Four years after making the promise and one month before the official start of the election campaign, Premier Doug Ford is cutting gasoline taxes.
There is, however, a catch.
The Progressive Conservatives tabled legislation Monday to temporarily reduce the provincial gas tax by 5.7 cents a liter — but not until July 1 and only through Dec. 31.
Ford’s plan would take effect four weeks after the June 2 Ontario election.
“You see the gas prices just skyrocketing … and it’s about time that the government starts putting money back into the people’s pocket instead of the government’s pocket,” the premier said Monday in Oshawa.
“Because in my opinion, the people can spend their money a lot wiser than governments,” said Ford at a campaign-style event where he announced a subsidy to General Motors Canada of up to $259 million to build electric vehicles.
Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said the provincial tax would be nine cents a liter — down from the current 14.7 cents — for the six months between July and December.
Bethlenfalvy stressed the cut would not impact the two cents per liter of gas tax that will continue to flow to municipalities to bankroll public transit.
In the 2018 campaign, Ford vowed to slash the provincial portion of the levy by 10 cents a liter, but only trimmed 4.3 cents.
The failure to fulfill that pledge has dogged the premier for years and he has been asked about it repeatedly by reporters.
On Monday, he was defensive about the delay and suggested the tax break could be extended.
“When I spoke to the finance department, they said it’s very complicated moving through the logistics and everything. But the good news is on July 1, on the busiest season that people travel all around Ontario,” said Ford.
“We’re going to give people a break for a minimum of six months.”
Last November, the premier had said “we’re going to commit to making sure that we cut 5.7 cents off before the next budget.”
But the tax is not going to be reduced prior to the tabling of Bethlenfalvy’s budget later this month.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has been pressing the Tories to act with prices soaring due to global uncertainty and federal carbon levies, which increased to 11.05 cents a liter last Friday.
“This is a great day for Ontario taxpayers and it will save taxpayers a lot of money at the gas pump,” said the federation’s Ontario director Jay Goldberg.
“After four years of waiting, Premier Doug Ford is finally delivering on his promise to cut taxes for hardworking Ontarians. (But) there’s work left to do on this announcement,” said Goldberg.
“At the end of this six-month relief period, the Ford government should keep its word and make this tax cut permanent.”
NDP MPP Sara Singh (Brampton Centre), noting her party has been pushing a bill to regulate fuel prices, said the Tories are only moving “on the eve of an election at the eleventh hour.”
“We actually have legislation that’s on the order paper right now that could help stop price-gouging at the pumps for customers immediately,” said Singh.
Liberal MPP John Fraser (Ottawa South) said “families want lasting relief for four years.”
“So now, four weeks before an election, he’s cutting them for six months? I don’t think that’s the kind of relief that people are looking for.”
The change would also lower taxes by 5.3 cents a liter on diesel fuel.
Almost a third of the cost of a liter of gas, which is more than $1.60, is made up of federal and provincial taxes.
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