Environmental Taxation

Environmental Taxation

Postby adminjt » Tue Nov 16, 2010 5:55 pm

October 13, 2010

The Ottawa Citizen

McGuinty government scraps controversial eco fees for good

Grit flip-flops starting to pile up, critics say

By Lee Greenberg, with files from Sneh Duggal, The Ottawa Citizen

Ontario is permanently scrapping eco fees on a range of toxic household items, Environment Minister John Wilkinson announced Tuesday, after the provincial Liberals were stung by public backlash over the little-known levies introduced this summer.

"It wasn't working for people and it wasn't working for us," Wilkinson said at a news conference. "We listened to people and we decided the best thing to do was to cancel that program."

Eco fees ranging from pennies to $6.66 were quietly introduced on thousands of items on July 1, the same day the province ushered in the harmonized sales tax (HST). Three weeks later, as public anger surged, the province suspended the fees for a 90-day rethink.

On Tuesday, Wilkinson, who replaced his demoted colleague John Gerretsen as minister, said the program would be scrapped on all new items. Municipalities will again take control of disposing and recycling fire extinguishers, rechargeable batteries, compact fluorescent light bulbs, needles, mercury-containing devices and pharmaceuticals.

Wilkinson blamed Stewardship Ontario for administering a "flawed" program.

"I've come to the conclusion that what was rolled out on July 1 was the wrong way to go," he said, referring to the industry-funded agency.

The province will now ask municipalities to take care of the disposal of those six key items. They say $8 million will be made available to municipalities who submit bills for the expenses.

While Peter Hume, the president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, is in favour of having municipalities divert toxic household items from landfills, he is concerned about how the program will be funded.

"Municipalities don't want these materials in their landfills, and they don't believe they should bear the cost of diverting them," said Hume, who is also the city councillor for Alta Vista ward. He said Stewardship Ontario only partially funded the city's current hazardous waste disposal program.

The old program was funded by industry, but recouped by retailers who added fees at the till.

Now that the eco fees have been scrapped, Hume said it was unclear how Stewardship Ontario planned to fund the new diversion program, but he said the responsibility would fall upon municipalities.

"We're being asked to step into a new role, but it's undefined what that role is," Hume said.

"We want to make sure that 100 per cent of the cost of diverting these items will be funded by the government of Ontario."

Eco fees will continue to be charged on a range of earlier items introduced in 2008, including paints, solvents, batteries, pesticides and pressurized containers. The disposal and recycling of those items will continue to be performed by Stewardship Ontario.

Critics slammed the changes.

New Democrat MPP Howard Hampton said the new setup would hurt taxpayers just as badly.

"The consumer is still going to pay, but they're going to pay through their municipal property tax bill," he said. "Meanwhile, the producers of the waste get off relatively free here. That's wrong."

"New Democrats believe in the principle that whoever produces the waste should pay for the waste."

Conservative leader Tim Hudak attacked the policy reversal as yet another example of a Liberal flip-flop. The Liberal government has changed course on a number of other policy issues in recent months, including a proposed sex-education curriculum, mixed martial arts and, most recently, a gas-fired power plant that was scrapped amid loud protests by residents of Oakville, where it was slated to be built.

"There's a whiff of panic by the Liberals that causes all this backtracking," he said.

Hudak called the eco fees "one of the most ill-conceived and ham-fisted programs I've seen in my 15 years in public life."

Ironically, Wilkinson on Tuesday mimicked many of the criticisms that only weeks earlier had been slung by opponents.

"It's in the public interest that we don't put up the price of a fire extinguisher," he told reporters. "It's in the public interest that we don't put up the price of a compact fluorescent light bulb. These are things that are in the public interest."

Wilkinson acknowledged the program was complicated and had been applied inconsistently. Retail giant Canadian Tire was forced to suspend the levies after stores charged different fees for similar items.

It also caught many consumers by complete surprise, as neither the government nor Stewardship Ontario advertised the changes prior to their rollout.

"Our thinking is the best time to start with the public education campaign is when you actually have a program in place," Stewardship Ontario spokeswoman Amanda Harper Sevonty said on July 4.

That decision now appears disastrous. Pollsters say eco fees are cited as the prime concern, along with HST, among voters who have overwhelmingly decided it is "time for a change" in government at Queen's Park. Fully three of four respondents to an Ipsos Reid poll late last month said they felt the urge to vote the current government out of office.

Meanwhile, it is unclear what retailers who collected eco fees in the first three weeks of July have done with those funds.

Neither the government nor Stewardship Ontario, which is responsible for collecting funds from industry, says it has any of that money.

A spokesperson for Canadian Tire did not respond to a request for comment.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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Re: Environmental Taxation .. Eco Fees

Postby adminjt » Thu Dec 23, 2010 2:11 pm

December 23, 2010

Ottawa Citizen
Eco fees confuse us still
Minister puts onus on retailers

By Lee Greenberg,


More than two months after the McGuinty Liberal government scrapped a spate of planned eco fees, consumers are still confused about a patchwork system of fees in the province, Environment Minister John Wilkinson admits.
However, Wilkinson says his government is not to blame for that confusion. Instead, it is the businesses involved in charging the fees that should shoulder that burden.
The minister singled out retailers, saying those businesses that decide to charge eco fees must do a better job of explaining them. He also laid responsibility on the industry-funded bodies that administer eco fees.
"The feedback we're getting ... is some consumers are confused," Wilkinson said in an interview with the Citizen. "But they're particularly upset if they feel that their retailer, if they decide to have a visible fee, that they're not explaining to people what that's all about. And consumers are rightly upset about that ... Consumers should not be surprised at the cash registers."
Critics argue the Ontario government is failing to fully explain the morass of fees in effect.
They include eco fees on hazardous household products like paints, pesticides and batteries, as well as a range of electronic items including televisions and computers, and all tires.
"It's a real mess," said NDP environment critic Peter Tabuns. "I don't think most people are fully aware what's going on."
Many consumers appear to have thought the fees were banished in October, when Wilkinson announced the government would not proceed with two phases of the household products plan.
Doug Leitch, an Ottawa electrician, was surprised by the 81-cent fee on a gallon of paint he bought at Home Depot last weekend. "I got to the cashier and said, 'Wait a minute here, I thought this was cancelled.' She said, 'No, it's back'," Leitch said in a telephone interview. "I was very surprised to hear that."
Leitch said staff at a local MPP's office didn't even know the fees still existed on paint.
"I think the government's failed to inform the public. They can't communicate with people."
Eco fees are optional charges that retailers and manufacturers use to recover new costs for managing the recycling or safe disposal of hazardous materials.
The program is administered by three different industry-run groups on three different classes of products -- used tires, electronics and household toxic materials.
The government has so far refused to publish a unified list of all fees at play, instead leaving it to the three industry associations.
Critics say the Liberals are failing to take responsibility for their decision to allow the fees.
"They're taxing, then walking away," said Tory MPP Toby Barrett. "This program is an abysmal failure," Barrett continued. "Consumers have lost confidence in it."
Public anger over eco fees did not flare up until last summer, despite the fact that they were initially levied in July 2008 on products such as paint, single-use batteries and fertilizers.
Those fees existed quietly for two years before the government expanded the program to cover a second phase of products on July 1.
The new products included aerosol containers, fire extinguishers, fluorescent light bulbs, pharmaceuticals and a range of other products.
The second round of fees, introduced the same day as the 13-percent Harmonized Sales Tax, prompted enormous public anger.
"They didn't explain it and everybody was caught flat-footed," said Barrett. "Even government MPPs didn't know that was coming."
Stories circulated about retailers charging different fees for identical products and the government reacted by pressing the pause button, temporarily shelving the plan to take a closer look at it.
Wilkinson officially scrapped the fees on the second phase of products in early October. But he kept eco fees on the first round of products -- including paint -- introduced in 2008. He also allowed fees on 44 electronic items (which came into effect in April 2009 and were expanded in April 2010) and all tires (introduced in September 2009).
Each category is overseen by an industry-funded "steward" organization that collects the recycling costs from producers and importers. It is then left up to retailers whether to pass on those fees.
Today, consumers should expect to pay a $26.25 eco fee on a flat-screen television. Four new tires for a midsize car will run $23.36 in recycling fees. And a one-gallon (or 3.79-litre) container of paint, as Doug Leitch learned, is subject to an 81-cent eco fee.
Wilkinson says only "a handful" of retailers have decided to add the fees. He also says HST is being added to the eco fees.
Wilkinson says his ministry has set up a consumer hotline to monitor the charging of eco fees. While the government has no plans to launch a public awareness campaign, he says the stewardship organizations are "going to be ramping up more traditional advertising" in the new year.
A spokeswoman for Stewardship Ontario says that organization has no such plans.
Tamara Burns also suggested that the government's policy flip-flop on the fees exacerbated consumer confusion.
"When it was launched there were 22 products (subject to eco fees) and now 13 have been taken off that program," she said. "There is some awareness, but there could be more."
The eco fee is part of a movement to shift responsibility for the costs of hazardous waste from municipalities and taxpayers to the manufacturers who create it, a concept known as "extended producer responsibility."
In Ontario, the three industry-funded stewardship groups are responsible for collecting fees from manufacturers or importers of goods. Those firms may then decide to recoup the costs from retailers, who can pass the costs on to consumers.
Critics say the Liberals need to step up and take responsibility. Tabuns would like to see the government fold all three industry associations into one single umbrella group run by the Ministry of the Environment.
"Ultimately, you can't leave industry to police themselves," he said. "Government has to take it on.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen




Stewardship Fees: Eco fees in force in Ontario cover three main groups of industrial products: Chemicals, electronics, and tires. Each category is overseen by an industry-funded organization, which collects the recycling costs from producers and importers. It is up to each retailer to decide whether to charge those fees to its customers.
Photograph by: Government Of Ontario Dennis Leung, The Ottawa Citizen Andrea Comas, Reuters, Ottawa Citizen

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