Doug Ford has fired Ontario’s chief scientist, sacked the government’s investment czar, terminated its top business adviser, and sidelined Hydro One’s leadership in rapid succession. But there’s one public servant to whom Ford can’t say, “You’re fired!” Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Dianne Saxe is an independent officer of the legislature and can only be dismissed by MPPs with cause. But even if she hasn’t given them reason to remove her, the Progressive Conservative majority has handed her a cause celebre — carbon pricing, Martin Regg Cohn writes. (Frank Gunn / THE CANADIAN PRESS) Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Dianne Saxe, doesn’t serve at the pleasure of the premier. As an independent officer of the legislature, she can only be dismissed by MPPs with cause. But even if she hasn’t given them any cause to remove her, the Progressive Conservative majority has surely handed her a cause celebre — carbon pricing. As the Earth’s temperature rises, the fight over global warming is heating up inexorably at Queen’s Park. By shutting down Ontario’s cap-and-trade system on the pretence of saving people a few pennies at the pump, Ford’s Tories are not only clearing the way for unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, they are opening the door to potential penalties. And long-term pain for short-term gain. With Ford’s government vowing to oppose any federal carbon tax, it is now doing everything in its power to do nothing about global warming. What next? “I’m very interested in what the government is going to do,” Saxe tells me. She warns that by suddenly tearing down the architecture of a cap-and-trade system that took years to build up, Ontario is leaving itself exposed to unforeseen costs and potential litigation on all fronts. On both sides of the border. That’s because Ontario formally linked to carbon markets in Quebec and California, where Canadian and American companies bid at auction for emissions permits that were tradable — and valuable. For private companies that have bid nearly $3 billion at auction since last year for those permits, that’s a lot of money to lose by government fiat. While reluctant to make predictions, Saxe knows enough from decades of running her own law firm to worry about the consequences both environmental and legal. During his winning election campaign, Ford made a point of setting aside $30 million to fund a court battle with Ottawa over a federal law that mandates a minimum carbon tax to backstop any province that fails to impose a carbon price of its own. But beyond any federal-provincial litigation — legal experts believe Ottawa has an airtight case — it is the risk of private sector court fights that could bleed Ontario further. “Conceptually, I think there will be lawsuits,” Saxe says in our interview. Ontario’s Climate Act “was not designed for this kind of cancellation, but that will be for a judge to decide.” Moreover, California may prove to be fertile ground for lawsuits, because “U.S. courts have a tradition of imposing punitive damages.” There could also be class-action suits from companies that invested heavily on the basis of Ontario law. The PC government has also lost a revenue stream that would have allowed Ontario to fund a backlog of school repairs — while bankrolling other energy-saving initiatives in hospitals, homes, and private-sector pilot projects. Saxe points to energy-saving projects that would have boosted research and development across the province, belying Ford’s campaign claims of an imaginary “cap-and-trade carbon tax slush fund.” Cap and trade is a market mechanism that allows companies to manage reduced emissions in the most efficient way, while the government raises revenue to invest in emissions reductions. A carbon tax, by contrast, is a blunt instrument (no trade) that imposes a price on pollution, without necessarily lowering the overall emissions ceiling (no cap). “In terms of emissions reductions, cap and trade outperforms the ... carbon tax,” according to Saxe’s latest annual report. “Cap and trade has higher total GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions due to the declining cap, offsets ... and using revenues to fund low-carbon initiatives.” Thanks to Ford — and his self-proclaimed “Government for the People” — the province will likely end up with a carbon tax that is less efficient for the private sector, and more expensive for the people. In addition to the legal costs, opportunity costs, and environmental costs, Ford has also raised the cost of doing business by trading a flexible cap-and-trade system for a rigid carbon tax backstop. As the province’s environmental watchdog since 2015, Saxe has tried hard to explain the realities and complexities of climate change. But the political environment has changed in Ontario since she took on her oversight role. Watching Ford’s firing spree at the mid-point of her five-year term, Saxe insists she isn’t going anywhere. But the province she serves is slowly going backwards into the environmental future.