COMMENTARY: Waiting for Ontario to recognize that home heating is essential

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“Winter is coming” — The motto of the House of Stark, Game of Thrones.

Fall arrived on the weekend, and you would not have known it last Friday in southern Ontario, where temperatures reached highs usually seen in mid-July.

But hardy Canadians know that the mild fall conditions will quickly give way to what makes us the fifth coldest country in the world: the icy blasts from the North that require the annual furnace startup. The smell of the duct dust, the hissing of the pilot light and, to our regret, the delivery of the gas, oil, propane and electric bills.

Canada is considered a moderate-to-heavily-taxed nation. We’re constantly reminded by the “progressives” in our culture that taxes are the price we pay for a fair and just society. I’ve paid taxes my entire working life, with the exception of 1993-1995, but the CRA took care of that oversight. I live in a province that introduced the hated HST in 2010, adding a wide variety of previously provincial sales tax-free goods and services to the tax column.

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There are still a good number of tax exempt items, like basic groceries, prescription drugs, most medical costs and car insurance. The excuse is these goods and services are essential. A loaf of bread and grocery deli meats are tax free because we all must eat. But a prepared sandwich at a deli counter? Pay your 13 per cent tax on that Reuben; the government has a bridge to nowhere that it needs to build somewhere.

But if groceries, medical procedures, car insurance, legal aid, and municipal water and even some international air travel is tax exempt, with some of those items even and considered “essential,” why is a most basic Canadian need taxed as if it is a pastrami on rye sandwich?

That need, I’m referring to, is home heating.

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I complain only because I rent an older, poorly insulated bungalow that has an, ahem, oil furnace. I know many areas in Canada still rely on home oil delivery, but in my neighbourhood, when the tanker pulls up to replenish my tanks, my natural gas neighbours come to the curb looking all confused. I knew it was oil heating when I leased the place. I just did not know the financial pain it would cause, because I signed the lease papers in July. Rental laws in Ontario require the landlord to provide the first tank of oil, so we felt toasty warm … until mid-January. Then it was my turn to order a fill and peruse the bill.

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And, oh my.

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Heating oil is diesel without the road taxes. The diesel car I had in the early 1980s impressed not only for the mileage, but for the fact that diesel was just three quarters the price of regular gasoline.

Thanks to Amazon and just-in-time shipping, the trucks in this country seem to outnumber personal vehicles. Diesel is often more expensive in the winter than gas.  So, home heating oil is expensive.

Add to that the entire point of this screed: why is there HST on heating?

I will include natural gas and propane to that. Electrical heating is harder to include because you have to separate the cost for your heating from the cost of the 16 devices your kids have connected to your router.

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In 2010, when Ontario had a precarious Liberal minority government, the NDP introduced a private member’s bill that would have at least eliminated the provincial portion of the HST from home heating products. The bill passed two readings with opposition support, only to be stymied when the government refused a third and final reading. It died on the vine.

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At the time, we were told that there would be money for low-income rebates, etc., but the rest of us would continue to pay taxes as if that heat blowing through the floor register was filled with prepared sandwiches.

The real reason government said no was the anticipated loss of $360 million in revenue. That’s a bunch of bridges to nowhere.

Doug Ford is now our premier and he says, “folks,” “taxpayers” and “middle class” a lot. He’s known, and sometimes reviled, for being a populist who has an ear for the complaints the common people have for big, hungry government.

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Just over three months on the job, he has cut some fees, the insanely expensive Green Energy Plan, put more gas money in our pocket and he apparently executed half his enemies on Toronto City Council.

Saving families a few bucks so they can heat their homes would be a huge win for him. And he’s all about efficiencies, so I’m sure he can find savings to replace the lost revenue. He says he’s really good at that.

Please make it happen Mr. Premier. You can stuff your buck-a-beer.

Mike Stafford is co-host of The Morning Show on Global News Radio 640 Toronto.

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