When the federal carbon tax came into effect in Ontario on April 1, it was a first step towards putting a realistic price on carbon pollution. But populist premier Doug Ford was apoplectic. One of his first acts after winning the election last June was to cancel the previous Liberal government’s cap-and-trade system. So he wasn’t about to sit and watch as Ottawa replaced that system with a tax he calls a “job killer.”
In addition to opposing the tax in court, the Ontario government designed a sticker warning consumers that the carbon tax would raise gasoline prices by 4.4 cents a litre immediately and by a total of 11 cents a litre by 2022. The Tory-blue sticker failed to mention that anyone who files a tax return will receive a federal rebate to offset the higher fuel costs.
As the owner of a Toronto label-printing company, Ford’s faith in the power of stickers is kind of cute. More dismaying is his insistence that any gas retailer that doesn’t display the sticker on its pumps will face a fine of $10,000 per day. It’s a curious move for a politician who rails constantly against “big government.”
Opposition politicians cried foul. So did the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, which called the proposal a violation of members’ rights and the fines “out-sized.” Ontario Energy Minister Greg Rickford merely retorted, without evidence, that the tax would hurt every chamber member in the province.
Then came a challenge that Queen’s Park couldn’t shrug off. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) warned that forcing private businesses to post stickers “is an unreasonable violation” of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Should this legislation pass,” the CCLA letter says, “we have been instructed to immediately commence a Charter challenge in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.”
Cara Zwibel, director of the CCLA’s Fundamental Freedoms Program, explained the reasoning in a blog post. “Forcing an opinion on someone, or putting words in their mouth, is a violation of their liberty, freedom of thought, association and expression. When someone does it from a position of power, it is demeaning and an abuse of authority.”
Zwibel noted that Ford’s sticker isn’t just an infographic containing consumer information, like nutritional labels on food. Instead, she said, it misrepresents the true cost of the carbon tax by leaving out the potential rebate. The sticker also asks consumers to “learn more” by visiting a web page (ontario.ca/carbontax) that promotes partisan energy policies.
“The provincial government has managed to require private companies to advertise for them,” writes Zwibel. “They have turned gas retailers into their PR firms and [through the hefty fines] turned compelled speech into a revenue stream … CCLA will fight against this proposal and any other attempts by the state to conscript Canadians into spreading messages for them.”