Ontario promises public consultations on cap and trade after facing legal action

Ford government’s rash teardown of Ontario’s legislative regime for combatting climate change irresponsible, groups say.

TORONTO — An environmental group that is taking the Ontario government to court over its decision to cancel the cap-and-trade system says the province has now committed to holding public consultations before moving ahead with the plan.

Greenpeace Canada says the Progressive Conservative government posted the notice of consultation on the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act late Tuesday, hours after the group announced its intentions to launch legal action.

Greenpeace asserted the government flouted the province’s Environmental Bill of Rights by failing to hold public consultations on Premier Doug Ford’s plan to scrap the cap-and-trade program.

The government notice says public consultations will take place until Oct. 11.

Ontario’s Environment Ministry would not confirm that the government would wait until the consultation process is complete before voting on Bill 4, but expressed confidence that the legislation would meet “all necessary requirements.”

But Greenpeace said that the government had sent a letter to the court in which it wrote it will not pass the bill before the public consultation period closes.

Greenpeace said it likely won’t proceed with plans to fast-track its lawsuit at an expedited hearing later this month, but indicated it would forge ahead with the lawsuit.

“We are happy to see that the Ford government is now doing what the law requires when it comes to public consultation rights on Bill 4, but it shouldn’t take a lawsuit to get them there,” lawyer Charles Hatt said in a statement. “And no one should forget that the Ford government still must answer in court for its violations of Ontarians’ rights under the Environmental Bill of Rights.”

In its application for judicial review, the group alleged the province’s decision to bypass mandatory notice and consultation was “unreasonable and incorrect, procedurally unfair, and therefore unlawful.”

The group said the Environmental Bill of Rights, legislation unique to Ontario, states that the province’s residents have the right to a 30-day consultation process on environmentally significant regulations and legislation.

A spokesman for Ontario Environment, Conservation and Parks Minister Rod Phillips said the ministry would not comment on the specifics of the legal action, which contains unproven allegations.

“We consulted extensively with the people of Ontario during the (election) campaign, and they spoke clearly,” Andrew Brander said in an email.

The province made close to $3 billion in a series of cap-and-trade auctions since the system was introduced by the Liberals last year.

Ford vowed to eliminate the system and fight Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan during the spring election campaign, asserting both were too expensive for the province’s residents.

His government has since introduced legislation to scrap cap and trade and cancel programs financed through its revenues, which include rebates for energy-efficient renovations, transit projects and a fund for school repairs.

Ontario also announced this summer it was launching a legal battle against Ottawa over its carbon tax plan, saying the provincial government received a clear mandate during the spring election to fight the federal tax for provinces that don’t have their own carbon pricing system.

The federal carbon tax is scheduled to kick in on Jan. 1.

The Ford government is facing other legal challenges on controversial moves such as the scrapping of a modernized sex-ed curriculum, and a controversial decision to slash the size of Toronto’s city council.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press