BY IAN PATTISON
Of all the hare-brained schemes of government, none can be sillier than Ontario’s plan to force gas station owners to post stickers on their pumps, lying to consumers about the federal carbon tax.
Or wait, maybe the dumbest move is Elections Canada warning any group that promotes action to fight climate change in paid ads would be seen as engaging in partisan advertising -- including registered charities whose work should include raising awareness. Even People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier, who denies climate change and is the very reason for the order, thinks it’s dumb.
Or how about the Leaders’ Debate Commission denying Bernier a spot on the TV debate stage with the other party leaders because he hasn’t an elected MP — and won’t if he doesn’t get a chance to tell Canadians what he proposes. It may not be your cup of tea but we need to hear him in order to decide.
Actually, no, it’s got to be Donald Trump who’s zaniest. Pick any Tweet any day but especially his latest about buying Greenland and then cancelling a trip to Denmark in a huff, calling its a prime minister “nasty” after she said, sorry, it’s not for sale, doofus. OK, she didn’t say that last part but she probably thought it, along with nearly everyone else on Earth every time Trump opines. Just when you think that Trump can’t out-Trump himself, he always does.
Come to think of it, maybe the medal for government stupidity has to go to Brazil’s right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro for alleging non-government organizations are lighting the Amazon rainforest on fire — without a shred of evidence — after he cancelled their funding. He’s since denied it’s a problem. It is.
We could go on . . . and on, but you get the idea. The days of seasoned political veterans running countries reasonably well are disappearing and many in the new crop of neophytes are dazzling in their incompetence. Which leads us back to our first thought today, Doug Ford, who takes the cake.
Ideologically annoyed with Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to override provincial conservative opposition to the reasonable idea of a tax on fossil fuel pollution to force cleaner habits, Ford typically lashed out without thinking and ordered Ontario gas station operators to affix misleading stickers to their 25,000 pumps by Aug. 31 in a propaganda war against the federal carbon levy.
“We’re going to stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing regressive carbon tax costs,” said energy minister and Kenora MPP Greg Rickford who Toronto Star Queen’s Park columnist Martin Cohn calls Ford’s “loyal lap dog.”
Except the tax isn’t killing jobs (Ontario employment rose by 68,000 jobs since the tax came into effect April 1) and it’s hardly regressive since it advances the most important cause of modern times — climate change. It’s not even a tax because the money doesn’t stay with Ottawa; it’s being fully rebated to motorists. This year the average Ontario family will receive $307 rising to $718 by 2022, according to the independent parliamentary budget officer.
No, this is a bully tactic without a shred of legitimacy. Cohn calls it “a flagrant abuse of power for a provincial government to commandeer public funds to command private enterprise to participate in a politically inspired attack against an elected national government.”
Polling on this must be brutal because Ford on Wednesday backed down from the $10,000 fines he’d threatened but not the sticker plan itself, at least not yet. That may come as successive courts beat back provincial conservative claims that Ottawa doesn’t have the authority to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. Of course it does, and in provinces that deny the stark realities our weather is throwing at us, and refuse to implement their own carbon reduction programs, courts say Ottawa has the right to impose its own.
The gas station owners’ association, logically an ally of any business-minded conservative government, called the plan heavy-handed. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce — a business buddy if ever there was one — noted the blatant political nature of the stickers and said the order to post them violates station owners’ rights and freedoms.
The owners’ group met with the government to suggest a logical alternative — a pie chart on pumps that accurately details all of the taxes that raise the base price of gas so much higher.
Not surprisingly, Ontario turned them down, in all likelihood because such a chart would show the 4.4-cent federal carbon tax being thinnest piece of the pie whereas the provincial tax is the biggest at 14.7 cents. Ontario also shares 14.4 cents a litre GST with Ottawa.
As it stands, the stickers will show only the federal tax in order to mislead motorists into blaming Ottawa for the price of gas that nearly every motorist can agree is annoyingly high. In the case of Northwestern Ontario, prices are plainly unequal and unfair. But that’s no reason for Ford and Rickford to treat us like fools.
Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.