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Former Ontario premier moved to control urban sprawl and phased out coal-powered generation.
Stewart Elgie is professor of law and economics at the University of Ottawa (he discloses that the Ontario government has been one of many funders of the research institute he directs).
A handful of Canadian political leaders have left impressive environmental legacies. Mike Harcourt ended B.C.’s “war in the woods,” creating a world class parks network and tough new forestry rules. David Peterson pioneered the blue box recycling program, and made great strides in fighting acid rain and water pollution across Ontario (together with environment minister Jim Bradley).
Brian Mulroney, voted Canada’s greenest prime minister, passed three major environmental laws and played key roles in pushing global treaties on species loss, ozone depletion and climate change. But Dalton McGuinty is the greenest of them all, as a review of his environmental record reveals.
Let’s start with controlling urban sprawl — a huge problem in southern Ontario. McGuinty’s government passed the Places To Grow Act, requiring cities and towns to grow within their existing footprints (up, not out). It strengthened the much-abused Planning Act, requiring municipal plans to conserve wildlife, wetlands and waterways. And it created Ontario’s greenbelt, a 1.8 million-acre swath stretching from Niagara Falls to Cobourg where precious green space and headwaters are preserved in Canada’s most populous region.
Perhaps his greatest legacy has been phasing out Ontario’s reliance on coal-fired power — the province’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution (that caused thousands of deaths each year). This phase-out, although it took longer than initially planned, has been the single biggest pollution-reduction action by a North American government in the past decade.
To replace the power from these dirty coal plants, Ontario brought in aggressive measures to promote energy conservation. It also passed the Green Energy Act, aimed at making Ontario a leader in renewable power generation — which UN environment chief Achim Steiner called “one of the boldest moments in history.” The boom in wind farms and solar panels, though sometimes controversial with local landowners, has generated an estimated 20,000 jobs and is positioning Ontario to prosper in the world’s fastest growing energy market.
On the conservation front, McGuinty’s government passed Canada’s toughest law to protect endangered animals, and brought in world-leading standards to safeguard Ontario’s parks. He doubled the amount of protected area in Algonquin Park. And he made one of the largest nature protection commitments ever in the world: a pledge to preserve 50 per cent of Ontario’s northern boreal forest (the largest wild forest area left on Earth), together with First Nations and northern communities.
Left with the fallout from the Walkerton disaster, McGuinty quickly established North America’s strongest drinking water standards — from source to tap. These stringent rules, and the subsequent Water Opportunities Act, have spurred Ontario firms to become world leaders in clean water technology innovation.
For the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star website: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2013/02/25/dalton_mcguinty_canadas_greenest_premier_ever.html