Clear the air — turn off Drive Clean

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That’s another dirty little secret out in the open.

Drivers in Ontario – well, those in southern Ontario at least – have long suspected that the Drive Clean scheme was nothing but a tax hiding behind a fig leaf of environmental respectability.

You knew it. We knew it.

The only people who didn’t were living a life of sincere ignorance and blind, conscientious stupidity.

We’ll deal with the politicians in a moment.

The humble motorist did what they were told and submitted to the Drive Clean testing regime while handing over their hard-earned dollars for the privilege.

Meantime, those living north of a mythical line that extends across Ontario from Windsor to Ottawa laughed at their urban cousins because they were exempt.

They had plenty to laugh at.

Back when the Tories introduced Drive Clean in 1999, around 16% of the vehicles on the road failed and needed repairs.

By 2012 only 5% of light vehicles were failing — meaning that the original mission of cleaning up the smoke-spewing clunkers had been achieved.

That would have been the logical time to spike the program.

As we now know Drive Clean was kept because Kathleen Wynne, the punisher, has never met a revenue tool she couldn’t run to embrace.

She enabled her Minister for the Environment to change the regime and eliminate manual testing of your tailpipe emissions (stop giggling, this is serious).

Why? So she could comfort herself in the knowledge that she was helping the environment. At taxpayer expense, of course.

So Premier Wynne’s moral vanity means as of Jan. 1 this year the new Drive Clean test reads emissions control systems results directly from vehicles’ on-board diagnostics (OBD) system.

Here’s something that computer won’t tell the mechanic.

Drive Clean is a punitive tax because it punishes those who can least afford to update their ride.

The well off who are leasing and rolling over their car every few years (or simply buying and trading up over the same period) are hardly likely to be confronted with Drive Clean’s demands.

A working family with two or maybe even three cars will face it instead. They feel the sting of that payment every two years.

They know — you know — it’s now easy to get caught for even the most minor infringement.

Just turn up in a vehicle with a “check engine” light on and your car automatically fails, even if the code has nothing to do with emissions.

Same if your ABS sensors are broken. That’s a $1,600 repair job right there.

New-car dealers hate Drive Clean because they are required to perform an emissions test on vehicles once they are relicensed for a second time, regardless if those vehicles are still under warranty.

This added cost is passed on to, you guessed it, the consumer in the increased unit price of the vehicle.

So despite all of the above and the warning by former auditor general Jim McCarter in his 2012 annual report that Drive Clean was next to useless, it lives for no other reason than it is a reliable source of revenue for a bankrupt province.

Ontario could do worse than look to British Columbia, where the government is dumping its version of the Drive Clean program for all light-duty vehicles by the end of 2014.

B.C.’s 20-year-old AirCare program is acknowledged as a costly inconvenience for families that does little to improve air quality.

“When governments have programs that are in place, I think it’s responsible to say ‘OK, have we achieved the objective?’ and if we have, let’s phase that out and look at other areas where we can make some better improvements to those objectives,” B.C. Environment Minister Terry Lake said when he announced AirCare would be punted into history.

If only the same common sense ruled here in Ontario.