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Ford government laid into by opposition for 'burying' long-awaited climate report

A 500-plus page climate change impact assessment ordered by the Ford government was released quietly online last month after an almost year-long delay
A seagull flies past two men as they take in a setting sun as smoke from wildfires fills the sky on the Ottawa River on June 29, 2023 in Ottawa.

If a major climate change report gets published without being announced, does it make a sound?

Ontario's opposition parties are trying to ensure it does.

In late August, a long-anticipated and -delayed report stemming from a climate change impact assessment commissioned by the provincial government was posted online. It came from three years of work led by the non-profit Climate Risk Institute, which engaged more than 140 experts and Indigenous organizations in the course of its work.

Originally received by the Ford government in January, the Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment contains dire warnings about soaring extreme heat in Ontario, more frequent wildfires, and increases in flooding — effects which are expected to hurt the agricultural industry, increase risks to businesses more broadly, and be most-threatening to already vulnerable populations.

But it wasn't until more recently that the report and its findings have attracted attention.

MPP Mary-Margaret McMahon, the Liberals' critic for environmental issues, posted about the report's belated and quiet release, along with its findings, on Instagram last week.

"The PCCIA was quietly released, with no accompanying press conference and silence from the Ontario Newsroom," McMahon wrote in a statement posted on Instagram. "The report makes clear, the government and its relevant ministries are not doing enough" to deal with the effects of climate change, she added.

CBC News reported on the 500-plus page report on Tuesday.

Ontario's NDP and Greens then drew attention to it on Wednesday, reacting critically to its low-key release and its alarm-raising findings.

"This report is supposed to help guide our plans to adapt to the changing climate," NDP MPP and climate action critic Peter Tabuns said to reporters at a news conference at Queen's Park. "Instead, it's been completely buried by (Premier Doug) Ford for eight months while he continued his unpopular and corrupt plan to carve up the Greenbelt."

Green Leader Mike Schreiner also drew a line between the main controversy currently facing the government and the under-the-radar way it released its climate impact assessment.

"While we were all busy paying attention to Doug Ford's $8.3-billion Greenbelt scandal, his government quietly released their long-delayed Provincial Climate Change Impact Assessment," Schreiner said in a statement. "It’s no surprise that Ford wanted to keep this report from seeing the light of day. It paints a grim picture of Ontario’s climate future, and it’s a stark reminder that we need drastic climate action now."

The Ford government originally announced in August 2020 that it was teaming up with the Climate Risk Institute to produce a broadly scoped climate change impact assessment.

While initially planned for release in 2022, its publication suffered a series of delays.

Environment Minister David Piccini said the government was "looking at early 2023" when asked last October.

The Climate Risk Institute-led report that was posted online last month is dated January 2023. 

In February 2023, Piccini's spokesperson said in an email that the release of it had been further extended "due to the size and scope of the report and the work involved in its production."

The Climate Risk Institute's work ultimately focused on how Ontario's climate is projected to change, and what the risks and opportunities are that it poses to agriculture and food, infrastructure, the natural environment, people and communities, and the economy, plus what the province's capacity is to adapt to them. 

In response to a reporter's question on Wednesday, Tabuns and fellow NDP MPP Sandy Shaw, the opposition critic for the environment and conservation, pointed to three specific findings as standing out.

One was was the report's projections that the threat of major wildfires will more than double over the next fifty years. "We had a really bad summer this year, and we can expect far worse summers in the future," said Tabuns.

He also pointed to the report's projection that the risk Ontario's population will face by the 2050s from climate change is "very high" as another of its determinations that were "really, really striking in this report."

Shaw called the report "really frightening" overall, and highlighted threats it identified to the agricultural sector as being specifically worrying.

"Agriculture is a $45 billion industry," she said, referencing the amount it contributes annually to Ontario's gross domestic product (GDP), making it worth about six per cent of the province's total GDP. "And what we see is a government that continues to put prime agricultural land at risk."

Piccini's spokesperson told CBC in an email this week that, across the government, it was working "to best incorporate the report's findings as we continue to build Ontario," including "to further build climate resiliency across the province."

Although Tabuns said the NDP still have to discuss how to springboard off of the climate change impact report, he added on Wednesday that they intend to raise it both in the legislature and out of it once the house returns to sitting on Sept. 25. 

—With files from Aidan Chamandy

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