Walking into a sold-out room at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne addressed a number of dignitaries, including MPPs, city councillors, university presidents, academics and former BlackBerry CEO Jim Balsillie, regarding Ontario’s position on sustainability. The premier’s lecture ran concurrently with the Global Climate Governance and Canadian Policy: Looking Forward to Paris 2015 conference hosted by the neighbouring Balsillie School of International Affairs.
Wynne began her speech by recognizing the six First Nations of the Grand River Territory, upon whose land the CIGI is located, and then quickly dove into the sustainability conversation. She proclaimed the year 2015 as a moment in history “where future prosperity hinges on our ability to gather behind new ideas and, at the same time, discard the old.” This was Premier Wynne’s way of directly linking the concept of sustainability with economic growth.
The premier was critical of the Canadian federal government, claiming that the country is not a leader on climate change, despite 84 per cent of Canadians believing that the country has an obligation to be an international leader on emissions reductions. Wynne would like Ontario to take that leadership position that so many Canadians feel is necessary.
Wynne told the audience that there are three major events at which she will take leadership in 2015. In the coming months, Wynne will attend a premiers summit on climate change in Quebec, whose goal is to determine best practices for a carbon pricing system. The premier is also hosting a climate summit in Toronto to coincide with the Pan Am Games, expected to be attended by various political leaders from throughout the Americas. Finally, she claimed that the end of the year will witness the development and release of an official climate action plan for Ontario. Wynne believes that these events will put the province of Ontario in a strong position to become Canada’s leader on sustainability.
With regards to specific actions the province was going to take, the premier was relatively quiet. She spoke in more general terms, claiming that inaction would exacerbate inequality and that sustainable actions will bring prosperity to the province. Not mentioned in the speech, however, was the potential Ontario carbon tax. Instead, the premier briefly touched on Ontario’s recent investment and partnership with Linamar to develop more fuel-efficient carparts.
The lecture concluded with a nod to the future of her government’s actions on sustainability. “We will seize new opportunities with confidence,” Wynne said, “and we will leave the rest up to history.”
The lecture was followed by a brief question-and-answer period moderated by CIGI president Rohinton Medhora, who read three pre-screened questions submitted by attendees of the lecture. The questions spoke generally to the feasibility of taking sustainable actions in Ontario and the role of the provincial government on the global state. Here Wynne stated that the Ontario government was willing to take advantage of sustainable investment opportunities, even if it meant potentially being unable to balance the province’s budget. She also intends to work with the federal government to improve Canada’s standing in international negotiations. This is important, she claimed, because Canadians are more aware and concerned about sustainability than ever before.
When the question-and-answer period was finished, the premier quickly exited the building to attend another engagement in the region. Her lecture left many in the audience with a general feeling of optimism regarding Ontario’s position on sustainability, but wanting more specific details about what actions are being taken.