Eco fees are taxation without representation

By MPP Toby Barrett

‘No taxation without representation’ was the call in 1773 when revolutionaries hosted the Boston Tea Party to protest taxes by unaccountable government. Some 230 years later, on this side of the border, consumers bushwacked by eco fees are asking where was the legislative debate, and is this legal?

As government damage control swung into gear this past week, I had the opportunity to stand with Opposition Leader Tim Hudak and pledge to scrap the eco tax.

We made it clear that if Mr. McGuinty didn’t remove the eco fees on over 9,000 items, a Tim Hudak government would. Rather than a constitutional court challenge, an immediate cancellation of the fee would be the quickest route to restoring tax fairness.

It’s my hope that consumers and the Opposition can force government’s hand before we are treated to new lows like government agency directives to retailers to hide the tax in the price so that, “the consumer is none the wiser”.

Having now lost control of the program, Environment Minister Gerretsen recently issued a ‘show and sham’ letter blaming his own agency, saying: “Stewardship Ontario must take quick action to resolve these issues and restore consumer confidence.” But it was Minister Gerretsen’s direction to Stewardship Ontario, to set up fees to divert Municipal, Hazardous and Special Waste – and it was his approval that set the wheels in motion. The horse has left the building.

Stewardship Ontario, an agency of the McGuinty Government, is responsible for notifying and registering businesses to participate in Waste Diversion Ontario programs and must calculate and collect the fees necessary to pay for the program. All identified producers of a designated material must pay the set program fees to Stewardship Ontario, or face penalties.

In essence, what government has done is charged a fee up front – even though no recycling service is being provided and there is no rebate when you deposit. In this way, government has set up a type of off-book accounting system where businesses are allowed to charge taxes and run recycling programs, while distancing the government through multiple layers of bureaucracy. An eco fee is, in essence, an indirect, backdoor tax. It is also a tax subject to another tax – the HST.

The Ontario family budget is stretched to the limit. It has seen seven years of consumer taxes, income taxes, vehicle taxes, land taxes, electronics taxes –even plastic bag and tire taxes.

A tax on a tax, and a tax under the guise of environmentalism, is bad for business, bad for customers – and essentially bad for the environment. Words like eco and stewardship are beginning to leave a bad taste in people’s mouths.

We continue to support the goals we set in place with the Waste Diversion Act 2002 – to reduce, reuse, and recycle. But this government should begin to look to the carrot, instead of always the stick that penalizes manufacturers, retailers and customers alike. By incentivizing innovation and promoting more appropriate consumption habits we foster more sustainable lifestyles.

Over the past seven years under the present government, we’ve seen environmentalism move to envirotaxism.

With the eco fee botch up, I have concerns as to whether Ontario’s cap and trade, or any green shift carbon tax programs, will be any better managed.