Earlier this week the National Post published a merciless editorial on Ontario’s energy policies under Premier Dalton McGuinty (McGuinty’s green energy disaster, Dec. 8). The editorial came on the heels of an Auditor-General’s report described by the editorial board as one of the “most scathing indictments of government mismanagement we have ever witnessed.” Anyone who has been following the McGuinty government’s reckless embrace of so-called alternative energy sources and its early fervour for windmills, the multibillion-dollar deal it cut with a South Korean manufacturer of windmills and solar panels, will have no trouble accepting the terms of auditor’s report, or the Post’s equally searing editorial.
It is and was a sad tale, a jumble of highly expensive initiatives, pushed without the proper study and foresight by the Premier himself, bypassing all logic either of commerce or of energy supply. How could this have come to pass, how could a reasonably competent government give itself over to such shoddy business practice, and in the process possibly endanger the great industrial future of Ontario itself? How could the province “ignore guidelines,” skip “cost-benefit analysis,” ignore cheaper alternatives and come up with schemes “largely designed by environmentalists and green-industry lobbyists – ‘stakeholders’ in the government’s euphemistic rhetoric?” It’s on this question that I’d like to dwell.
The Ontario government, and Premier McGuinty in particular, gave themselves over to this madness, becoming overzealous crusaders, because the cause was green. And, sadly, there seems to be no other area of public policy in which fitful enthusiasms, pie-in-the-sky thinking, under-researched proposals and the mere hint of possible benefit get so respectful a response and are shielded – almost as if by magic – from the criticisms and analysis that would greet proposals from any other policy area whatsoever. Call it green and every other consideration goes out the window. Start phantom carbon markets, subsidize a Solyndra, put gardens on roofs … green will rationalize every cost and subdue every sane objection.
For example: During the early day’s of McGuinty’s determination to “make Ontario a world leader in green technology,” it was interesting to watch him and his government studiously ignore the articulate criticisms and protests from some Ontario landowners. Now any other project inspiring such protests would naturally instigate the usual relentless series of environmental studies that have become so common in our time. But – windmills being “green initiatives” – naturally it was the reverse. The landowners who protested were pilloried as being the worst of the NIMBY crowd, just selfish types safeguarding their little nooks against the common green future.
Green is the easiest virtue. All it takes in most cases for politicians is simply to say the word often enough and whatever they propose – for a time – gets a pass. Who would question McGuinty against those “selfish” landowners. Wasn’t Dalton moving towards a greener world? Enough then. No studies required. No review of the windmills (until election time, that is, when suddenly Ontario voters were told, in effect, the science “wasn’t in” on what secondary effects windmills might have). Question the contracts for solar power? Impossible. Solar power is “clean.”
We don’t have to call in experts to determine how much they will drive up the energy bills of ordinary Ontarians. Rhetorically, Ontario’s citizens were being asked: “Hey – do you want to save the planet, or save a few bucks on your damn household electricity bill?” With the right cause, you can extort the citizenry to put up with bad policy.
And that’s where this green obsession leads. It promotes a policy on its moral virtues, not on its real-life impact. It replaces the mundane requirements of affordability and reliability of power generation with the vague promise that we’re all participating in some planet-saving enterprise if our toasters run on our neighbour’s highlysubsidized solar panels.
It also has one other feature that politicians are totally unable to resist: Being totally green, they are able, for once, to posture as forward thinking, daring, innovative – even risktaking – leaders, champions of the Earth, saviours of “the children.” They get to play Superman and Boy Scout at the same time. Well, as Ontario’s record shows, you can play the part for a while, but eventually economics or the electorate will have their say, and you must step down from being the green Messiah and try being just the Premier, instead.
Alas, not before billions are wasted, the future obscured, and countless vanity projects litter the landscape. There are lessons here for that huge green garden party going on in Durban right now, but that’s a longer column.
– Rex Murphy offers commentary weekly on CBC TV’s The National, and is host of CBC Radio’s Cross Country Checkup.