Doug Ford’s inaction on electric vehicles leaves Ontarians paying the price with their health

Longtime residents of Ontario may well remember the summer of 2005. For 48 days straight, Ontarians breathed in smog-filled air while temperatures soared. Over the course of the year, a total of 53 smog advisories were issued in the province.

Just a decade later, there wasn’t a single smog advisory.

The reason was simple: Ontario took action. The province shuttered its coal power plants, eliminating hundreds of thousands of tons of air pollution. It also used vehicle emissions testing to get older, more polluting vehicles off the road. These measures, along with others, reduced air quality-related premature deaths in the province by 24 per cent.

But while smog days no longer provide a visual reminder of the province’s air pollution problems, the issue remains. Despite improvements, poor air quality is still responsible for around 6,600 premature deaths a year in Ontario.

Thankfully, as was the case almost two decades ago, the province has the power to tackle the problem, potentially saving thousands of lives and billions in health-care costs.

Except that isn’t happening. On the contrary, Premier Doug Ford’s government has reversed course while other provinces have accelerated ahead.

Transport remains one of the biggest contributors to poor air quality in Ontario. Tailpipe fumes have been linked to a myriad of medical conditions, from asthma to cancer to heart disease, with children, seniors and lower-income communities often most severely affected. The sector is also the province’s highest-emitting when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions.

The best solution is to ditch tailpipes altogether; battery electric vehicles are a great way to do that. A 2020 study found that every gas car swapped for an electric version on GTHA roads came with around $10,000 in social benefits.

Through policy, provinces like B.C. and Quebec have proactively gotten more electric cars on their roads. In B.C., 13 per cent of new cars sold last year were electric. Across Canada, it was five per cent. But in Ontario, the number was a pitiful three per cent — which is behind even the Yukon.

Ontario’s poor EV performance is of its government’s own making. When Ford first took office, he cancelled the province’s EV rebate program, scrapped EV requirements in the Ontario building code and removed public charging stations. Ford recently released an updated “climate plan” that actually stops relying on EVs to drive emission reductions at all.

These decisions run counter to the province’s recent efforts to attract EV manufacturing. The government has recognized the fundamental importance of EV-making facilities to the future of the auto sector. But by making it hard for its own residents to buy one, Ontario is missing a vital piece of the puzzle. After all, the province’s poor EV adoption record is hardly an enticing offer for EV and battery manufacturers hoping to “build where they sell.”

Already, automakers are prioritizing other parts of Canada when choosing where to send their limited electric vehicle supply. More than 70 per cent of Canada’s EV inventory is in B.C. and Quebec, meaning Ontario residents are left waiting months — and sometimes years — to get behind the wheel of an EV. Ontario also gets bypassed when automakers are launching their newest EV models into the Canadian market. Toyota’s new all-electric SUV, for instance, will only be available in B.C. and Quebec.

Ontarians are paying the price for their government’s EV apathy — and not just with their health. A recent Clean Energy Canada analysis found that even at lower gas prices, opting for an electric vehicle instead of a gas-powered version can save drivers between $10,000 and $15,000 over eight years.

Until the Ford government does more to support Ontario drivers in going electric, Ontario will be missing out on air quality, emission reduction and cost-savings benefits. The Ontario Liberals have pledged to introduce an $8,000 EV rebate (the same as Quebec’s), while the Ontario Greens and New Democrats have promised up to $10,000.

Put simply, electric vehicles are an effective and popular solution to many of the most pressing problems facing Ontarians today, from climate change to health to affordability. Too bad the government is stuck in neutral.

This post originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

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