04/04/2013 09:49 EDT | Updated 06/04/2013 05:12 EDT

Ontario Eco Fees To Rise For Big TVs, New Phones And Other Electronics

TORONTO - Higher eco fees going into effect in Ontario next month are nothing more than a government tax grab and will send many consumers to the United States looking for bargains, Opposition Leader Tim Hudak said Thursday.

The Ontario Electronic Stewardship posted plans on its website to increase eco fees on TV's over 29 inches to $39.50 from $27.60 — and to lower fees on a home theatre in a box to $7.10 from $7.80 — but the agency made little effort to inform the public.

"Clearly this is another Liberal tax grab that has no grounding in reality," said Hudak.

"Any time taxes go up it's going to cause people to look to purchase elsewhere. You'll see folks looking to go across the border."

The government maintains the eco fees are not taxes because they are administered by industry-led stewardship agencies, and the revenue does not go to the province.

No one buys that argument, said Hudak.

"When they hear that the industry is doing it and the Liberals are hands off on these eco taxes, they're rightly calling out bull on that one," he said.

"The Liberal approach under (former premier) Dalton McGuinty and now Kathleen Wynne is just a tax grab for an expensive bureaucracy."

The New Democrats said Ontario's system of eco fees is broken and accused the Liberal government of mishandling the issue.

"Instead of taking responsibility for it, they've off-loaded responsibility to industry-led organizations and we need proper government oversight that can set enforceable targets and hold producers responsible," said NDP environment critic Jonah Schein.

Starting on May 1, eco fees for desktop and portable computers will drop slightly to $3 and $1.50 respectively, while fees for new telephones and answering machines will jump from $1 to $1.50. Eco fees will also increase on cameras, DVD and Blu-ray players, video and audio recorders and after-market car stereos.

The biggest eco fee drop will be for large floor-standing printers and copiers, those used mainly by big companies, which falls from $341.20 to $173.75. Last year, that fee was just $32.50.

It's not the first time the eco fees have been increased without public notification, and the fees for many electronics were adjusted just three months ago.

Last week, eco fees for tires used on some farm equipment jumped substantially when off-road tires moved from a flat fee of $15.29 each to a weight-based scale of fees, prompting a backlash in the agricultural community.

The new fees range up to $352.80 for tires weighing between 826 and 1,543 pounds. The next larger group (up to 2,645 pounds) would see a tire fee of up to $546.84, and giant industrial tires would each command a fee of $1,311.

Premier Kathleen Wynne said the reality is the province must find ways to pay for keeping tires, electronics and other waste out of landfills, but admitted Thursday that the off-road tire fees would have to come down for farmers.

"The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is meeting with the Ontario Tire Stewardship and there is a conversation about mitigating those costs for the agriculture community," said Wynne.

"It is something that we were aware of, and those conversations are happening now."

The Progressive Conservatives complained Ontario charges $1,646 for one tire for a Deere 9770 combine, compared with $210 in British Columbia, $90 in Saskatchewan, $54 in Newfoundland, $24 in Manitoba and Prince Edward Island and zero in other provinces.

"Having tire disposal rates for a combine tire that are almost eight times more than the next most expensive province is a blatant example of mismanagement at Ontario Tire Stewardship," said Conservative environment critic Toby Barrett.

The Liberals were forced to back down in the face of public anger and withdraw thousands of eco fees that had been slapped on household goods like laundry detergent July 1, 2010 — again with no public notice.

The household eco fees of up to $6.66 per item were cancelled three weeks later, but consumers shouldn't expect the fees for electronics and tires to be eliminated.

"The reality is that we need to find ways to deal with waste matter, and that comes with a cost," said Wynne.