Ontario’s Own Donald Trump

Credit: River Jordan

There are few political leaders who compare to Donald Trump’s catastrophic record on the environment. But, just a few hundred miles north of where Trump inked the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement and announced plans to hobble bedrock environmental legislation, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has carved his own ignominious legacy of environmental devastation. There, since first assuming office in 2018, Doug Ford is opening the floodgates for the logging industry’s assault on one of the world’s most critical forests for the climate and putting a black mark on forest products sourced from the province.

Ontario stewards some of the most carbon-dense forest regions on the planet, which are also home to threatened populations of species like boreal caribou and Indigenous communities who have relied on the land for millennia. Each year, the logging industry in Ontario clearcuts over 315,000 acres of boreal forest, releasing vast stores of carbon into the atmosphere and leaving many populations of boreal caribou with too little habitat to survive.

Now, as scientists around the world are calling for the protection of intact forests as an essential part of avoiding catastrophic climate change, Ford is working to expand logging’s footprint in the boreal. Under the guise of “modernization,” the Ford Administration has released a series of proposals to dismantle many of the remaining checks on the industry, severing the last tethers holding the logging industry back from total dominion over the forest and threatening to push species and ecosystems that were already on the edge over the brink. These proposed changes include:

  • Rolling back critical species protections: Building on previous governments’ work whittling away protections under the province’s Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Ford Government is proposing to permanently do away with its application to the logging industry altogether. The ESA was once a landmark piece of legislation that required the logging industry to both protect at-risk species and promote their recovery. By exempting the logging industry from the ESA, Ford would condemn populations of boreal caribou across the province to even more drastic, and perhaps irreversible, losses, and erode the climate mitigation capacity of their carbon-rich habitat.
  • Opening Ontario’s carbon-rich forests to twice as much logging:  Ford has proposed allowing the logging industry access to an extra 15 million cubic meters of wood, which would double the amount of logging in the province. The Ford Government has presented no evidence that this significant logging expansion, which would intensify and expand disturbance, could be done sustainably.
  • Dismantling public scrutiny: Ford is undermining the public’s ability to scrutinize and respond to his government’s actions or logging operations. A recent report found that the government wasn’t providing the public with a full picture of the expected environmental impacts of proposed projects. The Ford Administration is also hamstringing consultation on the current proposals, pushing through multiple changes to the forestry regime without adequate details or time for consultation. The proposals would then put an even thicker shroud over the logging industry’s actions as they include cuts to the Environmental Assessment Act and limitations on independent audits. This reduction of oversight, if passed, would mean the fox alone would be guarding the henhouse.

These proposals come on the heels of a study showing that logging’s impact in Ontario is far greater than the province has reported. The NGO Wildlands League revealed that forests aren’t returning to the extent the province claims. At over two dozen sites, an average of 14 percent of logged areas lacked any tree cover even decades after the logging occurred. These long-term “scars” fragment the landscape and exacerbate logging’s climate impact. Expanding logging and eroding checks on the industry before understanding and addressing these impacts is reckless and irresponsible. 

Ford’s actions should raise alarm bells for purchasers of its forest products. Over 90 percent of Ontario’s forest products exports end up in the United States in the form of toilet paper, newsprint, and lumber. Ford’s actions, until now, have been largely shielded from international scrutiny because of the global community’s misplaced trust in Canada’s environmental policies. However, with the climate and biodiversity crises reaching fever pitch, consumers are increasingly demanding products that minimize environmental harms, and many companies and municipalities are committing to adopting more stringent supply chains. Ontario’s practices risk making its forest products incompatible with responsible purchasing.  

Ontario’s leadership is signaling that it is willing to jeopardize future generations for the sake of industrial expansion. The toll Ford’s policies are taking on the global climate, at-risk species, and intact forests place him squarely among the world’s worst environmental offenders. His administration’s reckless proposals would harm not just Ontarians, but people around the world, and would erode the province’s standing in the international marketplace. While Ford may be looking at the short-term economic gains for the logging industry, the rest of Ontario—and the world—can’t afford the cost of his proposals.

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