Doing the right thing can be ever so difficult. Just ask Dalton McGuinty and his Ontario government colleagues. Going green in a polluted world should have been easy. Recognizing first nations’ right to protect their traditional lands ought to have been a cinch. Both conclusions suppose a clear path to a logical conclusion. Instead, they lead to thickets of conflicting realities.
On both fronts, McGuinty and his ministers have been accused of being in too much of a hurry. On energy, that is certainly the case. The Liberals saw green energy technology as the way out of Ontario’s recession-era industrial turmoil. McGuinty concluded that if Ontario was to become a world leader in alternate energy, it had to be first. It would be the champion of the climate change battle and save the world!
The Liberals offered wind and solar power developers generous incentives on 20-year contracts. Large solar installers hurried to get 44.3 cents a kilowatt-hour (small operations got twice that) while wind turbine operations were promised 13.5 cents per kw/h. Consumers pay at most 10 cents kw/h and are expected to pay the difference.
The Green Energy Act was badly received by most except those in line for the royalties, and so the government has announced a review that will lower those incentives. But hundreds of developments are already coming on stream; only future ones will get less money. How many new takers will there be at that rate?
The act also removed municipalities’ traditional control of these developments. The review will restore many of their former rights, but it’s too late for all those communities that have had to accept giant wind turbines and acres of solar panels.
A policy that should have drawn admiration and respect for helping to lead the world away from dangerous fossil-fuel pollution has instead turned into a millstone around the government’s neck.
There is another stone there, too – the need to modernize the entire electricity transmission grid left to the Liberals in decrepit condition by former governments. Together with the costs of the Green Energy Act, additional nuclear energy and closure of coal-fired plants or conversion to natural gas, the price of power in Ontario is rising fast. It is hurting all customers and there is no way to stop it.
Here in Northern Ontario, the government tried to respect first nations’ demands against intrusions on their traditional lands. The plan was to negotiate ways to preserve half of the entire Far North for them, leaving the other half to mining and forestry.
The Far North Act has turned into a hornets’ nest. Industry is livid about the loss of potentially rich developments. First nations complain that government and industry aren’t negotiating properly with them over the land that’s left. And the Northwestern Ontario Municipal Association likes neither the act nor a private member’s bill to repeal it. NOMA says the act should have fostered logical land use planning but instead has “created a divisive and uncertain environment.”
Both of these issues along with public sector restraint, cuts to health care, and much more, will be addressed in the Liberal budget one week from today. It is doubtful that any Ontario budget has been more anticipated than this one. With the tangled thicket of conflicting interests, getting it exactly right might be impossible.
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