Bill 91 is hanging on by a thread. Everyone agrees there is a problem; nobody can agree on a solution.
The proposed Waste Reduction Act, 2013 has been debated for more than 17 hours at Queen’s Park, a hefty tally that may eventually lead to the long-awaited legislation being killed by a spring 2014 election. Progressive Conservative (PC) members have stalled the Bill out of fear that it may devastate Ontario’s vulnerable manufacturing sector with its refined approach to product stewardship, the cost of which few seem able to determine.
The iconic Blue Box recycling program, currently funded half by manufacturers and importers, half by municipalities that collect the recycling, will push more financial responsibility onto industry if Bill 91 moves beyond its current second reading stage. The Bill also attempts to foster corporate innovation in product packaging and design by making companies responsible for embedding recycling costs into a product’s sticker price. Less packaging, less cost is the concept.
The primary PC complaint about Bill 91 is that the Liberals did not crunch enough numbers to determine its potential impact on the Ontario economy. Many Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) argue that Bill 91 simply builds on a broken foundation — one that does not truly allocate responsibility to product producers — and keeps the province at the helm of a sinking ship. In short, if Bill 91 passes, industry foots the bill, yet municipalities still run the recycling facilities.
“We want to have the waste producers having a voice in this,” MPP John O’Toole argued in Queen’s Park on November 25, 2013. “This is an economy based on innovation and creativity, and [Bill 91 is] telling Sony and other large companies that are moving out of the province of Ontario — job loss — that they can’t do the job or can’t be trusted,” he said.
Looming over the Bill 91 debate is the closure of Heinz’s Ontario plant and the pending job losses at the ever-struggling Sears department store. Heinz, in particular, has stated that Ontario recycling requirements and regulations placed a significant burden on the company. MPPs continue to point out during Bill 91 debates that times are tough for Ontario’s businesses, and the last thing they want to do is make things tougher.
Dollar signs have begun to float through debate on Bill 91 as everybody attempts to determine exactly how much a new approach to Ontario’s waste and recycling will cost. Dollar estimates have ranged from next to nothing, to hundreds of millions of dollars. Associations continue to release Bill 91 position statements, only to have “facts” criticized by other associations. It has become a sea of misinformation.
During debate at Queen’s Park on December 4, 2013, PC MPP John Yakabuski was one of the people that kept repeating the “half-billion dollar” estimate that some experts say Bill 91 will cost Ontario businesses. He also said that Ontarians are kidding themselves if they think Bill 91 means simply transferring recycling costs from taxpayers to industry.
“You see, those big businesses didn’t get to be the cornerstones of our economy by making dumb decisions,” said Yakabuski, who represents Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. “They got there by being efficient, effective, and providing the products that consumers use and demand, but also operating at a profit, because if you can’t operate at a profit, you won’t operate at all; you’ll be out of business,” added Yakabuski. “This is what the government wants: to somehow pretend this is going to cost you nothing.”
In response to the “half-billion dollar” estimate that has been a common refrain for PC members, the CEO of the Ontario Waste Management Association, Rob Cook, issued a statement attempting to set the record straight about the cost impact of Bill 91. His response was directed specifically at Food & Consumer Products of Canada, which recently issued a statement that pegged costs between $300-$500 million for industry to take on the recycling costs of all paper and packaging.
“These comments are not only factually incorrect but also lack credibility in their mischaracterization of the legislation,” stated Cook. “They speak more to an organization seeking to undermine legislation in support of a narrow self-interest than one seeking good public policy,” he added.
While Cook said the “half-billion” estimate floating around is based on faulty math, which he deconstructs in his letter, he decided not to weigh in on the potential costs of Bill 91. Instead, he called the anticipated costs “minimal”.
The other backdrop of the Bill 91 debate is statistics. During a November 21, 2013 debate, Beaches-East York MPP Michael Prue reminded the Legislature that back in the early 1990s, when the Blue Box program was getting off the ground, Ontario sat at 25 per cent waste reduction. The provincial goal was to aim for 60 per cent waste reduction by 2008. Instead, Ontario has actually dropped two percentage points to a 23 per cent waste reduction rate.
Prue reflected the feelings of many at Queen’s Park when he rose to address Bill 91.
“The Bill talks about many things — not many of them, though, very well,” said Prue.
Many of the more than 50 MPPs who’ve spoken to Bill 91 have been highly critical about a number of areas of waste reduction not addressed in Bill 91. This had led to many MPPs expounding on an array of sustainability concepts that have no direct relation to the Bill that still remains on the table, for now. For instance, Prue said he wants to see Ontario follow in the footsteps of France and Spain by having local companies reuse wine bottles instead of recycling them.