OAKVILLE — Amid rising fuel prices, the Ford campaign is steering away from green efforts and toward cheaper gas — and running over green programs to get there.
At a Husky station in Oakville Wednesday, Progressive Conservative Leader Doug Ford announced Ontario drivers will pay 10 cents a litre less at the pumps under a PC government.
Scrapping Ontario’s cap-and-trade system and reducing the provincial fuel tax would yield the discount to the gas price cuts, he said. A senior Ford campaign official confirmed canning cap and trade means cancelling the programs it funds. Those include the four-year, $900-million social and private housing retrofits program and a $200-million plan for eco-friendly school upgrades. A questions around how swiftly the programs would be cut and who would be impacted remain, however.
Follow-up question: does that mean that Ontarians who are currently participating in these programs at risk of losing their rebates while waiting for their applications to be processed?
— Joe Homsy (@JoeHomsy) May 16, 2018
“If you need to drive a car to get to work, to school, or to pick up your kids from daycare, the Liberals and the NDP will have their hands in your pocket every time you fill up your car,” Ford said Wednesday morning, back-dropped by his “For the people” branded bus, which ran the length of the pump station.
In 2017, carbon auctions raked in $1.9 billion for the province, cash flow a Tory government would cut off along with the green retrofits and services it pays for.
Ford also said the tax cut portion of the plan would cost the government $1.19 billion in lost revenue. He said that red ink could be turned black through the $6 billion in “efficiencies” he aims to find.
Other spending commitments and tax and hydro rate cuts may hinder the PC plan to climb out of deficit, which Ford confirmed Wednesday a Tory regime would run in the first and possibly second year. “By the end of our term, we’ll have a balanced budget,” he added.
— Chris Reynolds (@ChrisAReynolds) May 16, 2018
Ford has already pledged to nix cap and trade, which he said last month would mean paying 4.3 cents-a-litre less at the pumps.
Under the new plan, the provincial fuel tax would also fall to 9 cents a litre — the only new platform plank laid out Wednesday — from the current 14.7 cents a litre for gasoline and 14.3 cents a litre for diesel. That means both the gasoline and diesel provincial taxes would plunge nearly 40 per cent.
Liberal MPP Kathryn McGarry called the plan "the worst of all worlds – people won’t get the savings he promises. But, they’ll for sure feel the cuts."
On would-be savings for drivers, McGarry warned in a release that oil companies will "eat it up" and the public "will just be left with $1.2 billion in cuts to transit and vital services."
Analysts have predicted gas prices could hit a 10-year high this summer. The average for regular gasoline in Ontario Wednesday was $1.33 a litre, according to figures from GasBuddy. Just over a month ago, the price was about $1.25 a litre.
Ford said Wednesday his plan amounts to $500 a year in savings for fuel for the average driver.
He repeated his claim he would stop the federal government from imposing a carbon tax after ditching cap and trade. Under federal law, any province without a carbon pricing scheme will become subject to Ottawa’s carbon tax.
A member of the campaign team member said Ford would contest that at the Supreme Court if necessary.
New Democrats have proposed allowing the Ontario Energy Board to control both the retail price and wholesale mark-up of fuel in Ontario.
Last November, PC lawmaker Todd Smith told QP Briefing a Tory government would honour existing green contracts tied to cap-and-trade spending.
“Any contracts that have been signed, we’ll live up to the obligations in those contracts,” he said. Otherwise, “we’re clearly getting out of the cap-and-trade program” and replacing it with a carbon tax he argued would be more lucrative.
The words “climate change” and “environmental” did not appear in Ford’s announcement. For his next campaign stop, his bus headed to a clean-tech company that specializes in recycling waste solvents and refrigerants.
Ford and the two other major party leaders seemed to be circling each other Wednesday in the GTA, with Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne and the Tory chief both making multiple campaign stops in the suburbs, some only 10 minutes apart, just west of Toronto. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath stuck mainly to Scarborough.
-This story has been updated to match campaign developments throughout the day.