By Vander Doelen, Windsor Star, December 6, 2013
Was Ontario’s blue box recycling program the final blow that killed Leamington’s Heinz factory and its 740 jobs? It was at least a factor in the company’s decision.
Not the blue box program as it is now, but the money-sucking monster it’s poised to become. Few people realize it yet, but the Wynne government is on the verge of passing a bill that would double the reach of recycling laws in this province and add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of most household goods.
It’s called Bill 91, the Waste Reduction Act. This week PC environment critic Michael Harris denounced it again as “a massive new regulatory scheme” that will impose “massive new costs” on food producers, manufacturers, and consumers.
Just as Ontario’s Green Energy Act killed four jobs for every job it created (according to former Ontario auditor general Jim McCarter), Harris predicts that Bill 91 will likely cost Ontario many more of its 83,000 food and household goods manufacturing jobs than just the 740 now gone in Leamington.
How important is this industry? It’s actually the biggest manufacturing employer in the country, larger even than automotive. The 90 members of the Food and Consumer Products of Canada association employ 300,000 people in 175 factories. Well, 299,260 people and falling after Heinz closes next spring.
As I wrote about Bill 91 back in August, “It will probably cost thousands more Ontarians their jobs in the private sector when its full effects finish cascading through the economy.” But I didn’t think it would start so soon.
The food producers themselves think Bill 91 is a horrible plan, poorly thought out and a huge risk to their competitiveness and survival. Both Heinz and the FCPC have told the government so in very blunt language.
The FCPC’s submission in September was a 45-page dissection of the flaws of the act, which it says are numerous and deep. The group says it is 100 per cent behind the goals of recycling and waste diversion and producer responsibility for their goods and packing; it just doesn’t believe that the Act as written will accomplish any of its goals because it’s such a mess, logically.
For instance, while the goal of the act is to increase recycling, the government has no idea why more people don’t recycle more waste now – and it has no intention of finding out, apparently.
“As a preliminary step, FCPC recommends that the Province undertake immediately to assess and determine the current barriers to increasing Blue Box diversion rates. This analysis seems glaringly absent as a foundation for the core recommendations set out in the Bill and Strategy.”
Harris says the letter written by Heinz to the Environment Ministry back in August was an even clearer warning about the effects of Bill 91. But the provincial government ignored that warning, too.
The letter, from Heinz Managing Director Brian Arbique, called it “unacceptable” that the Wynne government intends to pass Bill 91 before its new regulatory powers are defined, and before the industry can figure out its significant effects on production, operations, and their legal obligations.
Basically, Bill 91 throws food producers into a complex and expensive new regulatory world that nobody yet understands. As an example of how vague the law is, he points out that it even lacks the definition of a food “producer,” and does not define who will be affected by its powers.
While the government says it will set those definitions after the bill passes into law, “the process of consultation cannot proceed without knowing clearly who is obligated by the Act,” Arbique wrote.
He said that it is also “concerning” that the Ontario government has no intention of considering the economic impact of Bill 91 before passing it. While the Liberals have offered to analyze its effect after the bill is passed, he wrote, “we believe this is too late.”
Harris says Heinz begged the government to conduct a proper economic impact analysis of the bill. “But the Liberals failed to deliver … and now Heinz will be moving its operations elsewhere.”
Reading the Heinz letter and the dire warnings of the food producers’ association in its submission, it is clear that the Wynne government and the bureaucrats had to know months ago that Bill 91 is a guaranteed job-killer.
And yet the Liberals continue to push for its rapid passage in the legislature. And their NDP partners in minority government, who claim to be all about protecting well-paying jobs for the middle class, pledge ongoing support for a new law that will cost many of their own supporters their livelihoods.
If you work in the food industry, pray this government falls before Bill 91 can become law. Or start checking out the help-wanted ads in Alberta.