Posts Tagged ‘Renewables’
A Q&A with Prof. Mark Winfield on his new book: Blue-Green Province: The Environment and Political Economy of Ontario
Canada has been in the news quite frequently of late in terms of environment policy as it relates to climate change and the oil industry across the country, in particular the Alberta Tar Sands. Understanding the complexities of federal environmental policy not to mention provincial policy can challenging for policy makers themselves, not least those organizations and communities who will be impacted by that policy. At a fundamental level policy level is an iterative process informed by the changing winds of political priorities and ideology.
In Blue-Green Province: The Environment and Political Economy of Ontario, Prof. Mark Winfield addresses the complex and often contradictory arena of environmental policy in Canada at the provincial and national level.
In his new book, Winfield investigates the link between environmental policy and the influence of successive Ontario government’s social, political and economic priorities. Through an in-depth analysis of the differences between the reign of Conservative to Liberal parties and the most recent federal and provincial elections of 2011, Winfield explores the implications of environment and energy policy in Ontario and across Canada.
CC-RAI recently had the opportunity to catch up with Prof. Winfield and get his thoughts on some of the implications of this research and the response to the work so far.
Since the 2011 election the primary political focus has been on the province’s economic challenges rather than the environment. Will Ontario be able to find a way to advance environmental sustainability and the economic prosperity?
I believe the potential to do that is there, but whether the province is going to carry through in those directions is an increasingly open question. The 2009 Green Energy Act, however flawed, represented the most serious effort ever seen by a provincial government in Ontario to link environmental and economic policy in a positive way. The legislation was intended to provide the foundation for a renewable energy technology manufacturing and services sector in the province.
Unfortunately since then the signals have become less and less promising. There has been a lot of wavering on the commitment to green energy – the pre-election ban on offshore wind projects, continued commitment to an electricity system that is 50% nuclear even in a post-Fukushima world and the uncertainty about the outcome of the FIT review. Moreover the government’s overall economic agenda has been incorporating some decidedly unsustainable dimensions – the emphasis on mining development in the boreal region of the far north, industry-friendly ”reforms” of the environmental approvals and forest tenure systems and looming cuts to the budgets of the Ministries of Environment and Natural Resources, leapfrogging sprawl-facilitative amendments to the Places to Grow Plan and the apparent withering of the province’s efforts on climate change mitigation – all come to mind. The positive agenda from an environmental perspective has by comparison been decidedly thin.
The Drummond report, with its emphasis on the province’s budgetary situation and the need to dramatically reduce provincial expenditures, has offered very little in terms of a positive agenda or vision for the future (although it does pointedly ask the provincial government to provide one). The province itself, although enthusiastically embracing the agenda what Mr. Drummond has provided it, seems as lost as ever on the actual way forward.
Is Ontario’s future green? Can we expect environmental policy to continue to play a prominent role in Ontario politics?
There is no doubt that environmental issues will continue to play a prominent role in Ontario politics. One of the most important features of the most recent wave of public concern for the environment in Canada and Ontario, which ran from the early part of the 2000s to the economic crisis of 2008, was the shift in the demographic base of concern for environmental issues. A decade ago those identifying the environment as their leading public policy concern to pollsters were typically age 55+, high income, high education and lived in urban areas. Current polling data indicates there has now been a generational shift in the base of concern to the under 35 cohort and that the concern is more evenly shared regionally and over different income and education levels. That suggests to me that the environment isn’t going to go away as a major issue anytime soon.
The collapse of the Green Party’s vote in the 2011 election was the result of a combination of factors that I describe in my book, particularly concerns over the prospects of a Progressive Conservative win in a very close election. However, if the other three major parties continue to fail to offer a positive vision for the province’s environmental and economic future, one can certainly envision support moving back in the direction of the Greens, particularly among younger voters.
Why were you motivated to right the book at this time?
Although the book was a long time in development - parts of it in fact date back to my doctoral thesis completed more than 20 years ago – the timing of its release has I think worked out well. The province is searching for a way forward in the face of some very serious environmental and economic challenges. My hope is that this refection on the evolution of the relationship between the province’s changing society, environment, economy and politics will help to inform those conversations in a constructive and useful way.
Why do you think scholarship in this area is so lacking despite the increasing importance environmental policy provincially? Nationally?
The Canadian environmental policy literature on events at the provincial level remains very thin, despite the fact that over the past 20 years the provinces have become increasingly dominant players in energy, environment and natural resources policy. They have also become the key focal points for environmental policy innovation – witness British Columbia’s carbon tax, Quebec’s climate change strategy, and Ontario’s coal-fired electricity phase-out and Green Energy Act.
The situation with respect to scholarly work is beginning to change, and I think there is increasing recognition that, at least for now, the real centre of environmental policy action in North America has shifted to the sub-national level. At the same time, it is the part of the reflective and analytical nature of scholarship that it will inevitably lag somewhat behind where the conversations are at in the real time world of politics and public policy.
What has the response been to the book so far? Have you heard much from the Ontario government?
No congratulatory notes from the premier so far, but the general response has been very positive – the book seems to have filled a gap in the existing literature on environmental policy in Canada and on Ontario government and politics.
Late last year a Victoria publisher frustrated with Canada’s withdrawl from Kyoto sent a short climate change primer to every Canadian MP If you could place your book on the MP reading list along with a few others what would they be?
Tim Leduc’s Climate, Culture, Change: Inuit and Western Dialogues with a Warming North. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press 2012 would be an obvious choice.
Professor Mark Winfield (Faculty of Environmental Studies) is co-chair of the FES Sustainable Energy Initiative (SEI) and a Fellow of York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS).