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Ontario eco fees gone for good - Toronto Star

13 October 2010
Rob Ferguson, Robert Benzie and Tanya Talaga
Queen’s Park Bureau
Toronto Star

Eco fees on 9,000 new consumer products ranging from a penny to $6.66 were highly unpopular with consumers, especially when it was learned that some stores, Canadian Tire among them, had miscalculated the complicated fee schedule and charged too much on some items.

Eco fees on 9,000 new consumer products ranging from a penny to $6.66 were highly unpopular with consumers, especially when it was learned that some stores, Canadian Tire among them, had miscalculated the complicated fee schedule and charged too much on some items.LUCAS OLENIUK/TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO

Ontario’s eco fees on thousands of hazardous household products like cleaners have been consigned to the scrap heap, but existing recycling charges will remain on paint, TVs and other home electronics.

The fees — of up to $6.66 per item —appeared July 1, only to be suspended three weeks later after a widespread backlash. On Tuesday, Environment Minister John Wilkinson, retreating from the controversial levies, said: “We listened to people.”

As first reported Tuesday on thestar.com, the Liberal government will replace the fees with a simpler program, costing about $8 million a year, to help municipalities “properly manage, recycle and dispose of”’ a handful of products.

Those products, which will likely be dropped off at local hazardous waste sites, are rechargeable batteries, pharmaceuticals, fire extinguishers, syringes, and compact fluorescent bulbs and other products containing mercury.

Environmental Commissioner Gord Miller, who had panned the eco fees as “a mess,” was pleased the government kept existing recycling charges on TVs, electronics, tires, paints, solvents and single-use batteries.

But he said it’s “a setback and a disappointment” that the Liberals have “abandoned extended producer responsibility”— namely, the recycling fees charged to companies to discourage them from making or selling hazardous products instead of green alternatives.

“Taxpayers continue paying. It’s time producers paid,” said Franz Hartmann of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, who predicted homeowners will foot more in taxes to help municipalities fund the new recycling program.

The discredited eco fee scheme was launched with little fanfare by Stewardship Ontario the same day as the unpopular 13 per cent harmonized sales tax hit Ontarians, and shoppers were shocked to suddenly find the new charges on their receipts.

The fees were charged on everything from hand sanitizers and bleach to household cleaners and fertilizer.

As well, some retailers, Canadian Tire among them, miscalculated the complicated fee schedule and charged consumers the wrong amounts.

Premier Dalton McGuinty admitted Tuesday his government botched the fees at a time when families were already struggling to make ends meet.

“We’ve got to make sure we strike the right balance between protecting the environment and protecting consumers,” he told reporters while visiting Whitby.

“Clearly we didn’t get that balance right,” said McGuinty, who in an August cabinet shuffle demoted then environment minister John Gerretsen over the debacle.

At a hastily called news conference Tuesday at Queen’s Park, Wilkinson said the government would establish a “special team” to investigate incorrect or misleading fees charged by retailers.

He’s also requesting that consumer representatives be invited to sit on the boards of organizations like the arm’s-length Stewardship Ontario to ensure recycling programs make sense to the public.

Stewardship Ontario, he said, “explained to me that the system they had come up with was way too complicated and I agreed.”

Later Tuesday the agency said it will “quickly” add consumer advocates to its board and create a consumer advisory committee.

The initial eco fees on paints and solvents came into effect July 1, 2008. They were then extended to televisions, computers and other home electronics on April 1, 2009 with little outcry from the public.

Wilkinson’s announcement came the same day Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak launched a two-week TV attack ad blitz blasting the Liberals for imposing eco fees and the HST.

“This was Dalton McGuinty’s baby. I firmly believe he’ll bring back an eco tax if he gets re-elected,” said Hudak. “He’s only backed off because he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.”

Wilkinson’s announcement also beat the government’s self-imposed 90-day deadline of next Monday for a revamp of the fees.

With their annual general meeting set this weekend, the governing Liberals wanted to have some good news for party members worried about recent polls showing them trailing far behind the Tories.

The negative publicity surrounding eco fees may not go away quietly. The office of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, which had 177 complaints from consumers about the fees, is monitoring the government’s “next steps” before deciding whether to launch a full investigation, said spokeswoman Linda Williamson.

Dropoff products

Under the new program announced Tuesday by Environment Minister John Wilkinson to replace the controversial eco fees, the province will contribute to local hazardous waste sites, where consumers can drop off certain used products:

Compact fluorescent bulbs and other products containing mercury

Rechargeable batteries

Prescription drugs

Fire extinguishers


As originally published here: http://www.thestar.com/article/873881--ontario-eco-fees-gone-for-good

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