Ontario taxpayers are on the hook for millions of dollars for shutting down the eco fee program introduced last July and then quickly cancelled, Environment Minister John Wilkinson confirmed Monday.
The province expected it would cost $8 million a year to keep six key items targeted by the eco fees — fire extinguishers, syringes, medications, rechargeable batteries, products with mercury and compact fluorescent light bulbs — out of landfills.
However, Stewardship Ontario, the agency that runs the blue box program and was responsible for the eco fees, is also looking to recover stranded costs from eco fees that it estimates at $10 million.
That figure is “wildly inflated,” said Wilkinson.
“It’s completely wrong. I can assure you the $18 million number is wrong,” he said. “We’re not going to be paying that, and we will disclose what our actual cost is.”
Eco fees ranging from a few cents to a few dollars were added to about 9,000 household products such as laundry detergent, cleaners and fertilizer on July 1, the same day Ontario moved to a single 13 per cent harmonized sales tax.
However, widespread confusion among shoppers and retailers, and a growing consumer backlash, quickly prompted the Liberals to cancel the eco fees.
The Opposition said the extra tab for shutting down the failed eco fee program shows how poorly designed it was in the first place.
“It was very underhanded when they tried to sneak it in on Canada Day with the HST, and now we find out they want to go to taxpayers for $18 million to try to get out of it,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.
‘What a mess’
“What a mess. It should not be on the back of Ontario families who already paid through the nose for that eco tax grab.”
Producers of the products should be designing them with less packaging and fewer toxins, and should also pay for their disposal instead of sticking taxpayers with the tab, said the New Democrats.
“The point should be for them to go back to the drawing board and start getting serious about reducing the toxins that are involved in the products they produce,” said NDP Leader Andrea Horwath.
“That’s where the responsibility should be, on the corporate sector, not foisted back on the taxpayer.”
However, the government doesn’t want to drive up the cost of items it wants consumers to buy, like fire extinguishers and energy efficient light bulbs.
“We do not believe that the cost of those should go up for consumers,” said Wilkinson.
“We need people to have fire extinguishers and compact fluorescent light bulbs.”
Despite the failure of the eco fees program, Ontario consumers continue to pay extra fees when they buy new tires for their vehicles or purchase electronics such as televisions and new computers to help keep the products out of landfills.
Premier Dalton McGuinty was asked repeatedly Monday about the $18-million bill for winding up the eco fee program, but he ignored the question every time and instead talked about his government’s record on health care.