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PAINTING WASTEFUL POLICIES WITH A GREEN BRUSH WON'T FOOL VOTERS

This article was previously published in the Globe and Mail

In the card game Euchre, the trump card is a card you hold back and use to win if nothing else works. Kathleen Wynne seems to have found her trump card, and it’s green.

Whenever she’s cornered with clear facts of a failed policy, she throws down her green trump card and claims a moral high ground over her critics.

 

 

Take for example, the recent scathing report from the Auditor General. The Auditor General found that the Ontario government’s Green Energy Act policies have resulted in consumers paying an extra $9.2 billion for electricity over what they would have paid under previous programs. Consumers have been paying far above market rates for 20-year contracts for wind and solar energy. Specifically, Wynne has forced Ontario consumers to pay three and a half times the average U.S. market price for solar, and double the market price for wind.

Instead of thanking the Auditor General and committing to fix the problem, Wynne rushed to defend this policy. In fact, she has said she is “happy” to defend the extra billions of dollars that her government has forced consumers to pay, because green energy is worth the extra expense. Former Premier Dalton McGuinty even penned an op-ed following the release of the Auditor General’s report, claiming that “being clean and green comes with a cost”.

But this misses the point.

We don’t want green at any price. The Auditor General was not criticizing green energy itself. There is nothing inherently wasteful about wind or solar power. The Auditor General’s point was that this particular energy that the government had contracted to buy was overpriced. That was why she compared the price of the energy we bought in Ontario to the price bought in other jurisdictions. If we’re buyinggreen, we should still buy it at a competitive market price.

Wynne used her green trump card again when she came under fire for winter road maintenance contracts that appeared to have the government purchasing snow plowing equipment instead of hiring contractors who already owned the equipment. The Auditor General found in her 2015 Special Report on Winter Highway Maintenance that the government accepted the lowest bid for the road service, even though the contractor did not have sufficient equipment. The government spent millions on new plows and sanders as a result.

While the issue was clearly one of waste – why would the government hire a contractor who did not already own the equipment – Wynne deflected to climate change. She responded to the criticism by stating “we are seeing the effects of climate change across this country […] It is very important to have the right equipment.”

Of course it’s important to have the right equipment, but who pays for that equipment and who owns it at the end of the day is the issue. Wynne somehow turned the issue of a flawed procurement process into a debate about global warming.

The green trump card even works in the most tenuous of circumstances. Take Wynne’s Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray’s use of “an unprecedented drought” as the explanation for the destabilization of Syria. In this government’s view, the “root cause” of the displacement of millions of Syrians is climate change. Not ISIS, not Assad’s barrel bombs. It’s really about global warming. Talk about co-opting a tragedy in the name of your own political agenda.

And of course, green policy is used to justify policies designed to bring revenue to Wynne’s government, which is facing debt levels approaching $300 billion and which spends $11.3 billion a year on debt interest.

Cap-and-trade is a revenue plan couched in green language. It is a complex scheme that involves the government creating financial products called “carbon credits,” which it then forces industries to buy and trade. Of course it requires the establishment of an enormous bureaucracy. The plan is projected to raise$2 billion in revenue for the government each year.

Likewise, the recently announced high occupancy toll lanes are a method of squeezing revenue out of Ontario drivers. Wynne threw down her green trump card and claimed moral authority over her critics by saying this revenue tool is really about the environment.

But Wynne should be wary. A trump card is a powerful tool, but in Euchre you can only use it once. Wynne has played it multiple times. If she keeps playing her trump, she will find that it will stop working. And eventually Ontarians will see these policies for the waste and cash-grabbing that they truly are.