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Windsor Star editorial: Drive Clean is running on empty and must be scrapped

November 6, 2013

Original article posted by the Windsor Star.

If you have a vehicle that’s targeted by Ontario’s Drive Clean program, it’s safe to say you think the mandated test is both a waste of time and little more than an unnecessary tax.

So it’s not surprising that every six months or so, something triggers a backlash against Drive Clean. This time it’s Chatham-Kent MPP Rick Nicholls who says he’s been flooded with calls from angry constituents complaining that a new form of testing — based on a vehicle’s on-board computer rather than a tailpipe test — is unfair and unreliable.

“It’s the inconvenience, booking an appointment, paying, getting your car there, waiting and then driving away. It’s getting to the point that something has to be done.” said Nicholls.

CTV News also reported last week that of the 1.6 million Drive Clean on-board diagnostic tests done this year, the initial failure rate has risen from five per cent in 2012 to eight per cent this year after the system was changed. About 128,000 cars failed the test and had to be retested.

Whenever complaints are mounted against Drive Clean, the government does what it always does — defends the emissions testing as essential to keep the province’s air clean. Meanwhile, every time a vehicle is tested, it costs $35 plus HST and about $13.50 goes back to the government. That adds up to a tidy $19 million profit a year.

As Nicholls correctly pointed out, Drive Clean was never meant to be a permanent program — or permanent source of cash. In fact, Norm Sterling, the former Progressive Conservative minister who introduced Drive Clean 14 years ago, said that the original idea was to get older, polluting cars off the road and then wind the program down. The projected lifespan was seven years.

Former Ontario auditor general Jim McCarter has certainly provided enough evidence to conclude Drive Clean has outlived its usefulness.
“Vehicle emissions are no longer one of the major contributors to smog in Ontario,” McCarter said in his annual report last December.

“As well, ministry estimates show that more than 75 per cent of the reduction in vehicle emissions (since 1999 when Drive Clean was launched) is actually due to things like better manufacturing standards for emission-control equipment and federal requirements for cleaner fuel.”

Under Drive Clean provisions, vehicles older than seven years must be tested every second year, and without a “pass” registration can’t be renewed. However, the program doesn’t even apply to all light-duty vehicles on the road. Vehicles built before 1988 are exempt, and so are all vehicles driven in northern Ontario.

As well, Drive Clean actually gives a break to some of the worst polluting cars on the road. As McCarter has pointed out, vehicles “are not required to incur any repair costs if the repair estimate exceeds $450.” That meant about 8,000 clunkers avoided being fully repaired in 2011.

The former provincial auditor also raised questions about the legality of Drive Clean. McCarter warned that a court could find Drive Clean to be an “illegal tax” if its user-fee premise isn’t reflected in the cost of running the program. He said the program was expected to realize an accumulated surplus of $50 million by the end of 2018.

Drive Clean is no longer about helping the environment. It’s about making the majority of Ontario drivers pay for tests they don’t need and letting those who pollute go free. Scrap the program now.

Join over 11,000 Ontarians and sign the petition to Scrap Drive Clean