Many mistakes made, leading to end of eco fees

July 20 2010 by Ellen Roseman

The Ontario government is giving in to public criticism and scrapping the latest phase of its eco fees program.

It’s rare — and rewarding — for journalists to see such quick action resulting from stories we publish.

Now it’s time to look at what went wrong. There were obvious mistakes, such as bad timing and poor communication. Why impose a new tax on July 1, simultaneous with the HST?

Communication was inadequate and disclosure almost non-existent. Stores didn’t know what fees to charge. As Canadian Tire said yesterday, the fees were not intuitive — so why didn’t the company suspend them right away?

The Ontario government shouldn’t have handed over power to an organization it didn’t control. And it should have recognized there’s only one taxpayer and not pretended it was shifting costs when it wasn’t.

It’s hard to be against cleaning up the environment. But let’s do it through income taxes, rather than regressive sales taxes applied to basic items that everyone buys every day, such as soaps and detergents.

18 comments

  1. m.a. horton

    Jul 20 2010

    A big thank-you for all you have done to help the average person and for fighting these Eco fees on our behalf.

  2. Michael James

    Jul 20 2010

    Ellen, I couldn’t disagree more with the last part of your comments. It is much better to tax items differently based on the costs they cause, including environmental costs.

    The big mistakes were the general confusion and adding the eco fees at the cash register. It does no good to add eco fees after the consumer has already made a purchasing decision.

    If the clean-up costs were built into the advertised price of items, then people would make purchasing decisions to choose products with lower environmental costs.

    Maybe we all buy soap, but if one kind of soap has lower environmental costs and thus has lower eco fees, we all benefit when we use more of this better soap.

  3. Lee

    Jul 20 2010

    Canadian Tire clearly thought consumers would simply accept the new eco-fee and not complain. I’m sure they were caught off guard by all the attention in the media, especially since they were often the only retailer called out in every article, being one of the only stores charging the fee to customers.

    That they were so quick to charge the fee, while other retailers decided to wait and try to sort it out first before charging customers, doesn’t make me any more of a fan of Canadian Tire. But, credit where credit is due, they actually listened to customers and they took action.

    We have to thank Canadian Tire and the media (especially Ellen) for making the government scrap the fee.

    I’m waiting to see what the retooled eco-fee looks like, and I’m sure it will still be a negative for customers. But, if common sense prevails, I won’t be charged an eco-fee on the chemical-free, eco-friendly, household cleaners that I use.

  4. second opinion mike

    Jul 20 2010

    Score: Ellen – one….the big Liberal tax machine – zero!

    People can argue how to fix this misguided legislation all they want…the important thing is the tax at the register is gone and everybody will need to give a lot more thought the next time they hide a tax grab from the public. Thanks for shining the light on the issue!

    As for M.J.’s comments, he may want to consider the eco tax applied disproportionately to the poorest in Ontario. Income tax solutions are best suited when dealing with necessities being taxed. If the tax was on non-essentials only then he would be correct.

    As usual, environmentalists rarely think of the poor and the impact on a strugging family to make ends meet.

  5. Michael James

    Jul 20 2010

    A properly rolled out eco tax should be called a tax and should be coupled with a reduction in income taxes to make the whole thing revenue neutral.

    So, I’m not arguing for net increased taxes, but for shifting the tax burden slightly to environmentally-damaging products.

    There are many bad ways of doing this, but it is clear to me that we need it in some form.

  6. Jamie

    Jul 20 2010

    As out of touch as Stewardship ON was, they’ve got nothing on Canada Post. As if having the highest rates on earth already isn’t enough, today they announced an incredible 20% increase on rates to the USA. They already added a floating fuel surcharge so energy prices aren’t the reason.

    “***Canada Post price and service changes to Xpresspostâ„¢ – USA and Expedited Parcelâ„¢ – USA effective August 23, 2010***

    Canada Post has announced rate increases and service improvements to two of their shipping services to the U.S. – Xpresspostâ„¢ – USA and Expedited Parcelâ„¢ – USA. The changes will come into effect August 23, 2010.

    The service enhancements will include, among other things, greater delivery speed, improved on-time delivery performance, and better tracking.

    While prices will rise, on average, 20 per cent for Xpresspost – USA and Expedited Parcel – USA services, the rate increase will take place in 2 phases:

    * Prices will increase on average less than 12 per cent beginning on August 23, 2010
    * The remaining price increase will take effect on January 17, 2011.”

  7. Potato

    Jul 20 2010

    I’ve got to agree with Michael James. Eco taxes on consumption items is a good way to fund cleanups, but should be included in the advertised price.

    But I do have to question the inclusion of the fee on some items. It makes sense to me to charge an eco fee on, say, tires and electronics, so that their disposal is already funded, and consumers can easily drop off items for free, or even get a rebate to encourage proper disposal.

    For similar reasons, I can also see a fee on things like fluorescent lights, though it does seem odd to have the left hand tax them and the right hand offer rebates to encourage energy conservation.

    I wasn’t quite clear on why the fee was on other items like soaps — as someone else said, it’s not like people are dropping off half-full bottles of soap for disposal. So was this a more general “cleaning up the environment” fund or a “disposal site” fund?

    Another mystery of poor communication as to the purpose…

  8. Gardiner Westbound

    Jul 20 2010

    A tax, is a tax, is a tax. McGuinty has brought in plenty of ’em, after promising no tax increases.

  9. Mo

    Jul 21 2010

    I was told that there was even an eco-tax on mousetraps. Surely dead mice are biodegradable?

    Or should we be expecting to see an eco-tax on funerals some time soon?

  10. Andy B

    Jul 21 2010

    The only way an ECO-Tax/fee works is by charging the producer, that is what every country other then US and Canada do. The manufacturers just have a great big lobby system and go, US PAY, NO WAY.

    You have to tax at the source as the source can become more eco conscious and make eco-friendly products, charging consumers is just a tax grab.

  11. LnewMan

    Jul 22 2010

    If this happens in corporations, the CEO or whoever responsible for the program would be fired or let go. This is government related…almost like a family business. This might explain why nobody was taking any ownership.

    Shame on us for electing politicians who make sure their friends and relatives get all the good positions.

    It’s OK to make mistakes, people. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again and you take the responsibility for for the mistakes.

  12. sacu

    Jul 24 2010

    I still believe this eco-fee thing was bungled on purpose to divert people’s attention from the bigger issue of HST.

    I don’t believe in coincidences, so I don’t think it just happened that eco-fees and HST were introduced on the exact same date.

    Anyway, eco-fees will be back after the 90-day review, only this time the government will do a better job at burying them in the product price.

  13. Steve Garganis

    Jul 29 2010

    Ellen, great to see some positive results….

    Any and all new taxes are really unnecessary… think about it.. with all the revenue generated from lotteries, casinos, user fees, income taxes and now the HST, we are paying more tax than ever before …

    Let’s not forget, income tax was brought in to fund the World War.. it was supposed to be temporary….

    My vote is for any government that will reduce taxes….

  14. James

    Aug 8 2010

    The comments here praising this as a great victory shows me just how dumb the electorate has become. Yes, they’ve eliminated the fees at the cash register (rightly so), but the government has handed $5-million over to Stewardship Ontario, in place of the fees. The government is taking your money still, but now it’ll just be hidden from direct view.
    See here: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/ottawa/story/2010/07/20/ontario-eco-fees691.html
    Quote from the story: “The government will take 90 days to re-evaluate the program, he said. It will fork over up to $5 million during that time to keep the program going.”

  15. KanataTaxpayer

    Aug 28 2010

    It seems that Stewardship Ontario is still expecting ECO Fees from their stewards.
    http://www.stewardshipontario.ca/stewards/mhsw/rules refer.

    The plot thickens.

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