TORONTO – Buried in Ontario’s budget bill are fines of up to $10,000 per day for gas station operators who don’t display government-mandated stickers about the price of the carbon tax.
The budget contains a new piece of legislation called the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act that would require gas stations to display the sticker on each pump. The sticker shows the federal carbon tax adding 4.4 cents per litre to the price of gas now, and rising to 11 cents a litre in 2022.
The legislation lets the government send inspectors to see if gas stations are properly displaying the stickers and sets out penalties for non-compliance.
Individuals could be fined up to $500 each day, or up to $1,000 a day for subsequent offences. Corporations could be fined up to $5,000 a day, or up to $10,000 a day for subsequent offences.
Obstructing an inspector would carry a fine of at least $500 and up to $10,000.
“This is a new low, even for (Premier) Doug Ford,” NDP energy critic Peter Tabuns said in a statement. “It’s bad enough that he’s wasting public money on partisan promotion, but now he’s threatening private business owners with massive fines for failing to post (Progressive) Conservative party advertisement.”
Similar critiques came from federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who denounced the fines as “ridiculous.”
“Not only is this a violation of freedom of speech, it will cost small business owners across the province who don’t want to take part in this government propaganda campaign,” McKenna said in a statement. “This should be denounced by all political parties as a new low for our political discourse.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said Ford is wasting public tax dollars and abusing legal tools to bolster his anti-carbon tax campaign.
“This has nothing to do with transparency and everything to do with helping his federal cousins win the election,” Schreiner said in a statement.
The provincial Tories are slamming the federal carbon tax at every turn, and while Ford has said he is staying out of the upcoming federal election, he directly linked the two Friday in a speech to the Ontario General Contractors Association.
“When you go to the ballot box think of your future,” he said. “Think of the country’s future. Think of your children’s future, because we cannot accept this carbon tax.”Energy Minister Greg Rickford’s director of communications said the stickers are about transparency.
But critics note that the stickers don’t mention carbon tax rebates.
Duff Conacher, co-founder of advocacy group Democracy Watch, dubbed the would-be stickers “propaganda.”
“To penalize gas stations for not displaying this crosses a line into political vendetta by Doug Ford, as opposed to a public interest policy,” he said.
Amir Attaran, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, called the government proposal a “farce” and said the legislation breaches the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The government can mandate a no-smoking sticker because of public safety, but they cannot mandate a partisan political statement without destroying freedom of expression unconstitutionally.”
Spokespeople for Suncor Energy, which operates Petro-Canada gas stations, and Husky Energy said they would comply with the legislation. The Canadian Fuels Association, which represents gas retailers, declined to comment.
The carbon tax is expected cost to a typical household $258 this year and $648 by 2022.
Residents of provinces with the tax will be getting rebates on their income tax returns that start at $128 annually and increase for people with spouses or dependents at home. The federal government says a family of four in Ontario would get $307 this year.
Ontario is one of four provinces, including Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick, where Ottawa imposed the levy because they opted not to impose their own pricing schemes on carbon emissions.
Ontario is challenging the carbon tax in court next week.