After years of action, the Ontario government is now blowing smoke when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change, the province's environmental commissioner warns.

In a critical 84-page report, entitled "A Question of Commitment," released Tuesday at Queen's Park, Gord Miller said the Liberals have abandoned many environmental initiatives in part due to fiscal challenges.

"Clearly the Ontario government's commitment to responding to GHG emissions and climate change has become questionable," Miller told reporters.

Instead, Premier Dalton McGuinty's government, which faces a $14.4-billion deficit, appears content to rest on its laurels, such as its long-promised scrapping of coal-fired generators by 2014, instead of proposing new programs or even continuing existing plans.

"While the coal phase-out is a worthy accomplishment, it is now (a) past performance and no new initiatives to garner such measurable benefits or reductions are being advanced," said Miller.

The commissioner said the government is "ending or scaling back programs to fight GHG emissions and will fall far short of meeting its 2020 and 2050 targets" to curb global warming.

"The current lack of activity and delays will make the task of achieving the stated targets and goals harder and more expensive."

Environment Minister Jim Bradley praised Miller for a "thoughtful report," but emphasized the Liberals have reduced emissions better than Ottawa or the U.S. have, and combating climate change remains "a very high priority."

"We have reduced by 17 per cent greenhouse emissions while the U.S., which is held up in high regard, is down by 2 per cent and overall in Canada we're up by 2 per cent - that's even considering the job that Ontario has done in reducing it," said Bradley.

"There's more to do, I understand that. There's a lot of good things happening," he said, touting the Liberals' $14 billion in public transit investment, changes to the building code to improve efficiency, and planning restrictions to prevent urban sprawl.

Still, Miller expressed concern that the province cancelled the successful "green commercial vehicle program" early, slashed $101 million in funding to two electric vehicle programs, and delayed construction of more high-occupancy vehicle lanes to encourage carpooling.

The environmental watchdog also noted Ontario has yet to formally announce when it would enter the Western Climate Initiative's cap-and-trade program.

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto Danforth) said "it is not good news the government dropped the ball on climate change."

"It's not on the front-burner, it's not even on the stove anymore," said Tabuns, adding an NDP government would boost "energy efficiency in homes and in businesses."



Copyright 2012 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited