When Ontario Premier Doug Ford first took office in 2018, his first environmental minister was given a simple yet central task: get climate legislation out of the way of business.
The mandate letter written for the province’s minister of environment, conservation and parks suggests his task was to remove environmental and climate legislation, not to create more of it.
The contents of the mandate letter have been closely guarded by the Ford government since it was given to the minister in 2018. It can now be exclusively revealed by Global News as part of the ongoing ‘Mandated’ series.
Rod Phillips, the first in a string of Ford’s environmental ministers, was told to scrap the province’s cap-and-trade program, fight the federal government on the price on carbon and review environmental laws to make sure they weren’t cumbersome for voters and didn’t obstruct business interests.
Phillips was asked to work with other ministers to look at “various pieces of environmental legislation that impact businesses” and make sure the laws and regulations are “as flexible and nimble as possible.” He was instructed to make sure environmental assessments — a complicated set of studies designed to predict the impact of new projects on the areas around them — could be completed within a calendar year.
“Ensure these regulatory and legislative requirements are not placing undue burdens on Ontario’s job creators,” Ford’s orders to Phillips read.
Similarly, Ford told Jeff Yurek, his then-minister of natural resources and forestry, to make sure laws under his control were not “an undue burden on municipalities, Northerners, or businesses.”
The premier told his forestry minister to look specifically at laws protecting wildlife to make sure they are “properly rooted in scientific fact,” a process that the mandate letter said should look at species at risk and the agencies in charge of them and consider increasing who has access to Crown lands.
The Ford government has found itself under pressure for its environmental record over a number of climate-related policies, or in some cases a lack thereof, becoming a lightning rod for political criticism.
The federal government said in 2023 that Ford had “no plan to fight climate change.”
‘Stop this carbon tax in its tracks’
Large sections of the minister of environment’s mandate letter in 2018 focused on undoing the climate policies of the former Liberal government.
The first directive laid out in the list was to wind down cap-and-trade. The program was introduced by the Ontario Liberals to reduce emissions by charging companies that pollute more and rewarding those that emit fewer emissions. Companies with higher carbon footprints had to buy or swap credits under the system to allow them to exceed strict targets.
The letter then instructed the minister to implement the environmental commitments the Progressive Conservative party campaigned on in 2018.
“These include investing in cleaner air and water, increasing enforcement of environmental standards against big polluters, cleaning up garbage and litter in parks and neighbourhoods, and creating an emissions reduction investment fund to fight climate change.” the letter read.
In October 2018, months into its first term, the Ford government officially killed cap-and-trade — triggering the federal carbon backstop that added a surcharge to the price of fuel in Ontario.
To combat that, the environment minister was also told to work with his colleagues at the attorney general’s office to fight the “imposition of a regressive carbon tax on Ontario’s citizens” and to use legal action to “stop this carbon tax in its tracks.”
After a years-long legal challenge, the Ford government lost its battle against the carbon price in 2021 at the Supreme Court of Canada.
‘Affordabilty and reliability’
The environment minister was tasked with supporting other ministries to investigate low-carbon technologies “with limited intrusion and cost to taxpayers.”
The minister of energy found themselves with similar orders.
The mandate letter for energy made no mention of emissions targets or climate goals, instead focusing on cost. Ford told the minister that “affordability and reliability” should be “the primary focus of any evaluation of your ministry.”
He ordered his energy minister to repeal the Green Energy Act and keep the price of natural gas low for customers and businesses.
During his first term in office, Ford had three separate environment ministers.
Mandate letter: Environment, conservation and parks
Here is the mandate letter given to Ontario’s minister of environment, conservation and parks in 2018:
- Immediately begin the process of withdrawing from cap-and-trade. In doing so, ensure that Ontario businesses are informed of their options relating to previously purchased credits. Simultaneously end the cap-and-trade slush fund and ensure an orderly wind down of these programs.
- Work with the Attorney General to fight the Federal Government’s proposed imposition of a regressive carbon tax on Ontario’s citizens. Assist the Attorney General with any legal action they take to stop this carbon tax in its tracks.
- Implement our environment commitments once cap-and-trade is repealed. These include investing in cleaner air and water, increasing enforcement of environmental standards against big polluters, cleaning up garbage and litter in parks and neighbourhoods, and creating an emissions reduction investment fund to fight climate change.
- Work with the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry to ensure the special purpose account is truly being spent on conservation activities and fulfill our promise to hire more conservation officers.
- Undertake a review of Ontario’s environmental assessment requirements to ensure that the system is working as efficiently as possible and is not duplicative of federal environmental assessment requirements.
- In co-ordination with the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade and the Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, review the various pieces of environmental legislation that impact businesses and ensure they are as flexible and nimble as possible with the goal of ensuring all environmental assessments and approvals can be completed within one year. Ensure these regulatory and legislative requirements are not placing undue burdens on Ontario’s job creators. Your goal should be to make interaction with government as seamless as possible for Ontarians, including proper follow ups and resolutions of consumer complaints. Work closely with the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Government and Consumer Services to meet these goals.
- Work with the Minister of Energy and the Minister of Transportation to evaluate low-carbon technologies, such as natural gas trucking and bussing, that can be implemented in Ontario with limited intrusion and cost to taxpayers. Ensure these investments deliver the best value-for-money possible.
Here is the mandate letter given to Ontario’s minister of energy in 2018:
- Affordability and reliability of the energy grid are your top priorities. Deliver a more affordable grid that Ontarians can rely on while putting consumer choice at the forefront of your decisions. These metrics should be the primary focus of any evaluation of your Ministry.
- Remove the CEO and Board of Hydro One and improve the governance and performance of the utility. Ensure the utility is ultimately accountable to its customers – not just its shareholders – and ensure executive compensation levels at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation are reasonable.
- Implement our electricity savings program to save families, small businesses and farmers 12% on their hydro bill. Pursue additional savings through aggressive re-negotiation and enforcement of generation contracts, including cancellation of pre-notice to proceed contracts where logical, legal and feasible.
- Repeal the Green Energy Act and work with the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks to ensure natural gas, propane and other fuel prices remain low once the cap-and-trade carbon tax is repealed.
- Work with the Minister of Finance, the President of the Treasury Board and the appointed independent commission of inquiry into the previous administration’s accounting practices. This work should examine ways to reform and alter the Fair Hydro Plan to properly account for it and make the discount plan fairer for future generations and jointly report back to Cabinet with a clear plan forward.
- Review the province’s industrial electricity systems and report on options to fix the system, offer a simpler to understand suite of options and increase investment through better industrial pricing systems. In your work, take efforts to preserve existing benefits for Ontario businesses and improve upon them.
- Continue with the modernization of Ontario’s electricity system. Specifically, continue with the modernization of the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), nuclear refurbishment, the continued operation of Pickering Generating Station, and evaluate the potential move towards a capacity market. Use the review of the OEB to reduce red tape and costs from the system while pursuing and infusing innovative technologies into Ontario’s electricity system to provide savings to consumers and adequately protect them from rate increases.
- Create a system that properly encourages voluntary consolidation of Local Distribution Companies, including the consideration of using directives to force the OEB to approve these mergers should adequate consumer protection be a part of the proposal.
Mandate letter: Natural resources and forestry
Here is the mandate letter given to Ontario’s minister of natural resources and forestry in 2018:
- Work with the Minister of Northern Development and Mines and the Minister of Indigenous Affairs to implement revenue resource sharing in Ontario.
- Work with our stakeholders and ensure that hunting and angling concerns are adequately addressed in Ontario. These are important economic drivers for many regions of Ontario and they should be treated as such.
- Review Ontario’s various pieces of wildlife protection legislation to ensure they are properly rooted in scientific fact and do not cause undue burden on municipalities, Northerners, or businesses. This should include evaluating the legislation governing species at risk, the agencies that review these decisions, and expanding access to Ontario’s crown lands.
- Work with the forestry sector to help improve its competitive position. This review should include options to increase support for forest access roads and increasing the amount of harvestable land.
- Consult with the forestry sector and act to reduce red tape in their industry, specifically, address any duplicitous requirements of the Crown Forest Sustainability Act and other pieces of provincial legislation. This work should be done in consultation with the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade.
This story is the sixth in the new Global News series ‘Mandated.’ Over several days, a series of stories will reveal the contents of the Ford government’s first set of mandate letters, handed to ministers after the party formed government in 2018. The letters have been kept secret since Doug Ford’s first election — a battle that has gone all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Photo illustration by Janet Cordahi
‘Mandated’: A new Global News series on the Ford government’s first set of mandate letters
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