Of all the ways to deal with the pall of smog that hangs over Toronto in the summertime, expanding the city’s transit system is one of the smartest. Motor vehicles are the primary source of all that smog. The federal, provincial, and city governments should be congratulated for recognizing this, and for collaborating on extending the Spadina subway. Toronto transit provides a more efficient way for people who would otherwise drive light-duty vehicles to get into and around the city.
Most important, it shifts the primary motive fuel from gasoline to electricity (in the case of subways and streetcars). This is where we’ll make stunning gains on air quality. As I have pointed out, Ontario electricity is relatively clean for the size of the provincial economy: as of two hours ago, provincial generators were collectively emitting 268 grams of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt-hour. That’s three times cleaner than electricity in Alberta and Saskatchewan, more than twice as good as in Nova Scotia, and one-and-a-half times as good as in New Brunswick.
And when Ontario’s nuclear generating fleet is back to its 1994 level in terms of dispatchable capacity, Ontario electricity emission intensity will be around 104 grams of emissions per kWh—more than twice as clean as it already is.
Those who claim that coal-fired power generating plants are the source of Toronto’s air quality problems need to look at publicly available information. If they did, they might find out that in 2002, Ontario transportation sources—mainly light-duty cars and trucks—collectively produced more than 167 times as much carbon monoxide as Ontario coal plants. Carbon monoxide (CO) is the world’s most prolific toxic killer.
Moreover, cars and trucks are far more efficient at distributing this deadly gas: they cover every street in the GTA, emitting CO from tailpipes literally meters from where humans inhale it. By contrast, of the two provincial coal plants that could conceivably affect Toronto’s airshed, one (Nanticoke) is 125 kilometers due south from the Big Smoke. The other (Lambton) is 286 kilometers southwest. Don’t tell me their emissions magically settle to the ground in Toronto.
So supporting transit expansion in Toronto was a good move for Harper. Next, he should introduce tax breaks for hybrid cars.