A warning about our dwindling international reputation, from a former Ontario PC premier

Politics? What politics?

For the last several years, every time the Ford government stepped forward to support a major clean energy investment, their talk of protecting the environment would be followed by words about using “tools” to push back against the rest of the world.

When Boeing and Bombardier clashed over the Canadian government’s investment in those companies, we saw Ford say that Canada would implement “stricter rules” for foreign investment.

When we got huge new wind power investments in the Great Lakes, there was talk of using “tools” to raise the barriers on other foreign investment.

And when the federal government and the U.S. Administration announced limits on investment from North Korea and China, Ford talked about “throwing the book at foreign companies.”

No wonder so many potential investment partners are leaving Canada.

As I write this, the most recent example of a Ford government “using the book” to assert its right to discriminate, pursue narrow economic interests at the expense of public policy, is underway.

As a province, we are frustrated at the potential damage this export ban could cause to Ontario’s environment, its international reputation, and its international financial standing.

But while Ontario Conservatives did not create the heavy reliance on coal that these investments seek to prevent, they are part of a global political trend in which governments are seeking to restrict and restrict the investment that funds our transition to clean energy.

This may not only be bad for our national reputation, it’s bad for Ontario’s economy.

For so many countries including our own, reduced dependence on coal is the path to stronger growth and better environmental outcomes. These new coal plants would prevent Ontario from meeting its commitments under the Paris Agreement.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the United States. Under the Trump Administration, coal has been blamed for everything from global warming to worsening pollution to starving babies in the U.S. coal country. But this presents the greatest challenge to President Trump.

Even as the world’s largest market for coal, the U.S. faces intense pressure to move away from coal in favor of cleaner energy sources.

Under this pressure, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cancelled a proposed rule to reduce U.S. power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the main pollutants contributing to smog.

The decision took our nation to one of the lowest levels in the world for total sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions — for that reason alone, the U.S. plan has been a huge driver of investments in natural gas and wind energy in the region.

Canada can’t be left behind when it comes to leadership on clean energy and climate action.

But so far, we haven’t seen that leadership.

In 2017, when the largest coal plant operator in Alberta announced it was pulling out of the coal age, the Ford government ignored that and pressed ahead with a new plant.

And so far, the Ford government’s response to a major investment in wind power in Ontario has been a show of hands, followed by promises that the government will no longer use “tools” to impose discriminatory measures.

This kind of thing is common for the Ford government and it’s far from helping to persuade any country to invest in our province.

At the same time, we’re used to the Conservatives avoiding the difficult issues that need to be addressed in a responsible and ambitious policy approach to climate change.

Over the years, the PC party has tried to scare off investors and muddy the waters about our climate and clean energy goals in a bid to win back power.

I’ve watched as my federal NDP colleagues have gone the whole nine yards on the environment, and as the Green Party has become a major voice for Ontario to protect our environment.

But we still have a PC government that refuses to say whether it has the numbers in the House to bring in its own climate plan.

There are no gloating Ontario PCs — not really, anyway.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the national Liberals are leading the way and showing the province and our country that progressive climate policy is good for business and our international reputation.

Now we need a real, national leadership on this issue from all parties — and with the provinces acting, there should be no problem getting there.

Thank you.

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