By Rob FergusonQueen’s Park Bureau
Kristin RushowyQueen’s Park Bureau
Incoming premier Doug Ford has quietly axed an environmental program to help homeowners get smart thermostats, energy-efficient windows and other retrofits to reduce their hydro bills and fight climate change.
The $377-million Green Ontario Fund, financed by the proceeds of cap-and-trade auctions in which industries buy greenhouse gas pollution permits, is winding down.
Launched last August by Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government, the program popularly known as Green ON was a not-for-profit provincial agency established to aid homeowners, renters and businesses save energy and shrink their carbon footprints.
The program’s website was been reduced to one page Tuesday. Under the headline “The following programs are closed,” the site now lists everything from residential solar, window and insulation rebates to smart thermostats and programs for businesses.
Contracts will be honoured if agreements have been signed with participating contractors for work to be completed by the end of August and rebate applications must be submitted by Sept. 30.
The move follows Ford’s announcement Friday that Ontario will exit the cap-and trade program, which he considered ineffective and a cash grab that hurt businesses.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the premier-designate’s apparent lack of plan to fight climate change is alarming.
“To imagine that we have no responsibility whatsoever to deal with the changing climate and the impact that it has on people and communities and the viability of our planet is putting your head in the sand,” Horwath said.
Ford warned gasoline companies Tuesday they’d better pass along his promised 10-cent-a-litre price cut to motorists and tread carefully with long-weekend price hikes.
“I’m going to be watching every move they make,” Ford said Tuesday during a break from his first meeting with the 76-member Progressive Conservative caucus at the legislature.
“Let’s keep in mind we’re going to knock the prices down by 10 cents a litre,” he said. “Hopefully they can support the people of Ontario.”
Ford was greeted by cheers of “Doug, Doug, Doug” in a crowded and stuffy room, repeating his election mantra of a government “for the people” to an excited group of veteran and new MPPs excited by the party’s first election victory in 15 years.
He clarified remarks made Friday that left observers wondering if he plans to regulate gasoline prices after the PCs take power on June 29.
“I’m not going to control that. We’re going to have a frank discussion with the oil companies,” Ford told reporters in a brief scrum.
“Does it tick you off on a Friday on a long weekend just arbitrarily the oil companies decide to jack their prices?” he added, vowing to have a “heart-to-heart talk with oil executives.”
“When you have four or five oil companies, it’s called a monopoly,” he added.
A day after Ford’s transition team issued a directive to deputy ministers across the government for freezes on hiring and discretionary spending, his staff said the wealthy businessman was paying out of his own pocket for a pizza lunch for his MPPs and from now on it will be a bring-your-own “brown bag” policy.
Typically, political parties at Queen’s Park have such meetings catered from their caucus budgets.
“No more free lunches,” Ford said, adding he will “make sure we watch every single penny going forward.”
He pledged other caucus gatherings will be austere affairs, perhaps in MPPs’ private homes.
“If you’re having someone over to your house, you can supply some food,” Ford said.
“I told them the party’s over with the taxpayers’ money. We’re getting together for a little caucus get-together, we’re going to Costco or some store and we’re buying hamburgers and hotdogs and flipping them,” he said.
“My point is, we’re not going to live high off the hog with the taxpayers’ dollars any longer. We’re going to watch every single dollar like it’s our own … There will be no liquor bought with taxpayers’ money. There will be no food bought with taxpayers’ money. Simple.”
Jane McKenna, who is returning as MPP for Burlington after four years on the sidelines following a 2014 defeat at the polls, said she doesn’t mind being on the hook for her own lunch.
“What you say, you gotta do. So I think it’s wonderful that everyone’s going to be responsible for that,” McKenna said.
“The public purse, of course, has been under siege for a number of years and that has to stop,” agreed Tory MPP Daryl Kramp (Hastings-Lennox and Addington).
Horwath, who will head the Official Opposition in the new provincial parliament after the Liberals were reduced to seven seats in the June 7 election, sent an open letter to Ford demanding details on his hiring freeze.
“My concern — and a concern I share with many Ontario families — is how hospitals and health-care services, schools, and other programs that families count on may be impacted,” she wrote.
“Reports indicate that you have excluded ‘essential front-line services staff’ from the hiring freeze. Therefore, I’m requesting that you immediately provide a detailed and specific list of what positions you have deemed as essential front-line staff for purposes of this freeze.”
Ford said “absolutely not” when asked by reporters if his hiring freeze applies to doctors, nurses, police or firefighters. “Not with the teachers, either,” he added.
His incoming government will decide “over the next few days” when the legislature will return — a brief session is expected in July — and a line-by-line audit of provincial spending will begin “as soon as we can.”
“We’re going to find a tremendous amount of efficiencies,” said Ford, who has promised $6 billion in government spending cuts without cutting any jobs.