Premier Doug Ford will not punish gas station owners with fines of up to $10,000 a day for failing to post stickers targeting federal carbon pricing, the Star has learned.
Facing heat from businesses over the punitive measures — and bracing for a constitutional challenge — Ford’s Progressive Conservatives emphasize the hefty penalties enshrined in the law won’t be imposed.
Senior government officials, speaking confidentially in order to discuss policy that has yet to be finalized, said scofflaws would only receive written warnings.
“No one is getting a $10,000 fine for not putting up a sticker,” an insider close to Ford said Wednesday.
Energy Minister Greg Rickford’s office was more circumspect.
“Our government is moving forward with a progressive enforcement model when it comes to the education campaign,” a Rickford aide said in an email.
“Gasoline retailers who do not display the federal carbon tax transparency stickers may be subject to written warnings, or charges under the Provincial Offences Act,” the aide said.
Although Tory sources insist there is little chance of the government ever slapping cash fines on operators, the maximum $10,000-a-day penalty for non-compliance remains embedded in the legislation.
That means it could not be changed by regulation and would require an amendment in the legislature after MPPs return to Queen’s Park on Oct. 28.
However, there is flexibility built into the legislation to ensure lenience in enforcement so inspectors could simply issue written warnings.
The Tory-blue decals, which by law must be posted as of Aug. 30, warn “the federal carbon tax will cost you.”
Printed by Astley Gilbert at a cost to taxpayers of $4,954, the 25,000 stickers are being distributed to every gas station in the province and by law must be posted on each pump.
Industry insiders said sticker enforcement will be left to the 400-employee Technical Standards and Safety Authority (TSSA), which inspects amusement park rides, boilers, elevators, fuel depots, ski lifts, stuffed toys and upholstery.
“The TSSA barely has enough staff to do its current responsibilities,” noted one fuel industry expert, who asked not to be identified.
Because of that, the insider predicted that being a decal detective would not be a major priority for harried TSSA inspectors.
The Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents gas stations, has been critical of the Tories’ “heavy-handed” approach and expressed concern that the stickers are “a bit partisan.”
Retailers had been urging a voluntary sticker that included all of the factors that go into the price of fuel.
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But the Tories rejected that in favour of their message, which Rickford admitted in April is designed to “stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing regressive carbon tax costs.
NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said “Ford should be scrapping the fines, scrapping the law, and scrapping his whole sticker idea.
“Using Ontario people’s tax dollars to campaign against the environment and for the Conservatives is a disgusting and insulting waste of their money,” said Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth).
Federal Liberal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said Wednesday the stickers, which do not mention the carbon rebates for consumers that offset higher gas prices, are “absolutely ridiculous.”
“From day one, Premier Ford has been misleading Ontarians about the cost of pollution pricing,” McKenna said on Twitter.
“He hit a new low by forcing small business owners to display his misleading and partisan propaganda — or face the threat of crippling fines.”
While retreating from the cash penalties could solve one political headache for the government, another one looms.
Michael Bryant, a former Ontario attorney general and now chief counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said the rights group is planning a legal challenge of “this crazy law.”
“Forcing anyone to ape a political party line is an abuse of government power,” Bryant said Tuesday. “Fining dissent and compelling speech is a draconian, unconstitutional slap in the face of people and businesses forced to comply, or else.”
The Ontario Chamber of Commerce has previously slammed the stickers 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.”