In announcing her new cabinet on June 24, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn appointed Glen Murray as Minister of the renamed Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (formerly the Ministry of the Environment). According to Wynn, the expanded portfolio “will ensure Ontario can protect the gains it has made in fighting climate change, lead Ontario's mitigation and adaptation efforts to extreme weather and strengthen its position as a leader in clean technology.” Murray will leave his previous post as Transportation Minister and replace Jim Bradley, Ontario’s longest serving member of the legislature. Ontario’s emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions is nothing new. The province recently shut down the Thunder Bay coal-generating plant, for example, becoming the first jurisdiction in North America to eliminate coal as a source of electricity. However, Murray’s appointment and the revamped Ministry elevates the climate change issue to the cabinet level for the first time, reflecting the province’s increasing recognition of climate change as a central challenge.
Many are already speculating that the move will pave the way for Ontario to join other jurisdictions, such as British Columbia, Quebec and California, in implementing a carbon cap-and-trade system. Proponents of this system argue that charging organizations for the pollution they emit incentivizes them to pollute less, become more efficient and innovate. This, in turn, would lead to the development of green infrastructure, new jobs and a host of ancillary industries that support and piggyback off the growth of the green sector.
Critics fear a carbon tax would increase prices for consumer goods and electricity. Australia, for example, repealed their carbon tax on July 1 to lower costs for businesses and households. Thus far, Wynn has denied her intention of implementing a carbon tax system, but this will undoubtedly be the subject of much debate over the next few years. Murray will have his work cut out for him as he navigates Ontario’s climate change strategy, especially given the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events in the province. One area of particular importance will be transportation, which has seen gas emissions continue to rise and where “we’ve gone backwards,” according to environmental commissioner Gord Miller. The continued electrification of the public transit system could be a major focus of Murray’s Ministry in the coming years.