The Ontario government is pulling the plug on its controversial program that slaps eco fees on thousands of household products, after a growing backlash from retailers and consumer groups.
Environment Minister John Gerretsen will announce on Tuesday that the government plans to eliminate the new fees charged on aerosols, cleaning products and thousands of other potentially toxic items, according to government sources.
The cancellation comes less than three weeks after the fees were introduced, marking another hasty policy retreat for the McGuinty government. Premier Dalton McGuinty shelved a new sex-education curriculum last April amid complaints from parents and religious groups.
The eco-fees controversy erupted shortly after the program was launched July 1, with retailers and consumer groups complaining that the rollout was mired in confusion. The fees range from a penny for a 59-millilitre bottle of hand sanitizer to $6.66 for a fire extinguisher.
"The government will be looking at solutions to the concerns heard from Ontarians about the program," a government source said Monday evening.
On the eve of Mr. Gerretsen's news conference, a major retailer and the embattled agency responsible for managing the program each unveiled their own steps to mute criticism surrounding new fees introduced with little advance notice.
Canadian Tire Corp. announced on Monday that it will no longer charge customers the eco fees. Mike Arnett, president of Canadian Tire Retail, said the rollout of the program was poorly handled by everyone involved, including the government and retailers. The retail chain apologized last week for overcharging some of its customers.
"It's confusing to our customers," Mr. Arnett said in an interview. "They have questions we're just not able to answer."
Stewardship Ontario, the recycling agency in charge of the new eco fees, announced plans on Monday to increase the accuracy and transparency of the levy. Stewardship Ontario said it would require product manufacturers to provide eco fees information to the agency, and it would, in turn, make it available to consumers.
"We have heard from consumers loud and clear," Gemma Zecchini, chief executive officer of Stewardship Ontario, said in a statement.
However, the government clearly believes the measures initiated by Stewardship Ontario would not go far enough to douse the controversy, one that had caught the attention of Ontario Ombudsman André Marin. His office said last week it was exploring whether to launch a full investigation into "eco fees."
Canadian Tire was one of the first retail chains to charge customers the new fees. Many others, including Shoppers Drug Mart, had not yet implemented it because of all the problems.
The eco-fees program was also criticized by the Consumers Council of Canada, which said it lacked transparency and accountability, as well as opposition members at the provincial legislature.
"The eco-tax fees make no sense," said Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, who has been waging a campaign against it. "This is yet another Dalton McGuinty tax grab, and we would eliminate it in government."