Queen's Park Watch: Eco Taxes, or Why Tim Hudak Thinks You're Stupid
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Queen’s Park Watch: Eco Taxes, or Why Tim Hudak Thinks You’re Stupid

Illustration by Matthew Daley/Torontoist.

PC leader Tim Hudak celebrated American Independence Day on Monday with a press release lambasting Dalton McGuinty for so-called “eco taxes” and promising that if elected the Tories will free Ontarians from their oppressive yoke.
The statement shouldn’t surprise. Hudak has been programmed by PC spinmeisters such that every other sentence must contain the words “taxes” and “McGuinty,” and thus far the strategy is working. However, in this case there’s one problem: it’s a load of crap.

What Hudak and his tax-obsessed minions are talking about are the fees paid by manufacturers towards the recycling and disposal of products such as electronics, batteries, or paint cans which require special treatment so they don’t give you and your descendants cancer for the next five centuries.
These fees go not to the government, but to specially set-up private “stewardship” companies, which in turn contract the collection and disposal of the toxic trash to outside recycling firms. The key stewardship companies are Stewardship Ontario (which handles a variety of household hazardous wastes including paint and oil containers, single-use batteries and propane tanks), Ontario Electronic Stewardship, (which looks after your obsolete XBoxes and iDevices) and Ontario Tire Stewardship (self-explanatory).
It’s a clunky system, and the whole awkward mess is overseen by Waste Disposal Ontario, a non-Crown corporation set up under the Waste Diversion Act. The Act was implemented in 2002 by—wait for it!—the Progressive Conservative government of Hudak mentor and megacity enthusiast Mike Harris. It specifically mandates the scenario described above, i.e. that manufacturers (or “stewards”) pay fees to Industry Funded Organizations (IFO) such as Stewardship Ontario to cover disposal of their products (while the Act principally references the recycling of non-hazardous waste such as beverage containers and paper, expansion into more toxic trash was always intended).
Last year a golden opportunity arose for the Tories to make political hay from a program designed to avoid leaving consumers (or “families,” in the heartstring-tugging language favoured by the PCs) on the hook for the cost of dumping paint cans and cellphones. At the beginning of July 2010, fees were introduced on a wide range of products to which they hadn‘t applied before, including widely used items like fluorescent light bulbs and household cleaners. Manufacturers and retailers balked at absorbing the cost, and in an outstanding public-relations move, many opted to add the fees directly to the price of the goods and make them visible on the receipt given to the buyer. In addition to this ploy to divert public outrage back onto the government, the introduction of the new fees was mismanaged, poorly communicated, and confusing to both retailers and consumers. With a Sun-inflamed public shrieking for Liberal blood, the panicked McGuinty government backed down and ordered the removal of the new fees. Needless to say, the need to recycle hazardous waste was still there, except that now the cost would be borne directly by Ontario taxpayers.
In the meantime, eco fees remained in place for lower-profile toxics such as electronic devices.
To distill it down, what Tim Hudak is branding as an unaffordable eco-tax that’s driving the white-picket-fence set into penury is actually a fee charged to corporations as part of a program set up by his own party. That the program’s implementation has often been haphazard and bewildering is undeniable, but equally undeniable is that the provincial government has no authority to prevent the “stewards” from passing along the fees to the public, and Hudak knows it.
Hudak also knows that ready alternatives to the current system are even more unpalatable. Either we stop asking the corporate world to fund disposal of their poisonous junk and shift that cost onto the poor disrespected taxpayer, or we give up recycling hazardous waste altogether and go back to chucking our old VCRs into ravines. Thus far the Tories haven’t stated a preference, although given their approach towards green energy and other environmental initiatives it’s not out of the question that we could see a Ravine Disposal Act should they form a government in October.
The question of who should pay to detoxify the detritus of our collective consumer folly is a reasonable subject for debate, but the PC “eco tax” lie distortion is egregious even by the undemanding standards of political strategists. It’s to be hoped that this is one load of toxic garbage that voters won’t buy.