Ontario’s new premier plans to double number of post-secondary students

Ontario’s new premier, Doug Ford, wants to boost research and development into electric vehicles, but said on Wednesday he would not be reintroducing the rebate policy the previous government cut.

Ford took office last month vowing to lower taxes, cut bureaucracy and create economic opportunity for all Ontarians. While Ford did not delve into specifics during his first year as premier, he has made good on his promise to end funding for regional green energy initiatives.

“The best indicator of our future success, as a province, is our investment in the future of innovation and education for young people and we will double the number of students that go to university and post-secondary school in our province,” Ford said on Wednesday.

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Ford’s early policy decisions have drawn skepticism. He froze or cut job programs at many of the province’s universities and colleges, and froze corporate income taxes. He also has promised to repeal cap-and-trade, a former government policy that aimed to improve air quality through regulated pricing.

“What I know is there’s some people out there who don’t like me and they’re not very happy,” Ford said on Wednesday.

His first cabinet announced on Tuesday included some of those who were part of the Ford campaign. Economic Development Minister Steve Clark introduced a set of tax incentives for cleaner vehicles and encouraged more studies on their economic potential. He said Ford would be announcing new details “over the next several weeks”.

Ford broke with what critics called a traditional, cozy relationship between politics and industry after first taking office. Ford took a Tesla Model S electric vehicle for his first ride in the province, and Doug Ford Jr, the former premier’s chief of staff, rides a bike and lives alone in a house he built himself.

Experts say those decisions are a sign of Ford’s seriousness about his pledge to move away from green energy development.

“These are two people who aren’t in government because they got caught up in their own coalition and I think in a lot of ways they realize that was a mistake,” said David Herle, professor at the University of Waterloo.

“He’s trying to reset the balance so that I think the government can focus on jobs and the economy and away from the green energy type of policies.”

Ford will need more than just a new focus on electric vehicles. The province faces a shrinking market as more and more cars and trucks move into the market. Current levels of electric vehicles can take years to grow to an effective market share.

“It’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of leadership from the government because there are very few policy mechanisms in place in Canada to drive demand,” Herle said.

“One of the solutions might be to do some infrastructure improvements to make the most popular transportation in the province, which is the automobile, allow consumers to purchase cars with higher efficiency.”

Incentives for consumers could spur enough demand to lower consumer costs of electric vehicles, Herle added.

The recent announcements from the provincial government mark the first step in a challenge to Canada’s current electric car market, Brad Thompson, vice-president of policy, strategy and environment at the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers’ Association, said.

Ford’s scrapping of Ontario’s green vehicle rebate also makes him an outsider in the federal government’s race to be “the global leader in electric vehicle development”, Thompson said.

“It might be helpful if he invested the dollars in pushing that charge and get up to the speed,” Thompson said.

“Do they really want to create yet another incentive to make them less competitive with the rest of the world?”

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