tidal Current Turbine Technology: A case study of the Gulf of St. Lawrence
Stephen J. Sangiuliano | December 2015
Final Version Published Journal of Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews December 2016
The combustion of fossil fuels for purposes of energy production has accelerated the rate at which the planet is warming, thereby causing adverse effects on natural ecosystems across the globe. The consequences of climate change arising from the use of conventional fuels such as coal, oil, and gas demands a shift towards the use of sustainable, emissions-free renewable energy technologies. When planning for the implementation of new energy systems, several factors must be examined in order to determine the viability of a system to meet energy demands in a sustainable and efficient manner. This paper provides an overview of tidal current turbines (TCTs), examining how they function to produce electricity, the possible environmental impacts surrounding large-scale implementation, associated economic factors, and public acceptability. A case study of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is presented as an implementation site, demonstrating the potential for TCTs to assist in phasing out the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation on the Newfoundland island interconnected electricity system. A multi-criteria decision making matrix is presented to discern the benefits of TCTs compared to fossil fuels for the purpose of electricity generation. The paper concludes by examining the potential future of TCTs in the world.
The 2015 Major Party Election Platforms on the Environment, Energy and Climate Change
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D | October 2015
This analysis, developed by SEI Co-Chair Mark Winfield, examines the key platform commitments from the Conservatives, Liberals, Greens and NDP on environmental energy and climate change issues. It accompanies his blog commentary on the platforms.
Environmental Policy in Ontario: ‘Greening’ the Province from the ‘Dynasty’ to Wynne
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D | August 2015
Final version published as Winfield, M., "Environmental Policy in Ontario: ‘Greening’ the province from the dynasty to Wynne" in J.Malloy and C.Collier, The Politics of Ontario, 6th Edition (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017).
Decision-Making, Governance and Sustainability beyond the Age of ‘Responsible Resource Development’
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D| June 2015
Final version published in - Journal of Environmental Law and Practice, Conference Issue, August 2016.
This paper examines the role of environmental assessment and public participation in environmental decision-making, particularly in the context of governmental efforts to aggressively ‘streamline’ these processes over the past two decades. The paper argues that the proponents of streamlining have overlooked a key political rationale for the establishment ofenvironmental assessment processes from the early 1970s onwards. Specifically, in addition to improving the quality of decision-making, environmental assessment and public participation processes were established to provide structures through which disputes over the distribution of the costs, benefits and risks of proposed infrastructure and resource development projects could be resolved in a manner which all participants regarded as legitimate. In contrast, the potential for ‘streamlined’ decision-making processes to intensify rather than resolve social and political conflicts is highlighted through a number of Canadian examples. These include the proposed Alberta to British Columbia Northern Gateway Pipeline project, the renewable energy project approval process in Ontario, and the cancellation of proposed natural gas-fired power plants in the same province. The paper argues that the political risks associated with the types of outcomes seen in these cases may provide an important window of opportunity to reform decision-making processes in the direction of advancing sustainability and enhancing the legitimacy and acceptance of the resulting choices.
Implementing Environmental Policy in Canada
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D | October 2014
Final version published as - Winfield, M., “Implementing Environmental Policy in Canada” for D. VanNijnatten, ed., Canadian Environmental Policy and Politics (4rd Edition) (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2016).
This paper examines the tools and strategies available to governments for the purpose of implementing environmental policy in Canada. The main types of policy instruments available to governments are described including substantive, procedural and institutional mechanisms. The factors influencing government decision-making when choosing implementation tools, such as considerations of effectiveness, efficiency, fairness and political and policy acceptability, are explored as well. Political and policy factors are generally found to outweigh substantive considerations in decision-making. The paper examines the recent changes that have occurred in Canadian governments’ approaches to environmental policy implementation, particularly since the 2008 economic downturn and the 2011 arrival of a Conservative federal government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The paper highlights major shifts in direction with respect to procedural and institutional mechanisms away from strengthening consideration of the environment and public input in decision-making towards facilitating natural resources extraction and development. The incidence of outright withdrawals of substantive requirements regarding protection of the environment is noted, and as a longer-term shift towards of ‘smart’ regulation implementation models for substantive policy instruments. The long-term implications of these shifts in approaches to policy implementation are discussed in terms of the legitimacy and public acceptance of public policy decisions, and the potential risks to public safety, health and the environment resulting from both the loss of governmental policy development and implementation capacity, and the increasing reliance on ‘smart’ regulation implementation models.
Ontario 2014 Election: Key Environment and Energy Issues – What Needs to Happen vs. the Party Platforms
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D | May 2014
To accompany his Blog on energy and environment issues in the 2014 Ontario election http://marksw.blog.yorku.ca/2014/05/26/ontarios-not-so-green-election/, Mark Winfield has prepared this table comparing the platforms of the Green Party, NDP, Liberals and Progressive Conservatives on the key environmental issues facing the province, and outlining the key steps that should be taken in each of these areas.
Understanding the Economic Impact of Renewable Energy Initiatives: Assessing Ontario’s Experience in a Comparative Context
Mark S. Winfield, Ph.D. with contributions from Nageen Rehman, Mariana Eret, Dawn Strifler and Paul Cockburn | August 2013
This paper explores the debates around the Ontario’s Green Energy and Green Economy Act as an energy and economic development strategy. The paper finds that the empirical data on the employment impacts of the Ontario legislation is extremely limited. Rather, the evidence regarding the economic impacts of the GEGEA is found to be almost entirely based on the results of economic modelling exercises. Critics and supporters of the legislation have arrived at very different conclusions through such exercises. These outcomes are similar to those seen in other jurisdictions pursuing renewable energy initiatives. The paper explores the reasons for the different conclusions being reached over the impacts of renewable energy initiatives. Differences in modelling approaches, assumptions regarding the costs of renewable energy technologies relative to non-renewable alternatives and especially the treatment and valuation of environmental and other externalities and risks in modelling the cost impacts of different energy technologies are found to be key factors in explaining the different conclusions. The paper explores the range of ideational perspectives which may underlie these differences in modelling approaches and assumptions.
Secondly, the paper assesses Ontario’s renewable energy initiative as an industrial development strategy. The paper finds that the province was very late in establishing a coherent strategy for the development of the renewable energy manufacturing and services sector. The future prospects for the sector are found to be under serious threat as a result of the uncertainty regarding the province’s ongoing commitment to the development of renewable energy resources. In the absence of a resolution of the issue of the province’s future direction, and of a coherent sectoral development strategy, the paper finds that there is a serious risk that GEGEA exercise will amount to an expensive but temporary countercyclical intervention as opposed to an investment in development of an industrial sector with potential to make significant long term contributions to the Ontario economy.
District Energy in Sync with Smart Growth Goals, Planning Figures in Pro Forma
David MacMillan | April 2013
The following is an excerpt from a paper that discusses district energy (DE) as an integral component to energy efficiency strategies for urban municipalities in Ontario. Though climate change, concerns over energy security and the desire for community-scale solutions are driving a renewed interest in DE, implementation must address multiple, complex challenges simultaneously. Therefore, planning for DE systems through integrated urban development strategies can facilitate implementation. However, given that energy policy and planning is typically the domain of the province and land-use planning that of the municipality, this article seeks to frame DE development as an issue that municipalities must necessarily address through local planning. Building density, urban design and neighbourhood typology are all relevant parameters in DE development that are central to urban planning in practice and this paper provides some insight into these relationships.
The Environment, “Responsible Resource Development,” and Evidence-Based Policy-Making in Canada
Mark Winfield | October 2012
This paper explores the approach of the Harper government to environmental policy and decision-making through the lens of evidence-based policy-making. The paper concludes that the government’s approach can be organized around three core themes: The undermining of the knowledge and information base and capacity for policy-making through budgetary reductions to federal agencies and elimination of specific sources of research and analysis, particularly if they are not in accordance with the government’s agenda; the weakening of mechanisms for EBPM via legislative changes, especially with respect to the federal environmental assessment process; and the constraining non-governmental sources of information, analysis and criticism. These events highlight in particular the vulnerability of efforts at EBPM to the loss of the evidence and information base for decision-making and the capacity of agencies to use what information does exist due to budgetary pressures, and the risks that if the process for gathering and considering evidence comes to be perceived as too cumbersome or time-consuming it can be at risk of attack and “reform” for these reasons. At the same time, obvious failures or unwillingness to allow the proper consideration of evidence in decision-making process can ultimately undermine the political legitimacy and even legal validity of the resulting decisions. The risks of the loss of information and the capacity to assess and use that information weakens governments’ ability to identify and address emerging problems before they manifest themselves as crises or disasters are also highlighted.
Recent events, including a high profile public exchange between Alberta Premier Alison Redford and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, comments by federal opposition leader Thomas Mulcair, and the conflicts between BC and Alberta at the most recent premiers' conference have highlighted the growing regional conflicts within Canada over the direction of energy policy and specifically the development of non-renewable energy resources. This paper offers some reflections on the prospects for a constructive national conversation about energy and energy resources development in Canada, leading to a more cohesive national energy policy framework. The paper examines the potential drivers of engagement in such a discussion, particularly in terms of how key provinces perceive their economic, environmental and political interests with respect to energy. Barriers to the emergence of a shared national vision around energy are also considered in these terms, particularly with respect to perceived regional impacts of the federal government's current approach to energy policy. The underlying normative framework for the paper seeks to advance energy sustainability in Canada while addressing the regional divisions over energy policy. Recommendations regarding a potential path forward for Canada are provided, emphasizing the need to moderate the pace of oil sands development, for federal energy policies to address the interests of the non-fossil fuel exporting provinces, the adoption of a carbon pricing mechanism and the strengthening rather than weakening of the environmental regulatory framework for energy resources development.
Is Not So Hard Being Green
Peter Love | March 2012
Responsibility for a company's environmental and social issues rest with the board of directors. One of these issues, arguably the most important, is climate change, along with related matters of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and energy. This article will focus on the direct links between these issues, and why directors need to care.
Green Buildings in China
Peter Love | Spring 2012
This first column combines two topics familiar to everyone on their own but not together. It is based on a recent trip to China to speak at an international low-carbon conference and to follow up on earlier meetings with building inspection officials from China during a Canadian study tour.
Peter Love | 2012
Modern concerns about energy started with two oil-price shocks in the 1970s, coming to the fore again in the 1980s with the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Then, more recently, we experienced the Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima disasters. Who knows what the future holds?
The response to these episodes largely consisted of trying to clean up the mess and finding replacement energy. Now, however, there is a drive to look for ways to reduce our energy use in the first place through energy conservation and efficiency. With this change in focus have come some inventive means of realizing energy performance gains in cost-effective and business-friendly ways.
Water is Liquid Electricity
Peter Love | Fall 2011
Water availability and quality are emerging as huge global issues, which may well become a tangible crisis before even climate change reaches that point. You can expect to hear more and more about this as it begins to compete with climate change as the leading environmental issue of this century.
While Canada, including Ontario, is extremely fortunate to have among the largest sources of fresh water in the world, we are not managing this resource very well.