Ontario Government’s Fall Economic Statement Disregards Climate Crisis, Energy Concerns: OSPE

On November 4, the Government of Ontario released its 2021 Fall Economic Statement, Build Ontario. Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy revealed the government’s projected deficit of:

  • $21.5 billion in 2021-22
  • $19.6 billion in 2022-23
  • $12.9 billion in 2023-24

Ontario’s 2021-22 net debt-to-Gross Domestic Product (GDP) ratio is now forecast to be 43.4 per cent. Ontario’s real GDP is projected to rise 4.3 per cent in 2021, 4.5 per cent in 2022, 2.6 per cent in 2023 and 2.0 per cent in 2024.

The Fall Economic Statement laid out three key themes – Protecting our Progress, Building Ontario, and Working for Workers – making no announcements regarding the environment or addressing the climate crisis. The government also made no announcements in response to OSPE’s continued calls for change to Ontario’s long-term energy planning framework, after engineers on OSPE’s Energy Task Force reported that Ontario has continued to waste clean electricity for the seventh consecutive year. 

ENVIRONMENT

  • No new announcements

“Engineers on OSPE’s Environment Task Force are disappointed to see that this Economic Update lacks the investment in effort and urgency to address the climate crisis,” said Dave Carnegie, P.Eng., OSPE Board member and Chair of OSPE’s Environment Task Force. “As the advocacy body and voice of engineers, OSPE is fully committed to working with our partners to identify solutions to the climate crisis, and government should be too.

Ontario should lead by establishing clear, ambitious and achievable greenhouse gas reduction targets, timetables and accountability mechanisms. Doing so will ensure that our province fully leverages the talent and ingenuity of our engineering community to address one of the greatest challenges we collectively face, and will ensure the health, safety and prosperity of our future.”

Engineers were expecting to see new initiatives come forward to deal with the climate crisis, including new strategies to decarbonize Ontario’s economy.

ENERGY

  • No new announcements

“For years, engineers have been calling for urgent and overdue modernization of Ontario’s energy policy and management systems,” said Steve Pepper, P.Eng., Chair of OSPE’s Energy Task Force. “We are in an age of dramatic transition for the energy industry, which includes the changing role of transmission and distribution, new technologies commercially available and in development, decarbonization mandates, and technical advances and cost reductions for energy storage and renewable energy, to name a few.

With a largely publicly owned and heavily regulated energy industry, the opportunity exists for Ontario to become a global energy technology hub. To do so, Ontario must review and change the roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities of the Ministry of Energy, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), and the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), and incorporate a mandate to foster local innovation, which not only is the lifeblood of engineers and engineering but the key to future of Ontario’s economy.”

OSPE maintains that the long-term planning goal of the energy industry in Ontario must be to provide a clean, reliable, resilient, affordable and sustainable supply of energy to all customers—residential, commercial and industrial.  

COVID-19

The Ford government announced it is committed to:

  • Add and upskill over 5,000 registered nurses and registered practical nurses, and 8,000 personal support workers to our hospitals and health care system by investing $342 million.
  • Hire 225 nurse practitioners in the long-term care sector by investing $57.6 million, beginning in 2022–23.

VENTILATION

The government announced:

  • $600 million to improve ventilation and filtration in schools, including installing over 70,000 standalone high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and other ventilation devices.
  • An additional $8.9 million for COVID-19 supports in congregate care settings, including homes for children or adults with developmental disabilities as well as shelters. This funding will help to provide supports such as personal protective equipment, Infection Prevention and Control measures, and HEPA filters to improve ventilation.

IMPACT: OSPE is pleased to hear that the government understands the need to properly address ventilation in buildings across Ontario. OSPE is still calling on the Ontario government to consult with engineers, scientists, HVAC specialists and other experts immediately to adequately address this issue before more outbreaks occur. OSPE endorses the work of our colleagues at the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), who have released extensive resources detailing how to conduct overall improvements to HVAC systems to properly mitigate virus transmission. ASHRAE’s Building Readiness Guide includes checklists for re-occupancy of schools, including a recommendation to “consider consulting with a local professional engineer to determine the appropriate minimum RH levels based on local climate conditions, type of construction and age of the building under consideration.”

INFRASTRUCTURE

Government announced:

  • $2.6 billion in funding for 2021–22 in support of the Ontario Highways Program, which features more than 580 construction, expansion and rehabilitation projects. As part of the Highways Program, the government has committed funding to build and advance the Bradford Bypass and Highway 413.
  • A $28.5 billion plan with the all-new Ontario Line, the three-stop Scarborough Subway Extension, the Yonge North Subway Extension connecting to York Region, and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension.
  • $1.7 billion towards the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project

IMPACT: OSPE agrees that funding infrastructure projects is a beneficial, long-term investment. However, given that funding is finite, key decisions on infrastructure should be evidence-based and made in consultation with experts, including engineers.

To build long-term sustainable infrastructure, it is important that the government consult appropriately with stakeholders and the communities affected. These consultations must be transparent and information should be shared throughout the entire process.

When it comes to infrastructure, OSPE believes that projects must be sustainable in the long-run and these should not compromise the environment.

OSPE urges the Ontario Government to answer the concerns raised through its plan to build the Bradford Bypass, which would run through Ontario’s Greenbelt, and retract this decision and cancel its plan to build Highway 413.

“While we applaud the government’s commitment to infrastructure investment, OSPE is disappointed since this government has yet to adequately address the labour shortage of qualified professional engineers, who are needed to design and complete the work necessary before a shovel even hits the ground,” said OSPE’s CEO Sandro Perruzza. “Without investments in this area, these infrastructure projects will be unable to move forward.”

RESEARCH AND INNOVATION

Government announced:

  • $40 million in a new Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation Competitiveness stream of the Regional Development Program to help attract investment and create stable, well-paying manufacturing jobs for Ontario workers.

IMPACT: This investment is intended to support Ontario businesses when investing in new equipment, advanced technologies, and skilled workers. This is a contribution to overcoming some of the supply chain challenges facing businesses, including engineering businesses due to the pandemic. However, OSPE encourages the government to make robust investments in breaking barriers to commercializing products in the province. This is particularly true as more and more innovative solutions are necessary to solve complex challenges, such as climate change, that face Ontario today.

 RING OF FIRE

Government announced:

  • $1 billion to support the planning and construction of an all-season road network, as well as other projects that will provide a corridor to prosperity for the remote First Nations living in the Far North. This will help unlock the economic potential of the Ring of Fire.

IMPACT: OSPE welcomes this needed investment. Engineers have been a key stakeholder group engaged in the development of Ontario’s first ever Critical Minerals Strategy. Engineering input was clear: each step in the supply chain, including exploration, construction, mining and manufacturing must be a sustainable practice. Ontario can play a leading role in supplying leading industries and supporting the low-carbon transition through its critical minerals.

TRAINING

Government announced:

  • The extension of the Ontario Jobs Training Tax Credit for 2022. The extension of this credit would provide up to $2,000 in relief for 50 per cent of a person’s 2022 eligible training expenses, or up to a total of $4,000 over the two tax years.
  • The enhancement of its Skilled Trades Strategy to provide more information, further promote the value of the trades, establish clearer pathways, encourage diversity and inclusion and enhance linkages between government, school boards and industry with the goal of making it easier than ever to learn a trade in the province of Ontario.

IMPACT:  OSPE is pleased that the government understands the need to invest in training its workforce. We commend the focus on an integrated, multi-phased approach that equips more people with the skills needed to get quality jobs through apprenticeships. However, more should be done to ensure that engineers, and not only tradespeople have access to these opportunities. As engineers lead the design aspects of many projects across these sectors, without supporting engineers in upskilling and keeping up with evolving trends, it will be very difficult to innovate in the province. This inability to innovate within these sectors will mean a loss of opportunities for new job creation for both professionals and tradespeople.

“By investing in engineering and engineers, you are directly growing the infrastructure, environmental, mining, technology and advanced manufacturing sectors, which will drive economic recovery in this province,” said Sandro Perruzza, OSPE CEO.

EQUITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION

Government announced:

  • The investment of $5 million in targeted supports for Indigenous, Black and racialized entrepreneurs to start or grow their business through the Racialized and Indigenous Support for Entrepreneurs (RAISE) grant. This grant will promote opportunities for female entrepreneurs, help remove barriers to economic opportunity and advance racial equity;
  • The establishment of a diversity and inclusion governance structure within Skilled Trades Ontario;
  • The modernization of the education curriculum to ensure all students, including young women, have the foundational and entrepreneurial skills they need in a rapidly changing world along with a renewed focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM);

IMPACT: Making an investment to support combatting racism against racialized and Indigenous communities is crucial. OSPE believes that Ontario’s economic recovery will depend on the ability to attract and retain a diverse workforce. However, OSPE encourages the government to consider applying a lens of diversity and inclusion to all of its policies, programs, and investments. This plan lacks a unifying equity, diversity, and inclusion lens.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

  • The government is proposing to increase the general minimum wage to $15 per hour effective January 1, 2022 and to eliminate the special minimum wage rate for liquor servers by raising it to the general minimum wage.

What issues impact you the most as an engineer? What are your thoughts on the Economic Statement?

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