December 8, 2022
  • December 8, 2022

Canada and Ontario’s Misguided Green Bet: Model T or Edsel?

By on November 9, 2022 0

Canada and Ontario are betting big on so-called green energy, critical minerals, batteries and electric vehicles. Their bet is reminiscent of Henry Ford’s Model T adventure that transformed North America. His legacy is global automobile addiction, suburban sprawl, congested roads, long commutes and global warming.

Undeterred, Ottawa quickly embraced Premier Doug Ford’s vision to transform Ontario’s economy and auto sector. The plan is rooted in the false narrative that prosperity emerges through more growth, more development, and more people. Not so. A nation’s wealth and the well-being of its citizens depend on the optimal mix of natural, human and produced capital.

So let’s ask ourselves “what is the cost of Ford’s strategy to grow Ontario?” The Strong Mayors, More Housing, and More Homes Built Faster Acts declare the season open on conservation authorities, farmlands, and green spaces. The acts stifle property developers, accelerate the destruction of wetlands, forests and farms, override existing zoning rules and rob municipalities of their ability to provide services.

Highway 413, no doubt an effort to ease traffic congestion, will further eliminate thousands of acres of farmland and natural areas. A new road to exploit Ontario’s Ring of Fire will dissect northern forests. Housing Minister Clark aims to destroy 7,400 acres of greenbelt with 50,000 homes.

In southwestern Ontario, the vanguard of five new power lines to power Windsor’s battery and electric vehicle expansion is inexplicably powered by natural gas. An Order in Council is accelerating approval of lines to cover strips through Ontario’s most productive farming communities. Recent amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act, proposed by Hydro One, exempt it from the class environmental assessment process for so-called minor transmission facilities.

Coincidentally, the designation matches Hydro One’s preferred route for its new Chatham-Lakeshore line. But why should such an exemption apply to one of the five interdependent transmission lines? Each destroys natural and agricultural capital. Each is instituted under penalty of expropriation. Each erodes the civil liberties and well-being of rural Ontarians. And everyone ignores the alternative progressive and efficient electricity options.

The counter-argument is that more homes, more industry, more transmission lines, more power, and less red tape are in the public interest.

But is it in the public interest to gut and streamline environmental assessments? Are the public being served by building more cars and highways, spitting out more greenhouse gases and reducing Ontario’s ability to feed its growing human population?

Does the common good benefit from one-time payments to rural Ontarians forced to accept easements for intrusive power lines on productive land that they and five generations of ancestors never intended to sell or to rent out?

Are citizens better served by urban sprawl, altered rural landscapes, compromised agricultural productivity and the imperiled freedoms of rural Ontarians?

Henry Ford II emulated his grandfather’s gamble with the introduction of the Edsel in 1958. Hyperbole gave way to embarrassment and colossal failure. Could Ottawa and Doug Ford’s buffoonery for growth, batteries and electric vehicles suffer the same fate? Regardless of their propulsion systems, Ontario, Canada and the world need fewer, not more, automobiles. We need to change Ford’s vision to limit the ever-growing urban footprint on the farmland that feeds us and recognize that natural gas is not green energy.

Yes, we need to revitalize our cities, not with basement apartments and garden houses, but with fully functioning vibrant communities where humans choose to live and work. Replace suburbs with denser, efficient, clean and green buildings and infrastructure. Create urban parks and green spaces that reconnect citizens to local nature. Preserve our natural and agricultural capital for future generations.

And above all, demand that leaders relinquish strong ideological hubris with respectfully informed dialogue and humility. Yes, the promise of jobs, homes, batteries and electric vehicles may sound like the new Model T. Beware the hype. Look back at the Model T legacy and ask yourself if we’re betting the farm on a new Ford Edsel instead?

Douglas Morris is professor emeritus of biology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. He lives in rural northern Ontario and his roots run deep on the family’s 176-year-old Essex County farm.