Now Reading
Meet David Piccini. Ontario’s environment minister at Ford.
[vc_row thb_full_width=”true” thb_row_padding=”true” thb_column_padding=”true” css=”.vc_custom_1608290870297{background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][thb_postcarousel style=”style3″ navigation=”true” infinite=”” source=”size:6|post_type:post”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Meet David Piccini. Ontario’s environment minister at Ford.

the narwhal icon on map of ontario

David Piccini wants his customers to trust him. 

The dapper first-term MPP has spent his six months as Ontarios environment minister parrying blows left and right over unpopular decisions made by Doug Ford’s government in areas such as development and clean energy. In the next few months, hell will be trying to win over voters who value climate more than ever. It’s not an easy task.

Conservative strategists have used the environment as a shield topic in recent times. Tories can’t win easily in this area, but must be able build a credible defense if there is to be any chance of victory. Piccini would like to make it a sword issue for the Progressive Conservatives, so they can defeat their opponents.

He said that my actions speak louder than my words. At its core, I think that’s my job.

The Narwhal is now in Ontario

Guess what? We just launched an Ontario office. Get the latest news by signing up to receive a weekly dose independent journalism, ad-free.

Piccini is a charming, kind-hearted go-getter who is equally adept at managing stakeholders than he is at bat for his party. He is the youngest minister to head the environment portfolio at 33. He has been praised by both young and old Tories and made friends across the aisle. Even critics claim they share common ground with him.

This might explain why Premier Ford selected Piccini to be his portfolio manager for one of the weakest areas. Piccini will have to cut emissions and protect endangered species. These are two areas where Ontario’s auditor general recently gave the Tories a failing grade in a time when climate change has become more important. According to a survey, Ontarians worry almost as much about climate change and inflation after a year filled with wildfires and extreme weather. Nanos/CTV pollThere were 1,010 Canadians published December 2021.

He’s a hustler, and I think he gets how to build a modern, inclusive conservative movement, and he gets that environmentalism has to be a huge part of this equation, says Jeff Ballingall, the founder of right-wing advocacy groups Proud to be Ontario and CanadaPiccini’s friend, he says. 

When you combine that with someone thats compassionate, and empathetic, and with his work ethic, it’s a very, very powerful force.

Critics doubt that this enthusiasm and knowledge will lead to real progress in a government which has so far emphasized environmental preservation over regulation. Piccini insists that the key to his strategy is to balance environmental concerns with economic considerations for emitting industries.

It’s very hard to see how the government is going to fix its reputation without acknowledging that the initiatives that it took over the first three years were a mistake, says Phil Pothen, Ontario programs manager at Environmental Defence. He points out the decline in conservation authorities in the provinces and the numerous permits it has given to companies wanting to build on the habitat of endangered species. 

I hope it’s true (that Piccini) has at least some personal inclination to try and do the right thing To be frank, we’re not aware of any initiatives that are at all that positive, Pothen says.

Piccini sits in the Environment Ministry’s Bay Street office with Max asleep at his feet, and a whiteboard with a list of to-dos across his room. He says he doesn’t believe that the province can legislate a climate-friendly economic system. Piccini is determined to reduce carbon emissions by investing and developing technology to make industries like steel and auto cleaner.

Though he defends his governments past moves on the environment and current controversial plans, such as those to build two highways through the Greenbelt  he also asks critics to look at what hes doing now.

Don’t hold me to things that were 2018, 19, two years ago. He said that it was a snapshot of time. 

If you could say that you have not made any announceables, then you are fair critic. But I can clearly point to large announcements.

The appointment of an environment minister 

Piccini grew up in Port Hope, a community a little over an hour east of Toronto, nestled along the north shore of Lake Ontario in his riding of NorthumberlandPeterborough South. His father is an architect. Before his father, he was an architect. Mother has retiredShe was an educator in 2018. Trinity College SchoolPiccini, his sister and fiance are all alumni of, an independent nondenominational school.

His grandfather was born in Udine in Northern Italy, the home of Piccini’s favorite soccer team, Udinese Calcio. According to family legends, he immigrated to Canada without money and built a life in Hamilton with a job at Stelco. Piccini uses this bootstraps story to explain why he is concerned about the climate and why he doesn’t want to risk industrial jobs. His idea of a just transition is making heavy emitters more sustainable, not phasing out.

The environment minister stated that he would rather see the private sector succeed in phasing out plastics and scaling up recycling than make drastic changes.

In December, he stated that the notion that the government can regulate or legislate its way towards net zero or combating climate change is a falsehood. [The loss of] good manufacturing jobs, men and women like my grandfather put out of work does not get us to net zero, it doesn’t get us to a better planet, it gets us to misery and poverty, and I refuse to allow that to happen.

Piccini grew up with Liberals, Conservatives, and Greens in his family. However, his interest in politics only began at university when he studied history and political science. He says that he was not a Tory at all. He was a soccer player at the University of Ottawa and later coached the team. He also served on the History Students Association. When he was disillusioned by student government and what it perceived as a lack in freedom of speech, he felt he lean to the right.

In 2010, Piccini described the situation as embarrassing for the University of Ottawa amid a storm over Ann Coulter’s cancelled speech.

“Many people disagree with a lot of things Ann Coulter has to say I was one of them, he told CTV NewsAt the time. But I was looking forward to going out there and doing this the Canadian way and debating it in an appropriate manner.”

He said today that student politics did not represent the melting pot he saw at campus and on the bus to the soccer games. He says that he found only one view acceptable in class. 

Ironically, they say that you become an activist if you go to campus. I was a conservative when I went to campus.

Piccini ran unsuccessfully in the federal Conservative Party’s Ottawa riding before he attempted to run for his provincial seat. “He did it with great energy, great enthusiasm,” says Conservative MP Ed Fast, who was once Piccini’s boss on Parliament Hill. Photo by Carlos Osorio/The Narwhal

Piccini fell for Ottawa. Piccini worked at an Italian grocer in ByWard Market, cutting deli meats just steps from House of Commons. Even after he became a politician, he would still help out weekends and holidays. Before entering politics in 2011, he worked for Service Canada and Agriculture Canada while in school. After graduating from university, he became the executive assistant to Conservative MP Ed Fast.

Piccini’s main task was to ensure everything was in order, that Fasts speeches were prepared, that the minister got to question period on schedule and that everything was on point.

He was my choice. I don’t think I went wrong there, Fast says. Fast said that he was like a sponge in the sense that he was constantly asking for information and wanted to know more about politics and how policy development was done. 

Fast claims that Fast’s office placed a lot of emphasis at the time on maintaining communication with key stakeholders like industry groups. David would have likely picked up on this and understood the importance and importance of stakeholder management. And his personality would perfectly fit into this kind of approach.

Piccini started work at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in 2015. He led trade missions in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Piccini ran federally in OttawaVanier the same year. This was his first attempt to get a seat.

Jacquie Rose, founder and principal of the public affairs firm Compass Rose and a Liberal politician, said that he worked hard for the community. He treated people across the aisle very well He’s a skilled public speaker in the sense that he’s calm and he’s quick on his feet.

The riding was held by an incumbent Liberal for twenty years and was considered almost impossible to win. Piccini lost. Fast said that Piccini was in some ways a sacrificial lamb. He did it with great energy and great enthusiasm.

After returning to his hometown to win the provincial seat in 2018, the rookie MPP brought the same enthusiasm to his new job. His first job was as a parliamentary assistant to minister of colleges and Universities. It wasn’t without challenges. Piccini was present at the microphone to assist with introductionsSome controversial changesThe Ontario Student Assistance Program provides financial assistance to Ontarians who are planning to attend post-secondary schools.

In 2020, the Ford government announced it would grant university status for a Christian college owned by Charles McVety. McVety, an evangelical preacher who has made homophobic as well as Islamophobic statements, also found himself in the spotlight. said carbon pricingFund the Anti-Christ’s one-world government. Piccini publicly defended the move in media interviews and during question period. (In the end, Piccini defended the move publicly in both media interviews and question period. 

Piccini, wearing jeans and a puffy vest, points off in the distance as he speaks to a person at a protest to save a woodlot. In the background, more attendees are visible in front of trees with green ribbons tied to them.
Piccini at a rally in March 2021 to save Penryn Woods. This lot was slated to become residential development. Photo by David Piccini/Twitter

In spring 2021, the MPP began to take an interest in environmentalism when he joined the fight for Port Hope’s woodlot that was being cut down for residential development. Are we willing to continue our suburbanization to make Toronto one big suburb? Or do we say no? During a press conference, he said this in conjunction with PHorests 4 R PHuture. He stated that he had In Piccini was a child with a lot of money, so he also launched a website. saveourtrees.caTo rally support. 

It is personal to him, which did come across, according to Claire Holloway Wadhwani of the PHorests 4 R PHuture board. Wadhwani said that communication has been less frequent over the past months. However, Piccini’s office assured the group that he is still supportive of their efforts. At press time, it appeared that the development would proceed.

Wadhwani admits that she doesn’t always agree with the Progressive Conservatives approach, but Piccinis work in the woodlot struck a chord. I see alignment when he speaks about that ecosystem and the importance of that part of our tree cover. She says that she would be happy to see this approach and that type of perspective more widely reflected in the work of the Ministry of the Environment. 

Piccini was promoted to his cabinet position in June, shortly after he joined the woodlot fight. He said that he was thrilled. It touches so many different things, from my perspective. You’ve got a short runway. How can you manage it? 

Ontario Environment Minister David Piccini, wearing a white shirt, green tie and a medical mask and gloves,  bends over to look at a turtle in his hands.
Piccini visits the Ontario Turtle Conservation Centre in Peterborough (Ont.). Piccini on a visit to the Ontario Turtle Conservation Center in Peterborough, Ont., last July, shortly before being promoted to his cabinet position. Photo by Government of Ontario Flickr

He doesn’t pull any punches firing back

Piccini is more outdoorsman than environmentalist. Piccini spends weekends with Max, his Nova Scotia duck-teller and companion in interviews and meetings. Killarney is his favourite provincial park. His parents gave him a painting. His favourite endangered species in Ontario is the Blanding’s turtle, which has a distinct yellow throat  “I honk for the turtles,” he exclaims.

He’s taken to his new role with enthusiasm. He’s visited more than a dozen province parks since becoming minister (his guess is 17, but he can only guess at 17). He also paired Birkenstocks and a Greenbelt shirt for a photo-op for a vaccine appointment. He says his proudest accomplishment as minister was adding a favorite lake Erie beach to Turkey Point Provincial Park, after the property was sold. 

Piccini, who proposed to his fiancee in June, said that he wants to leave a better world for the future generations. Thinking about family, I don’t know if that changes one’s perspective. But then you start to think about what your legacy will be.

Rod Phillips and Jeff Yurek were the previous environment ministers. The Ford government made major and unpopular changes in the environment file. This included removing clean energy programs and rewriting environmental rules to favor industry. It also dismantled the cap-andtrade program. Both Yurek and Phillips were subject to a constant barrage of criticism. Piccini soon followed suit. 

He was also the one who responded to the nearly 500-page tongue-lashing by Ontario’s auditor general. The auditor general criticised the government’s inability to make progress on its climate goals as well as its weak system of monitoring hazardous spills, rapidly-filling garbage dumps, and other shortcomings. The report also asked whether the Environment Ministry was actually fulfilling its basic mandate of protecting the environment. 

It is a difficult job. I can’t imagine being a person trying to defend the Ford government’s environmental record, Ontario Green Party Mike Schreiner says. But so far in the Legislature, he seems to be relishing the challenge he doesn’t pull any punches firing back.

Piccini represented Ontario at COP26’s climate conference in the autumn, but kept a low profile. The Narwhal was told by some members of the Canadian delegation that Piccini had never been to Glasgow. 

Critics questioned his work after he returned home. During question period, Lucille Collard, an Ontario Liberal environment critic, said that we did not hear anything from the minister about the conference and the work he did there. Climate change conferences do not come with a salary. 

Piccini said he was busy with private meetings and conversations. He also had a great conversation with Al Gore, a former vice president of the United States, about politics, Ontario’s provincial parks, and hydrogen energy. He also met with officials of other countries to exchange ideas, and learned about German technology that could lower road salt pollution. This can lead to waterways clogging up and causing harm to wildlife.

Piccini states that tweets won’t define what I did at the COP, but action will. Ontario’s at the table, and I think we’ll all benefit.

David Piccini speaks at a podium with a beach, boats and lush trees in the background.
Piccini visited Turkey Point Provincial Park, July 2021. Piccini says that his proudest achievement as minister was adding a local beach to the park’s lot when it was up for sale. Photo by Government of Ontario Flickr

Piccini also supports the Ford government’s heavily criticised approach to development. The province has used special zoning orders to speed up the process, often overriding environmental concerns. Our record speaks for itself in facts in terms of what we’re doing, he says. He also defends the plans of his government to fast-track two highways through Ontarios Greenbelt. This is a move critics claim would degrade green space and increase emissions. 

To just say we’re never going to build roads again, I mean, what a cop out, he says. Let’s build it, but let’s work with the pavement industry, excavating. Let’s look at adding renewables. I don’t think you can look at the environment in isolation. 

It is unclear if Piccinis approach will yield results, or whether it will happen quickly enough. Ontario’s auditor general concluded that the Ford government was on track to deliver only a fifth of its promised emissions reductions in November 2021.

Piccini asserts that those projections, which are based on internal government estimates, do not account for all the province has done. $61.6 billionIt made a commitment this fall to fund transit over the next ten year, such as subways and GO train services. After publication, Piccini’s office said it has also taken further action since the report was finalized, like the electrification of Algoma Steel, which would take the equivalent of 300,000 cars off the road per year. His office also pointed the advancement of zero-emissions nuclear Small modular reactorsYou can also work on a low-carbon hydrogen strategy.

Piccini did not answer directly when asked if a revised version of the climate plan would have been published before the election.

He says that clean green growth is my main focus. 

Piccini and his dog, Max, at the Environment Ministry’s Bay Street office in Toronto. Piccini’s constant companion Max is Max, who he takes on hikes with and to meetings. Photo by Carlos Osorio/The Narwhal

Being Doug Ford’s environment minister is ‘a tough file’

Piccini identifies a few areas in which he believes the province has made progress. His ministry has proposed regulations that would reduce the sulphur dioxide emissions of petroleum refineries by 90% by 2026, despite Piccini’s reluctance at infringing on industry. He is also concerned about the lack of clean water in many Indigenous communities. This is an issue that keeps him awake at night. 

Although it is technically a federal area, Ontario can lend a hand. Piccini reports to the Ontario Clean Water Agency. The provincial auditor general recently suggested that the agency focus less on revenue and instead help First Nations get safe drinking water at a lower price. Piccini stated that Piccini has directed the agency to include Indigenous perspectives and to create an Indigenous advisory group.

I could say, you know, these are federal problems, federal dollars, and it’s not under Ontario, he says. This is passing the buck. 

Piccini was talking about boil water advisories in a conversation with Sol Mamakwa (NDP Indigenous and treaty relations critic). Will there ever be a story about this? Piccini says. Piccini says it is not because people aren’t interested in this type of collaborative stuff.

Piccini says he wants his critics to challenge him: “I’m not going to be a better minister by surrounding myself with sycophants,” he says. Photo by Carlos Osorio/The Narwhal

Mamakwa hails from Kingfisher Lake First Nation, and represents the far northwestern Ontario riding Kiiwetinoong. Mamakwa says Piccini has provided him with good answers on the clean-water issue. However, Mamakwa isn’t sure what the minister’s enthusiasm means considering that the Ford government only has three and a quarter years to address the problem. Mamakwa states that Piccini is not responsible for all the government’s decisions, but he has voted along with his party.

There are things that he can’t do or he won’t do, Mamakwa says. Piccini says good things, but he’s part of that whole They’ve taught me that oppression and colonialism is alive and well.

Piccini stated that he wants to continue to meet with people who are not in his camp.

I like to be challenged. I’m not going to be a better minister by surrounding myself with sycophants who believe everything I say and do, he says.

I’m willing to listen and talk about it. Its a tough gig, and it’s a tough file, but it’s a generational one and it matters. 

Fatima Syed files

Updated Jan. 5, 2022, 3:31 p.m. ET: This story was updated to reflect that Piccini grew up in an independent, non-denominational school with Anglican roots. It was also updated to add information from Piccini’s office about actions the Ontario government has taken to reduce emissions since the release of the auditor general’s report.

New title

We have a favor to ask you since you’re here. Our independent, ad free journalism is possible because the people who value and support our work also support it. Did you know that all stories are free to read, not just for those who can afford them?).

As a non profit, reader-funded news organisation, our goal isn’t to sell advertising, or please corporate bigwigs, but to bring evidence-based information and analysis to the surface of Canadians. In a time where most news organizations are cutting reporters, we have hired five journalists over this past year.

We are not only filling a gap in environmental coverage. We also tell stories differently by focusing on Indigenous voices, building community, and doing it all as a non-profit, people-powered outlet that is supported by More than 4,200 members.

The truth is that we wouldn’t exist without you. Every one of your shares and readings of our articles is an essential part of building a Canadian journalism model that puts people above profit.

We know that these days the worlds problems can feel a *touch* overwhelming. It’s easy to feel like our actions don’t matter. But, becoming a member at The Narwhal can help you see the difference. canMake a difference.

Please let us know why you think news organizations should not report to shareholders or advertisers. Get a monthly membership to The Narwhal for as little as $50.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.