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B.C.'s Blue Box Battle: A Modest Proposal on the Province's Recycling System

  - Black Press file
— image credit: Black Press file

*The following is a contributed Opinion piece by Kelvin McCulloch – CEO, Buckerfields...

Last weekend, I decided to look up how much Property Tax is collected in the Province of British Columbia. To my amazement, British Columbians paid a total of $7.968 billion dollars last year. Here are more facts:

  • The taxes are paid by everyone in the province with an address, including small businesses, large businesses, manufacturers, utilities, and of course, residential property owners and apartment dwellers
  • The average Property Tax rate for BC businesses is 5.5 times higher than the tax rate for residential taxpayers – because business is expected to pay its share
  • Property taxes pay for schools, hospitals, and services provided by local government, with an emphasis on waste management and recycling.

On top of this, MMBC is trying to collect another $84 million from the remaining handful of businesses including Buckerfields that weren’t lucky enough get the BC Chamber of Commerce/BC Government’s latest exemption. While MMBC’s target represents 1.2 per cent of all of Property Taxes collected last year, we the unlucky, comprise less than two one-hundredths of one percent of tax payers. Anyone know how we are supposed to come up with that much money? Frankly, if the Provincial government knew what it was doing, they would realize it’s not even possible. But they don't, do they?

Enough complaining. Here is my proposal to fix all this.

First, let’s quickly recognize that economically viable recycling is inevitable because of the growth in global consumerism. As China’s 1.363 billion people discover and embrace North American style consumerism, China will buy every scrap of recycled paper, plastic, metal, wood and everything else that British Columbians throw away to supply the country’s manufacturing processes. India falls into this category. All BC has to do is stand by and watch while normal market forces propel recycling forward. In the not too distant future, global demand for our garbage will eat up everything we throw out and more, recycled or not. And the people who have custody of this resource will be making a lot of money.

In the face of this, if the Provincial government really wants to look good instead of just flogging somebody else’s failed concepts and pandering to people with bad attitudes towards BC business, here is a project that all British Columbians can be proud of.

First, the Province of British Columbia creates a 1% environmental surcharge on Property Taxes to be paid by everyone, businesses and consumers alike. Don’t everybody jump too quickly. That would cost me personally about twenty bucks a year and I would be proud to pay it. It would cost my company about $300 a year and we would be proud to pay it. By spreading the load evenly over the entire tax base, the surcharge would produce about $80 million a year, almost the exact same amount that MMBC is trying to gouge out, and it would be virtually unnoticeable to any single taxpayer.

The legislation creating the surcharge would have a five year sunset clause so that at the end of five years, the surcharge would end. Why? If we can’t get the job done by spending a total of $400 million over five years, then we shouldn’t be attempting this program at all.

The monies would go straight into the Consolidated Revenues fund of the Province and would fall under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Auditor General, that is, full legislative and public oversight. We would be absolutely assured that the money wasn’t going sideways, unlike the situation with MMBC.

A second bit of legislation would create a Regional Recycling Authority to distribute the monies to local governments. The authority would accept or deny local government applications for funding. Municipalities would have to compete for the funds.  Only the best and most essential recycling projects would be funded. Unlike the situation with MMBC where one person is going around handing out money whether it is needed or not, the expenditures would be optimized in plain sight of taxpayers. Unlike the MMBC situation where three people with dubious corporate connections mysteriously showed up from Ontario to form the agency, the directors of the BC Recycling Authority would be British Columbians with bona fide recycling, local government and finance credentials as well as members of the public.  And OK, the Minister of Environment can appoint them, but do it publicly, eh?

The new Recycling Authority would also be under the jurisdiction of the Provincial Auditor General so we would see independent evaluations of the results. No funny stuff, no wasted money, no overspending, no failure to produce the intended outcomes. Or we would know by the end of each year and we would demand that the situation be corrected.

Finally, there would be a five year sunset clause on the Recycling Authority itself. By then, the job should be done. If not, the government of the day would have to introduce a new Bill into the legislature and we would at least have an opportunity to complain or get rid of it in a democratic manner.

The new Auditor General for Local Government would be invited to focus on waste management and recycling programs at the local government level, to feed information to the new Recycling Authority, publicly. The Provincial Auditor General would report annually or more frequently if necessary.

This system would accelerate recycling while strengthening local governments' mandates and abilities.  Four hundred million dollars would be pumped in over five years and every dollar would have been raised fairly from businesses and consumers. It would be accounted for properly, reported publicly, evaluated independently by our Legislative and local government Auditors.

At the end of five years, we as a team would have produced recycling systems in BC that would rival anything worldwide.

The cost would have been shared fairly.

At the same time, the fundamental democratic processes we rely on to ensure reasonable taxation, fair play and accountability would have been strengthened instead of what we have now with MMBC.

 

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