News from the Park

You know, you don’t need to have your PhD in psychology or Master of Education to know the best way to bring about the behaviours in others that you want. I’ll prove it to you right here.

Let’s say you want your child to develop the habit of making his bed before school or hanging up her coat when she comes in the door. Which way would be more effective to instill these behaviours in their minds? A) Use negative reinforcement such as taking away their computer time when they forget and pointing out to everyone how irresponsible they are until they do it? Or B) Use positive reinforcement such as rewarding them with time spent with you doing something they enjoy, offering them a treat or extra time on computer and follow up with praise?

Such lessons don’t require a degree. It is part of the entry level “Parenting 101” program that we all ‘enrol in’ as our children grow. Granted, not everyone who has kids successfully passes the course, but knowing that Doug Ford has four children, I can’t quite figure out how this lesson could get past him.

Everyone knows how Doug Ford feels about the federal carbon tax and the whole climate change issue. Clearly his beliefs are inline with his party counterpart in Alberta and at the federal level as well as his friend in Washington D.C. However, clearly the Conservative strategists are well aware how most Ontarians feel about the issue. Climate change is real and we need to do something. Unfortunately it seems Ford’s advisors think that it’s just fine for the Province to just appear that it is actually doing something.

Last month, Environment Minister Jeff Yurek announced the Conservative plan is to fine and penalize all polluters into compliance. The Conservatives will implement punitive laws and regulations to ‘encourage’ them to support local environmental projects. Yurek’s October 31st media release stated, “We are proposing to expand the use of administrative monetary penalties to a broader range of environmental violations and reinvest the money to support projects that provide local solutions to environmental issues.” He went on to explain that their plan is to ensure strong enforcement through “tough but fair penalties.” The monetary penalties will be used - they say - to support community projects, such as restoring habitats of endangered species, tree planting, litter clean-up, and other priorities.

Again, you don’t need a degree to recognize their strategy as negative reinforcement. Ask any teacher how effective giving students lines or missing gym is as a long-term behavioural tool. They will tell you that negative reinforcement is ineffective. You are far better off using positive reinforcement.

You may ask what positive reinforcement would look like when governments are trying to instill proper corporate behaviours in terms of protecting the environment. Well, they could look a lot like the cap-and-trade system agreement Ontario had with Quebec and California that Doug Ford ripped up. In that system, corporations that reduced their carbon footprint to levels below specified goals were rewarded by being able to sell their carbon credits to companies that did not meet the target goal. The revenue paid out by companies not meeting the target goal can be redistributed to the people of Ontario in the form of grants and rebates to help improve energy efficiencies in our homes, schools and public buildings.

The November 2nd issue of the Toronto Star reported that the lobby group Environmental Defence argues that the Conservative legislation will actually offer polluters a pretty big break as it eliminates current daily fines. The article quotes the group spokesperson saying, “It’s less money and removes any incentive for somebody who’s been caught in contravention to stop doing whatever they’re doing.”

The Ford government has proposed eliminating an existing $100,000-per-day penalty for environmental polluters and replacing it with a one-off fine of just $10,000 (a 90% reduction). Further, the government is pushing to cap environmental fines at an overall maximum of $200,000. That means a company dumping toxic waste into a lake for 10 days will be fined $200,000 instead of $1 million.

It’s disappointing, too, that Ford has reneged on his promise to abide by the decision of Ontario voters in the recent federal election. Prior to the election Ford said that voters – not the courts – should decide the future of Canada’s carbon tax program. He promised that if Ontario voters used the ballot box to make a statement by electing a Liberal rather than Conservative government, that he would drop the court challenge to the Federal government’s carbon tax. The results were pretty darn clear. Canadians put Liberal, New Democrat, Green and Bloc Québécois into two thirds of the seats. Ontarians sent an even clearer message as voters put parties supporting the carbon tax into 70 percent of the seats available for the province.

New Brunswick’s Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs got the message. He says his government will abide by the will of the people and will now comply with the federal requirement to put a price on fossil fuels. But Doug Ford says he’d changed his mind about dropping the case, even though the message is clear. He will still be throwing 30 million tax dollars at challenging the federal regulation in the court as well as a huge advertising campaign in an attempt to convince Ontarians that his way is better. The question is, better for who? Because it sure isn’t the people of Ontario or Canada for that matter.

It’s sad to add another blatant broken Conservative promise to the growing list.

The announced archaic and ineffective practice of corporate negative reinforcement spells bad news for average Ontarians. It’s time for the Conservatives to abandon their old-school methods and utilize more advanced strategies.

As always, please feel free to contact my office about these issues, or any other provincial matters. You can reach my constituency office by email at or by phone at 705-461-9710 or Toll free 1-800-831-1899.

Michael Mantha