Who Will Hold Ontario Libs to Account for Coal Health Claims?

Right from its origins in 2003, Premier McGuinty’s claims that Ontario’s coal power was killing hundreds of Ontarians and maiming thousands of others did not withstand scrutiny.

The leading academic challenging the government’s talking points was Ross McKitrick from the University of Guelph. McKitrick undertook point by point critiques of the government’s claims that air pollution was getting worse, that Ontario’s coal power was a big part of the problem, that existing emissions had massive mortality and morbidity impacts, that replacing coal would be cheap, and on and on. Here is one example, and another, and another of McKitrick’s work trying to bring relevant science to public attention during the peak of Ontario’s official anti-coal power hysteria. Here is an example of his scientific work on the subject.

The government’s messaging that all coal was equally polluting was a particular expression of ignorance. Since Ontario citizens had invested in extremely effective scrubbers for some units at Nanticoke and Lambton, those units were among the cleanest in North America from a smog perspective.

As the reality of drastically escalating rates became obvious and official promises that replacing coal power would be cheap and easy became disgraced, the government has felt a need to recycle its killer coal talking points.

If Ontario’s Opposition parties were more agile in holding the government to account, one item they would be picking apart would be the health “savings” from the coal shutdown policy.

Over the last week, the government has continued to claim that “Ontario’s coal-fired plants cost the people of Ontario an estimated $4.4 billion per year in health, environmental and financial damages.” Energy Minister Chiarelli said this in Hansard this week.

How strange, therefore, that the government continues to collect the Health Care Premium, and states that “Revenue from the Ontario Health Premium should be approximately $3 billion to the health care system each year.”

If killing coal saves $4.4 billion per year in health care and enviromental costs, isn’t it time to retire the Health Care Premium?

The rate of growth for government spending on health and long term care has been virtually constant since 2008, while coal-fired power production has plunged from 23.2 TWh to 4.1 TWh. If coal phase-out led to all these savings, where are the savings?


  1. The Mc Kitrick study covers 1974-1994. So it is limted in time frame.
    What people need to know is how much coal usage has dropped say from 1944 to the present. In 1944 coal was going full blast for the war effort.
    The whole past history of coal usage and how this usage has dropped over the last hundred years is left out.
    The loss of heavy manufacturing in North America had a role in coal usage as well.

  2. Barbara, the importance of examining the 1974-1994 time frame is that air pollution was much higher back then, so if ozone and particulates (etc) are sending so many people to hospital today at our current low levels, the health toll numbers should have been far higher back then. Instead the effects were nil. We also emphasized the importance of controlling for income, smoking and model uncertainty, which most past studies have failed to do.

    Also, while particulate emissions from coal use have fallen considerably since the end of WWII, I don’t think coal use itself has. From 1960 to today, US coal production more than doubled:

    Tom, thanks for this posting. The demagoguery around coal-fired power generation in Ontario has been ruinous for the province. There will likely never be a reckoning for it, but it is important nonetheless to let people know who is responsible for surging power costs and the fact that it was a policy based on propaganda and falsehoods.

  3. We could have DONATED stack scrubbers to Ohio Valley generators, the biggest source of coal emissions in Ontario, for the billions wasted on Greed Energy…Oh right, the Auditor General revealed that there was no consideration of other cheaper more environmentally responsible alternatives to throwing tax dollars to the winds.

  4. Thanks Ross, Am refering to the amount coal being used for heating and manufacturing and not to the coal used to produce electricity.
    Don’t think there would be medical records dating back into the 40′ and 50’s when the air over cities “rained’ down soot. The old buildings in Pittsburg still have soot marks on them.
    Until 1951 coal was the predominant fuel and then oil & gas use picked up.
    People today just don’t know what smog and soot was like. This is why they can become so easily alarmed over coal use.
    The old London “fogs” were about the worst anywhere. And the L.A. smog would sting your eyes. Encountered the L.A. smog up near UCLA.

    • For 2008 the monies spent on health care represented 21.1% of the budget spending and for 2012 represented 38.3%.—That is hardly constant.

    • I was referring to the rate of growth, meaning the year-over-year change. Looking at the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care operating expenses, the annual rate of spending growth in 2008 was 6%, in 2009 7%, in 2010 5%, in 2011 4%, in 2012 5%, in 2013 2%.

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