Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government is driving ahead with mandatory gas-pump stickers that attack Ottawa’s carbon-pricing measures despite objections from the gasoline industry.
Scofflaws who refuse to post the controversial stickers — which have the Canadian Civil Liberties Association girding for a constitutional challenge — face fines of up to $10,000 per day.
Maclean’s magazine first reported that the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents thousands of stations in the province, tried to convince Premier Doug Ford’s government to rethink the compulsory decals.
Jennifer Stewart, the association’s president and chief executive officer, told the Star on Tuesday that retailers found the messaging “a bit partisan” and the government’s approach “heavy-handed.”
“The current image portrays one aspect of the price of gasoline and really doesn’t allow the consumer to have the full perspective,” said Stewart, noting the stations would have preferred to display pie chart detailing all of the costs that go into a litre of gasoline.
That would have included: the crude price; the wholesale price; marketing costs; and federal, provincial, and, where applicable, municipal taxes.
“Our ideal outcome would have been a voluntary program,” she said, adding her members, most of whom are small-business owners, will “abide by the law.”
Energy Minister Greg Rickford’s office confirmed the government did meet with various interested parties before unveiling the stickers.
“We have completed extensive stakeholder consultation and we created a final design that best educates Ontarians about the new charges at the pumps created by the federal government’s … carbon tax,” an aide to Rickford said.
“Our government is taking measures to ensure that all Ontarians know the full impact of the federal carbon tax every time they fill up at the pump. The stickers break down the current and future costs of the unnecessary federal carbon tax that was imposed on Ontarians last spring.”
Michael Bryant, a former Ontario attorney general and now chief counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the CCLA “will officially launch our legal challenge of the carbon tax sticker once the law kicks in and the details are clear.”
“Forcing anyone to ape a political party line is an abuse of government power,” he said. “Fining dissent and compelling speech is a draconian, unconstitutional slap in the face of people and businesses forced to comply, or else.”
Earlier this year, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce denounced the decals as “an example of unnecessary red tape” and “a new administrative burden and an increased cost to business thanks to the punitive and outsized fines for non-compliance.”
The 25,000 stickers were printed by Astley Gilbert at a cost to taxpayers of $4,954.
In April, Rickford acknowledged that the government’s strategy was to “stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing regressive carbon tax costs.”
According to Statistics Canada, 68,000 new jobs were created in Ontario in the first month after the levy took effect on April 1.
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Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie