In last weeks Ontario budget, there were lots of things in there that poked and prodded at the perceived enemies of the Ford Conservatives. There were also lots of cuts and while assumed it would be worse, I say “just wait, that time will come”. But one of the measures put into this is one that crossed a line for many people, from simple policy disagreement to a prime example of government overreach, one done for purely partisan reasons. What was that proposal you might ask?
Yes folks, the Ford Conservatives, the same people who are saying their all about free speech, are going to force gas stations across Ontario to put stickers on their pumps that give a torqued message about carbon pricing. The sticker (and you’re free to make your own sticker jokes at this point) will not speak about the Federal governments carbon pricing plan in full, just a selected part to get people pissed as they pump up.
Now some might ask “What is the big deal here? We already have stickers on pumps talking about taxes” and you know what, we do. Many gas stations have little stickers on them showing how much you spend on HST, excise tax and provincial gas tax on pumps. But here is the thing folks, not every station has those. This morning I stopped to fill up my tank at a Costco in the south end of Ottawa and you know what I didn’t see there? That sticker talking about taxes. Why not? Because those stickers aren’t mandated by law.
Remember, those stickers on your pumps were created by the gas companies to help explain why the price of gas would go up, or at least try to divert attention from them when prices got higher. It was as much a PR move as one of transparency, but the reason why I bring that it up is that it was their choice. They chose to make those stickers, chose what to put on them and then chose to place them on their pumps across the country. They even put this information on their websites. That’s a privately-owned business making a choice, free speech in action.
But folks that’s not what Doug Ford and his Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford are up to here, oh no, no, no. They are actually mandating by law that all gas stations must place this sticker here on their pumps:
See the problem with it? It doesn’t actually tell you the details about carbon pricing, it doesn’t tell you about the rebates that you get in your taxes (which for the majority of Canadians is greater than the tax they’ll actually pay) and at the bottom, they share a link to a website that is pure spin for this government and their message on this policy. What makes this even more galling is that when you visit the website, you’ll see the Ford Conservatives crowing and trying to take credit for all of the actions that the past government did, the very same moves that they opposed and fought tooth and nail, the policies they have started to undo.
And if the sticker itself wasn’t bad enough for you, the Ford government has found a way to take this up another notch and a few more steps too far; in the proposed law for this change, the province will fine any gas station who refused to go along with this sticker program $10,000 a day until they comply. $10,000 a day folks, for a $0.04 per litre tax? That’s crazy, that’s overkill and that’s quite counter to upholding free speech. I don’t know how you get to call yourself a defender of free speech when you want to force small business owners across Ontario ten grand a day for refusing to parrot your partisan messages.
Needless to say, this proposal is sure to be challenged in the courts on a few grounds. The violations here to free speech protections are very straight forward and are a clear case onto itself. But also, Canada has laws and standards on this under the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which states “Advertisements must not omit relevant information if the omission results in an advertisement that is deceptive or misleading”. And that also seems like a very clear-cut case here; the whole point of these stickers is to deceive the public on a public policy decision and has no pretense of trying to be honest.
This is the Ford Conservatives trying to force private businesses to be conscripted into their political fight with Ottawa, one that moved into the courts yesterday and one that, according to most legal experts, Ontario is going to lose spectacularly. All told, this policy smack of petty politics, torqued language and dishonesty all over; but I guess that makes sense, given that petty politics, torque and dishonesty is Doug Ford’s stock and trade.