Government seeding mistruths about tree planting

The Ford government continues to mislead the people of Ontario about the elimination of the 50 Million Tree Program. The Green Party would like to correct the record on various statements:

The government is confusing the ecologically-driven efforts of Forests Ontario with the legal requirements for forestry companies to replace the trees they cut down. This is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

We support and applaud industry replanting as required by law, but the 50 Million Tree Program was focused on regenerating the canopy in southern Ontario, where average forest cover is just 25%, and has been depleted to as low as 5% in some regions.

40% forest cover is considered healthy, which is why the work of Forests Ontario is so essential.

“We’ve been working with Forests Ontario to ensure that the tree planting that is designed and scheduled for this year will go on as planned.”

– Minister Yakabuski, Ontario Legislature, May 5, 2019

The tree planting for this year was never in question, so it is intentionally misleading to suggest that the government has found a compromise with Forests Ontario, tree nursery operators, and community planting partners in the wake of the province-wide the backlash from these ill-considered cuts.

Three generations of seedlings grown in nurseries are in jeopardy. Millions of trees will be ready for planting in 2020, 2021 and 2022, but without a place to plant them, they will go to waste. The Ford government has provided no assurance these trees will be protected from being destroyed.

“Forest Ontario has an opportunity to find other sources in the private sector which is the way this should be done in the first place.”

-Minister Yakabuski, Radio interview, May 6, 2019

It is reckless and irresponsible to completely offload the responsibility of fighting climate change to the private sector. The private sector has a role, but the government has a responsibility to act.

The 50 Million Tree Program was one of the government’s largest projects to fight and adapt to climate change, storing carbon equivalent to taking 1.1 million cars off the road for an entire year.

The program was a unique partnership between government and landowners to fight climate change, and it is simply false to imply that industry alone can fill the gap.

“The 50 Million Tree Program is a perfect example of the previous Liberal government frivolously spending taxpayer dollars to duplicate services already provided by the private sector,”
-Spokesperson for Minister Yakabuski, April 26

Tree planting is far from a frivolous expense, and in fact is one of the cheapest ways to fight climate change. An economic analysis found there was a 3 to 1 return on every dollar spent in this program, which also directly created 300 full-time seasonal jobs in Ontario.

The program further contributed $82 million in ecosystem services annually from erosion control to pollination, but most importantly the mitigation of floods that are on the rise in Ontario.

“The 50 Million Tree Program has only planted 27 million trees since 2007, an average of 2.5 million trees per year. This is well short of their initial goal of 50 Million trees by 2020,”
-Spokesperson for Minister Yakabuski, May 2

The government has repeatedly and unfairly disparaged the work of Forests Ontario, suggesting that they are off-track from meeting their goal of 50 Million Trees, even though the target date is 2025, not 2020. This has to do with the unique challenges of planting on private property. Since most of southern Ontario is privately owned, this is a challenge we must confront if Ontario is to restore a healthy tree canopy in the south.

“If there are going to be trees planted on private property, should it be the role of the taxpayer to fund that?”

-Minister Yakabuski, Radio interview, May 6, 2019

The PC Party, when in opposition, were vocal supporters of government-sponsored tree planting, so much so that they put forward a motion to scale up the program to 150 million trees by 2017. Why have Conservatives changed their position on tree planting now that they are in government?