The Ontario Auditor General has lambasted the (former majority) Liberal government for a litany of shortcomings in policy and implementation over the past few years. A lot of media focus has been on the so-called Green Act which forces electricity rate-payers to pay premium prices for low-quality “green” power, and the implementation of which the AG essentially said was hasty, ill considered, and based on dubious job-creation projections.
In times of majority government, a critical AG report is always seized on by the opposition and media. The government mouths some platitudes about trying to do better, then the issue fades away.
But this is not a majority, it’s a minority. Combined, the opposition Progressive Conservatives and New Democratic Party outnumber the incumbent Liberals in the 107-seat legislature by a single seat—54 to 53.
That means the Liberals cannot rely on their party whip alone to ensure that their bills pass in the legislature and opposition bills are defeated. They also no longer control membership of the standing legislative committees. And it means they can’t buy time with platitudes about the AG’s report, unless the platitudes satisfy at least some opposition members. The opposition could introduce a bill in the legislature, have it sent to committee, and make it become law.
This would of course be difficult without Liberal support. The ideological differences between the PCs and NDP make a scenario in which a collaboration on legislation survives all the necessary stages hard to envision. Plus, if the bill were introduced from committee they would need at least some Liberal support—the bill has to pass committee with two-thirds support. But it’s possible. We are in uncharted waters.
How plausible is a scenario in which the PCs and NDP collaborate on energy? The AG’s report gives them both plenty of ammunition. The PCs said during the election they would scrap the FIT program; the NDP support the basic philosophy of FIT but vowed to reconstitute the old Ontario Hydro (i.e., re-regulate electricity).
An un-sung record of stunning emission reductions
Meanwhile, the Liberals are sitting on top of a rather enormous accomplishment in the way of greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions from electricity. Ontario electricity GHGs in 2011 are on track to be less than 14 million tons.
For those who follow these things, that is simply stunning. When the Liberals took over in 2003, Ontario power plants belched out nearly 40 million tons of greenhouse gases (see Table A13-7 in Environment Canada’s National GHG Inventory Report 1990?2008, Part 3). So the Liberals can legitimately claim that since 2003 they have reduced electricity GHGs by nearly 26 million tons per year.
The cause of this is mainly the stellar operational performance of the provincial nuclear fleet. Since 2003, four nuclear units—two at the Pickering A station, and two at Bruce A—have come back into service after having been laid up in the late 1990s. As you can see in Table A13-7, annual nuclear generation was 23.4 billion kilowatt-hours more in 2008 than in 2003.
The problem is, those who know about this don’t want to give credit where it’s due. I refer of course to the self-appointed environmental lobby—the “green” NGOs who supported the Liberals in the 2003, 2007, and 2011 elections. They are all anti-nuclear and pro-natural gas.
They are also clustered in the 416 voting districts. The Liberals owe their very electoral survival to 416 voters. So touting their nuclear accomplishments will hardly help the Liberals with this crowd.
But they still have to do something, and soon, to deal with the AG’s report. Do they dare trumpet their 26 million ton GHG reduction? That might buy support from the PCs, provided they push forward on new nuclear units at Darlington and life extension at Pickering B. Nuclear is cheap power, and the PCs support it.
That would require a paradigm shift in political communication on energy and the environment. The Liberals lost their majority because they listened to phony greens who want expensive gas-fired electricity. Why not trumpet their GHG reductions, say up front how they achieved the reductions, and pursue an energy strategy that doesn’t alienate rural Ontario or bankrupt anybody on a low income, and that creates high paying jobs that are truly, not falsely, green? Drop wind, and go nuclear.