StopSOG: Stop stickers on gasoline

Gary Goodwin argues the Ontario provincial government is forcing gas stations to be their political advertisers

StopSOG: Stop stickers on gasoline
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Gary Goodwin

Ontarians need a stop-stickers-on-gasoline campaign. Let’s call it StopSOG.

I had also considered stop stickers on pumps – but that acronym appears heavily used in Ontario at the moment.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government saw the potential political wisdom of mandating that gasoline station owners adorn their pumps with stickers blasting warnings about the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. That Act stipulates that provinces without similar legislation must then use the federal act and regulations as a backstop. This backstop ensures a price for carbon. This translates to over four-cents-per-litre on gasoline, in 2019.

Ford and the Progressive Conservatives railed against any carbon-reduction plan and did away with the previous government’s climate change initiatives that complied with the federal legislation requirements. Ontario’s provincial government essentially invited the application of the federal government’s legislation across the province.

The Ford government wanted to ensure that Ontarians became aware of this carbon pricing. The government cheekily entitled their legislation the Federal Carbon Tax Transparency Act, or the Sticker Act. Licensed operators of retail gas must affix the prescribed notice to gasoline pumps. Of course, the legislation mandates that the sticker must face the vehicle. The regulations go further in that the sticker must be within the top two-thirds of the pump. The sticker contains an ominous, aggressive arrow pointing upwards and suggest projected increases in levies past 2022. However, the legislation does allow the Minister to estimate certain numbers.

Using a combination of a bar chart and an arrow on the sticker, the potential for future exponential tax increases appears frightening. Since the carbon price only increases arithmetically by $10 a ton per year, the tax should instead take a more boring flat arrow approach. The provincial government can only make it look exponential by hollowing out the tops of the individual bars on the chart. This gives the arrow a deceiving, sharp, upward curve, when the arrow should be straight and flattened out. Any mutual fund company attempting the same ‘estimating’ trick would be hauled in front of the appropriate regulatory authority.

The stickers themselves seem quite large and far out of proportion to the message. Some of the stickers do not adhere properly and appear to be peeling. I define a peeled sticker as litter.

This does not bother Ford, who at last report is the sole owner of a label-and-tags company. We could almost expect a Trump-like statement by Ford in the nature of “no one knows more about sticky labels than I do.”

Non-adherence (just a few more play on words here) in applying the stickers results in substantial penalties. The fines seem onerous for a non-safety violation of $5,000 for a first offence and $10,000 for a second offence

Energy Minister Greg Rickford made the reasons for such a Kafkaesque requirement transparent by saying, “We’re going to stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing, regressive carbon tax costs.”

The Ontario Chamber of Commerce labeled the stickers as “unnecessary red tape” and said their gas-station members decried the “punitive and outsized fines for non-compliance” and “the political nature of the stickers… a violation of their rights and freedoms.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association filed a lawsuit, which states: ”The Sticker Act requirements do not relate to any technical standards or any concerns about safety,” and further that “Comments Ontario has made about the Sticker Act in the Ontario Legislature and to the public demonstrate that the contents of the stickers are political in nature.”

The suit claims that the Sticker Act violates s. 2(b) of the Charter, which ensures freedom of conscience and religion and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication.

Here, a government body appears to compelling political speech, since the threat of substantial fines compels station owners to express the provincial government’s position on the carbon tax.

This situation appears evermore egregious since you can agree with the carbon price or not, but the provincial government uses taxpayer dollars to make their political argument. The retail owners have no say in the matter.

Well, they do have a say in that they must say how the tax increases over the next few years.

The stickers do not even represent the realty of the situation. The Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that the charges under the Greenhouse Gas Act do not constitute taxes. The court deemed them levies.

The sticker does not include any of the rebates payable to the public to offset the levies. Average rebates exceed the average cost of the gasoline levy.

Certain other entities supply complimentary additional stickers discussing the carbon levy rebate. These stickers use a similar aggressive arrow but this time the bar graphs refer to the amount of rebates.

We can foresee a real sticker war occurring sometime in the near future. This may not have the gravitas of other divisive political discussions. In the U.S., certain factions are committing acts of violence.

Here in Canada, we apply stickers.

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