The right-leaning government of Canada's most populous province has created a new job for a former Conservative cabinet minister who dismisses scientific evidence showing how much humans are changing the planet's climate.
Joe Oliver, 76, previously a natural resources and finance minister in the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper, is now a board member of Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), a Crown corporation that oversees and manages the province's electricity operations.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford, who also sat with Oliver in Harper's cabinet and replaced the former as federal natural resources minister, announced the nomination through a news release on Thursday afternoon.
The move comes as Ontario Premier Doug Ford's Progressive Conservative government is under fire for slashing policies to address climate change and criticizing the federal government for requiring polluters to pay a tax for contributing to the problem. Peer-reviewed scientific research shows that climate change threatens to cause irreversible damage to the Earth's ecosystems and its economy.
"Joe has shown an unwavering commitment to public service and has enjoyed a distinguished career in financial services," Rickford, Ontario's energy minister, said in a statement. "I am confident that he will provide excellent leadership and strategic thinking to support the management and supervision of the IESO's business and affairs. The IESO is the heart of Ontario's power system, ensuring there is enough power to keep the lights on, today and into the future and Joe will be a great addition to the team."
In a tweet, Oliver said he was "pleased" by the appointment.
A lawyer and banker by profession Oliver made headlines in 2013 after granting an interview to Montreal daily newspaper, La Presse, in which he claimed, without evidence, that scientists said "our fears (on climate change) are exaggerated."
As natural resources minister, Oliver attacked anti-pipeline groups as foreign-funded radicals, in an open letter that is widely considered to have caused members of the public to lose trust in federal oversight of major industrial development projects.
In his first three years in Ottawa, Oliver became "one of the Conservative government's most well-traveled ministers," according to a 2014 Globe and Mail profile. He went around the world to praise Canada's energy sector, especially the oilsands.
Oliver has a master of business administration from Harvard University and is a fluently bilingual Montreal native. He has worked as an investment banker with Merrill Lynch brokerage and subsequently as the executive director of the Ontario Securities Commission. He has also served as chief executive of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada, a lobby group and self-regulating body for the securities industry.
He attempted to become a provincial candidate under former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown in 2016 and lost the Ontario PC bid to now sitting MPP Roman Barber.
Oliver has also penned op-eds against Ontario's and Canada's climate change policies, and was opposed to Brown's position in favour of putting a price on carbon.
In a June 2016 opinion piece titled "Ontario’s electricity fiasco is going to get much, much worse" for example," Olivier wrote called the former Liberal government's climate plan "a useless intrusion in our lives" that would "infringe on people’s freedom, impose debilitating costs, set impossible targets and fail to produce meaningful reductions in GHG emissions."
"A profound belief that climate change will doom the planet does not give licence to pursue unworkable policies at great cost. To the contrary, the result of this dysfunctional plan will be a missed opportunity to do something effective," Oliver wrote in 2016.
In a November 2018 column for Toronto Sun titled "Climate change alarmists seriously harm the economy," Oliver said that efforts to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels to mitigate the impacts of climate change were based on beliefs that are "grossly exaggerated or simply false."
"Predictions have also been wrong, sometimes spectacularly, about temperature increases, endangered polar bears, disappearing polar ice and islands sinking into the sea. As well, computer models consistently overestimate warming," he said.
Canada’s energy sector is in crisis because of gov’t & climate alarmist opposition to pipelines, based on an exaggerated belief that fossil fuels will irrevocably harm life on the planet & policies that are totally ineffective @Torontosun2 #joeoliverwrites https://t.co/zwyqpNQ4DE— Joe Oliver (@joeoliver1) November 26, 2018
Oliver's appointment to the IESO comes one day after he penned an op-ed in the Financial Post that denied climate change, stating that "the evidence simply does not substantiate the apocalyptic prophesies."
"The climate is always changing. Doubling Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions increases the temperature by 1.1 degree Celsius and secondary effects have not multiplied that number. Increased GHG makes plants more drought resistant and increases arable land. Human beings contribute to raising emissions, but it is unclear how much warming is anthropogenic. Extreme weather events have not increased, according to the IPCC. There is no satisfactory explanation for why temperatures have risen, fallen and remained flat during the last century of steadily increasing emissions. Since our grasp of climatology is obviously imperfect, we cannot claim that the science is settled," Oliver wrote on Wednesday.
Oliver's claims aren't consistent with peer-reviewed scientific evidence. Climate change is real. Greenhouse gas emissions produced as a result of burning fossil fuels like oil and gas for home heating and transportation have contributed to raising the Earth's temperatures. This has in turn led to severe weather events like forest fires, heat warnings, harsh winters and more serious rainstorms.
Oliver's appointment also comes a day after Dianne Saxe, Ontario's environment watchdog, released her last report on energy conservation in the province and, in doing so, said that the government's cancellation of all energy conservation programs last week would increase pollution, costs and health impacts.
The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario's energy conservation noted that the IESO's conservation programs have "saved ratepayers and the province money, have helped reduce the province’s GHG emissions and have made homes more liveable and businesses more competitive by making them more energy efficient."
The report recommends a focused energy conservation policy as the IESO is projecting that the province may be facing a supply shortage by as early as 2023. According to the electricity manager's mid-term 2018 review, "all stakeholders who were part of the mid-term review process emphasized the importance of conservation continuing post-2020" so that the province can make "a clean transition" to an energy efficient electricity framework that will be include "better measuring and valuing greenhouse gas emissions reductions."
Saxe said that Ontario’s climate policies were "very frightening."
In light of all this, environment activists and opposition MPPs are not happy with Oliver's appointment.
"Climate denier Joe Oliver appointed to the body that runs Ontario's electricity system (IESO). He doesn't accept science or the government's stated position on climate change, he doesn't belong on a body that will have to protect our electrical supply from climate disruption," NDP MPP and energy critic Peter Tabuns wrote on Twitter.
Climate denier Joe Oliver appointed to the body that runs Ontario's electricity system (IESO). He doesn't accept science or the government's stated position on climate change, he doesn't belong on a body that will have to protect our electrical supply from climate disruption. https://t.co/nYP0agBZyR— Peter Tabuns (@Peter_Tabuns) March 28, 2019
Green Party leader and MPP Mike Schreiner said the appointment of someone "who has publically espoused climate change skepticism" was "reckless."
"Ford’s efforts to sabotage climate solutions are now reaching into the highest levels of the regulators who will oversee the modernization of Ontario’s electricity system," Schreiner said in a statement. "This appointment of an outspoken climate skeptic sends the wrong signal — that Ontario is closed for business to the clean energy systems growing around the world.”
Greenpeace's Keith Stewart agreed. "Appointing a climate denier to the IESO at a time when the electricity sector needs to be updated for a low-carbon future is like appointing an alchemist to oversee drug approvals," he said in a tweet following the announcement.
Appointing a climate denier to the IESO at a time when the electricity sector needs to be updated for a low-carbon future is like appointing an alchemist to oversee drug approvals. https://t.co/C0YFoIuB7z— Keith Stewart (@climatekeith) March 28, 2019
Joe Oliver, who wrote this piece today, is now an IESO Board member. I guess he won't be worried about mega storms taking out the electricity grid and he likely thinks coal should come back https://t.co/Y2zLog0nLG #onpoli #crazytown #ClimateChange— Timothy Gray (@CanadaGray) March 28, 2019
Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:17 p.m. ET on March 28, 2019 with new comments from Ontario Green Leader Mike Schreiner.