Ontario’s regrettable eco-tax on electronics

I bet the Ontario government will rue the day it thought to impose an eco-tax on electronics that contain heavy metals and other potentially dangerous substances.

The details aren’t sorted out yet — that’s up to an agency called Waste Diversion Ontario, to whom the environment minister, Laurel Broten, seems to have sent a fax with instructions (PDF).

The first words of the announcement from Broten say: “An industry-funded program will provide all Ontarians with convenient, accessible options for recycling electronics.” But it appears that what the government has in mind is a point-of-sale charge of a few bucks on a cellphone, maybe $10 for a computer, $50 or so for a big-screen TV. I don’t see how that’s industry-funded (leaving aside the deeper matter of how “industry-funded” still means “consumer-funded” in the end).

What’s dangerous about this charge is that, to me as a consumer paying an extra $10 for a new computer, I’m going to feel like I’m entering a contract with my government to have this thing disposed of at a date of my choosing. The province doesn’t get to change the rules on this without breaking faith, even if I decide to let the thing gather dust in a basement closet for a decade after I’m done with it. We have a deal akin to the one I get when I pay extra in Canada for a blank tape or CD to cover off the costs of private music copying. The people at the other end of that deal might grow to hate it as circumstances change — as the big record companies did with the advent of MP3s, and as I bet waste-diversion program operators will someday as materials-recovery mandates get stricter — but that’s not my problem as a consumer and fee-payer. We have a deal.

Much better to require these things to be treated as hazardous waste and impose a disposal fee at the other end, which can change as the program requirements do.

Two other notes:

  • It appears the standard acronym for “Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment” is “WEEE,” which leads to a minister of the Crown issuing directives on the “management of WEEE” and the “diversion of WEEE.”
  • Premier Dalton McGuinty insists that this thing isn’t a tax. CanWest’s April Lindgren quotes him saying today: “I can certainly rule out a tax. There will be no additional revenues to the province of Ontario that will flow as a result of a concerted effort that, I think, all Ontarians understand we have to make when it comes to divert electronics from the traditional waste stream.”

So a charge imposed by the government on the governed, to pay for a government-mandated program … isn’t a tax? It’s only a tax if the government runs some kind of operating profit? It’s stuff like this from McGuinty — and he’s always saying stuff like this — that drives me up the wall. I can respect philosophical differences, but when the head of the government just talks nonsense, I lose patience.

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One response to “Ontario’s regrettable eco-tax on electronics

  1. I just went to an electronic store to buy a printer and i see this surcharge (not to call it a tax) on my bill but worst yet, it was taxed by the PST and GST as well so we are taxing the taxes now! I am not impressed so I refused to buy the product,

    To me the option is clear, I will go on the Quebec side to buy my electronics and when i dispose of them it will be in my trash can in Ontario.

    This is why you should charge at the disposal end not at the purchase end of this process!!!

    Again I say good job oh fearless leaders!!!

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