Waterloo Region Record

Ford’s gas-pump sticker spells danger

- LUISA D’AMATO ldamato@therecord.com Twitter: @DamatoReco­rd

Suppose you were contacted by the government one day, to say a T-shirt was being delivered.

Suppose it said: “Doug Ford is the Greatest Premier of Ontario, Ever!”

Suppose the note that came with the shirt said you had to wear this shirt whenever you went out of the house. And if you didn’t, or if you covered it up with a jacket or sweater, the government would take away all your money.

You’d think, correctly, that you were suddenly living in a vicious, repressive dictatorsh­ip.

One that forces you to say what the state wants you to say. Like North Korea, or Saudi Arabia.

We don’t think of Ontario this way.

Yet this is exactly what Doug Ford’s government is doing to gas-station owners, with its insistence that they display stickers critical of the federal Liberal government’s carbon tax.

Friday is the deadline for the stickers to go up on gas pumps, or the business owners get fined up to $10,000 a day. This is according to the Orwellian-sounding Federal Carbon Tax Transparen­cy Act.

In fact, there’s not enough informatio­n on the stickers for the word “transparen­cy” to be accurately deployed.

We’re not talking about detailed nutrition labels on food packaging or long lists of publicsect­or salaries.

It’s more like a political ad meant to “stick it to the Liberals,” as Ontario’s energy minister, Greg Rickford, so candidly put it.

The red, white and blue sticker says: “The federal carbon tax will cost you.”

It features a red arrow pointing up, from 4.4 to 11 cents a litre to show increased fuel prices over the next three years.

With almost hilarious understate­ment, the Canadian Independen­t Petroleum Marketers Associatio­n, representi­ng 7,000 gas stations across the country, called the messaging on the sticker “a bit partisan.”

The associatio­n had suggested a different sticker that would have been much better.

Most importantl­y, it would have been voluntary, not compulsory.

It also would have been more comprehens­ive, showing all the factors that contribute to the price of gasoline, including the cost of crude oil and several other federal and provincial taxes.

That didn’t fly with Ford, who says government has “the responsibi­lity to tell the people of Ontario where their money’s going.”

Then the government should do it. Don’t force someone else to do it.

There are lots of objections to the sticker.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner accused the Conservati­ves of misleading people, because the stickers don’t say that people get a tax break to offset those higher fuel costs.

And the Ontario Chamber of Commerce objects to the stickers on grounds they are “unnecessar­y red tape.”

Both those concerns are valid. But the most important reason to fight this developmen­t with everything we have is that it forces private organizati­ons to display government propaganda.

It’s compelled speech, which is the opposite of free speech.

Free speech is out of style these days in some parts of North American society. Perhaps that’s why Ford is getting away with this so easily.

Free speech can fuel divisivene­ss. It can hurt your feelings, if someone doesn’t want to call you the name you want to be called, or doesn’t see things the way you see them.

But as messy and painful as it can be, robust discussion is our key to a democratic society. There is no other way to decide between a good idea and a bad one, or to distinguis­h truth from falsehood.

Free speech is one of the most precious things we have.

It’s easy to let it slip away. Incredibly difficult to get it back.

And it’s shameful that it means less to the leader of this province than scoring a cheap political point.

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