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.