TORONTO — As debate over how to combat climate change gears up to be a key issue in Ontario's spring election, former U.S. vice president and environmental crusader Al Gore lauded the Liberal government's cap-and-trade system on Thursday and criticized politicians who wanted to dismantle it.
Gore, who met with Premier Kathleen Wynne in Toronto, called cap and trade better than a carbon tax and suggested the province's Progressive Conservatives, who are picking a new leader this weekend, are headed in the wrong direction on climate policy with their promises to scrap the Liberal system.
"I don't want to interfere in your politics but I have to speak out when I see all of the candidates in the other party proposing to go backwards and to say we're going to undo the progress that created jobs and made Ontario a model for the entire world," he said.
All four candidates hoping to helm Ontario's Tories have pledged to dismantle the Liberal government's cap-and-trade system and also fight the imposition of a carbon tax by the federal government. Some have even threatened to take Ottawa to court if it imposed carbon pricing on the province.
Gore called cap and trade a "superior" system when it comes to fighting climate change, and called the Wynne government's decision to join a Quebec-California carbon market this year "bold and innovative."
"I cite Ontario as an example of a provincial government that's doing it right," Gore said. "Creating jobs, building a base for economic progress while also staving off the severe danger the climate crisis poses to all of us."
Ontario's cap-and-trade system aims to lower greenhouse gas emissions by putting caps on the amount of pollution companies in certain industries can emit. If they exceed those limits they must buy allowances at quarterly auctions or from other companies that come in under their limits.
The system has raised nearly $2.5 billion so far, with the government putting revenue toward green projects such as energy efficient improvements at hospitals, smart thermostats for homeowners, and bike lanes, which they hope will further help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Gore said cap and trade lets government work directly with emitters to cut carbon emissions over time. Other jurisdictions like China started to fight climate change with carbon taxes and then switched to cap and trade because it's more effective, he said.
"I've found that actually giving the flexibility in the marketplace to make the adjustments company-by-company as they're able to make the changes ... I've found that to work," he said.
Wynne said it's important voters know what's at stake when it comes to climate change if they opt for a Tory government in the spring. A court challenge over whether the imposition of a federal carbon tax is constitutional would take time and hurt the province, she said.
"We're talking about a long, drawn out process that's going to take us off track," she said. "It's going to remove those benefits that are already in place."
Gore said the need to make progress on climate change is increasing as extreme weather events become a regular occurrence around the globe. He added that while he supports research and development in the field of climate change, he doesn't hold out hope that it alone will solve the problem.
"It would be foolish, in my opinion, to bet on a technology breakthrough." he said. "I'm not going to bet the future of my children and grandchildren that does not yet exist."
Tory energy critic Todd Smith said Thursday that cap and trade is unaffordable for Ontario families and businesses, arguing it increases fees for goods and services.
"The Auditor General has confirmed that the Wynne Liberal's cap-and-trade scheme does nothing to protect the environment here at home," he added, referencing concerns that Ontario being part of a Quebec-California market could mean greenhouse gas emissions won't actually be cut in Ontario if companies buy allowances in those jurisdictions.
Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press