British Columbia's Blue Box Battle
by Kelvin McCulloch
A few months back, I received a notification which advised me that I had to declare whether Buckerfields was a 'producer' of printed paper or packaging material. If so, we would have to implement an 'approved stewardship plan' to deal with the material. Otherwise we would have to join another 'stewardship plan' and pay fees to that plan holder. I thought it was a scam. But I looked into it further and determined that there was indeed regulatory provisions in effect which stated this very thing and according to the regulations, Buckerfields is now a 'producer' of printed paper and packaging material, with the best example being our Buckerfields feed bags.
I then discussed the alternatives with a Ministry of Environment official and came to realize that we had no choice but to join the only approved stewardship plan in the province, Multi Material BC (MMBC).
We signed the MMBC contract. But we also read it. And it stated that MMBC had to file audited financial statements on its web site. I recently went to the web site and there are no audited financial statements.
Now, several months later, I have discovered the following:
• MMBC is a corporation under the Societies Act comprised of three Directors, two of which live in Ontario. None of the Directors have public sector credentials. All of the Directors represent large corporate interests.
• MMBC is not accountable to any government agency, appointed official, elected official or any other government body other than the Registrar of Companies under the Societies Act
• MMBC is not governed by the Province's Financial Administration Act which sets out the rules for the administration of all public monies.
• None of the monies collected by MMBC, including the fees Buckerfields is supposed to pay, go to the Public Accounts of the Province or any other government organization.
• MMBC is not subject to oversight by the Auditor General of BC.
• Under MMBC's 'stewardship plan' as approved by the provincial government, MMBC has the authority to charge companies like Buckerfields unlimited fees based on whatever MMBC spends, regardless of what the actual costs are to recycle our feed bags and regardless of the fact that we already pay municipal taxes in all eight of our locations.
• MMBC has the authority to come into any municipality in the province and offer financial incentives to the locally elected government to do what MMBC wants in the area of waste collection and recycling; if the locally elected government refuses, MMBC has the authority to do what it wants anyway.
• The municipal governments of the province do not know the background of MMBC and don't yet realize the fees that MMBC is charging to Buckerfields and all the other companies amounts to double taxation
• The municipal governments are going to have to give up that tax base they have for waste collection and recycling because the shift to 'producers' paying directly for waste collection and recycling eliminates the need and justification for 'consumers' i.e. property tax payers to pay for these services through the municipalities.
• The provincial government did not consult with the municipal governments or the public but companies like Buckerfields are pointing it out because until it is resolved, we are being taxed twice for the same service and residential taxpayers (including me) are being taxed for something that someone else is actually paying for.
• Taxpayers and municipal governments were not consulted as to whether they really want to shift the financing and control of municipal waste and recycling services out of the municipal jurisdiction, that is, the jurisdiction of democratically elected municipal officials into the hands of a corporation under the Societies Act that is accountable to no one and is outside the jurisdiction of the provincial Auditor General
• Taxpayers and voters are unaware that the fees being charged by MMBC are so onerous that they will cause newspaper closures and job losses of 300-500 in the newspaper industry in British Columbia, even though recycled newsprint is actually very valuable.
In finding all this out, I lament the fact that none of this was introduced into the legislature for proper debate because it means that instead of spending my days managing the sale of chicks and garden supplies at Buckerfields, I have to spend my time trying to revive democratic processes in British Columbia, retroactively. I find it appalling.
My position as of the time of this writing is this was, we ain't paying a dime to MMBC and neither should anyone else, not until:
• The provincial government reconciles what it is doing with the municipal governments and municipal taxpayers so that taxpayers don't have to pay twice.
• The provincial government takes back the legislation which calls us 'producers' and 'blames us' for the choices made by manufacturers and indeed consumers that are completely outside of our control.
• Any monies charged under the auspices of the Recycling Regulation are included in the Public Accounts of the Province and subject to the provisions of the Financial Administration Act and the Auditor General Act.
• Whatever is going to be done is introduced into the Legislative Assembly in the form of a Bill so that the proper public debate can occur.
• Insofar as MMBC has not filed its audited financial statements since inception, and the period of time not reported spans more than two years, and insofar as MMBC is actually a taxing and funding agency, there be an independent public enquiry into the financial operations, sources and uses of funds, contractual procedures and expenditures of MMBC.
No, Buckerfields is not paying a dime until this cash and power grab is unraveled and revealed for what it is.
One final word – 96 per cent of all printed paper and packaging material is already being picked up or deposited into municipally financed facilities. Despite what MMBC is saying, at least 53% of that is already being recycled and it is very likely that that number was seriously understated to give the government a reason for its MMBC cash and power grab. In reality, there is no basis for setting up a recycling dictatorship and charging punitive fees to companies like Buckerfields at all. Recycling is a booming business with rapidly increasing prices of marketable commodities. Could that be why the Board of MMBC is all big business and outside the jurisdiction of the Auditor General? We don't have to change a thing to see recycling take off in BC, in the hands of our elected municipal officials. We need to send the MMBC regime to the recycle bin.