Decal detectives? Sticker SWAT teams? Pump patrols?
The Progressive Conservatives are mum on how they will enforce a controversial plan to fine gasoline stations up to $10,000 a day for failing to post provincial stickers warning of the cost of federal carbon-pricing measures.
With thousands of Ontario gas stations and tens of thousands of individual pumps affected by the proposed scheme, Queen’s Park is being accused of behaving like “a dictatorship” for forcing private businesses to display partisan signage.
But Energy Minister Greg Rickford said the Tories are merely countering the federal Liberal government’s claims.
“This is a tax on everything. That $377 postcard from the federal government doesn’t tell the whole story,” said Rickford, referring to information mailed out by Ottawa touting the rebates to families.
“It’s going to cost school buses more to operate. It’s going to cost ambulances more money to operate. It’s going to cost small businesses more to operate. We’re going to let the people of Ontario know about it at every turn, stickers included,” he said.
The hefty fine schedule of up to $10,000 a day for corporate gas station owners is identical to the penalties in former Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne’s Healthy Menu Choices Act that forced restaurant chains to post calorie counts on their menus in 2017.
NDP MPP Taras Natyshak (Essex) blasted Premier Doug Ford for his “love of self-promoting and self-promotion.”
“Not only has the premier produced partisan stickers to slap on every gas pump in the province but he plans to punish any business that refuses to go along with this plan with fines up to $10,000 a day,” said Natyshak.
“This is the sort of thing you’d see in a dictatorship but I think even dictators would be embarrassed,” he said, accusing the provincial Tories of trying to help federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the fall election.
Asked about the vague enforcement details, Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek said, “I think they’ll work that out through the regulations of the legislation and see how that’s going to operate.
“We want to make sure that the word is out there that the carbon tax isn’t the best way down the road,” said Yurek.
Environment Minister Rod Phillips said enforcement challenges would be tackled once “the regulations come out” and maintained the province is within its rights to require the stickers, given advertising by the federal government on the carbon tax.
“I don’t believe that this is going to be a problem. I don’t believe that we’re going to see gas stations fighting back,” said Phillips.
The Canadian Fuels Association, which represents the industry, has refused to comment.
On the prospect of $10,000 fines for gas stations refusing to post the stickers, the environment minister said, “We are not the government that’s going to drive businesses into the ground.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the stickers are “ridiculous all the way around.
“Knowing this government they’re going to put up a snitch line and ask motorists to snitch out the gas pumps that don’t have the Tory propaganda,” said Horwath.
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said he was troubled by mandated “taxpayer-funded political advertising on gas pumps.”
“It’s a waste of time and money. It’s crazy,” said Fraser.
Green Leader Mike Schreiner said the Tory-blue stickers are misleading.
“These stickers only tell you one-third of the story. They don’t tell you how much climate change is costing — $1.2 billion in insurable losses last year. Or they don’t tell you that most people are going to get a rebate … back that’s actually higher than the amount they’re paying,” said Schreiner.
“It sounds like something a dictator would do, not a democratically elected government — particularly a Conservative government.”
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1