It’s time for Doug Ford to bring back rebates on new electric vehicle purchases

For populist politicians, it’s always about finding ways to pick on the so called “elites.”

Avatar By: Eric Novak December 11, 2021

For populist politicians, it’s always about finding ways to pick on the so called “elites.”

Ontario’s populist Premier Doug Ford is entrenched in the belief that electric vehicles are something only millionaires are interested in. Once he took office in 2018, he ended the provincial rebate on new EV purchases that the former McGuinty and Wynne governments offered.

Ford was of course basing his belief on the six-figure price tag of certain upper-end Teslas, with their high-powered electric powertrains and status symbol appeal. It’s a position that he still holds today, as evidenced by a comment he made recently.

In response to a reporter’s question on Nov. 11 about the possibility of bringing back the EV rebate, Ford said,  “I’m not going to give rebates to guys that are buying $100,000 cars — millionaires.”

It’s a favourite populist trope of the premier, but one that shows he hasn’t been paying much attention to the evolution of the EV landscape since taking office.

For proof, he can visit the EV comparison page of Plug’n Drive, a non-profit organization committed to “accelerating electric vehicle adoption in order to maximize their environmental and economic benefits.” Of the 34 models and trims found on the page that are available in Ontario, only five of them have an MSRP above $100,000. Moreover, 11 of them were priced below $50,000.

Plug In

Ford’s position on rebates seems at odds with his government’s projections on EV growth as part of their 2018 Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan. In a 2019 report on the environment, Ontario’s auditor general noted the Ford government had forecast 1.3 million EVs on Ontario’s roads by 2030. This represented a more than 3,000 per cent increase from the 41,000 EVs registered at the time. According to Statistics Canada, between Jan. 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, another 14,436 EVs have been sold in Ontario. This is an upward trend, but the new total represents just over four per cent of the 2030 goal.

If we are to have any hope of hitting the target, Ford simply can’t leave it to market forces alone. The government needs to be involved and fortunately, they have options to chose from.

Broadly speaking, the tools at a government’s disposal to effect change are split between incentives and penalties. It’s the classic carrot or stick comparison, and across Canada we are seeing examples of both.

The most common approach to encourage purchasing of new EVs is to offer rebates which are deducted at purchase. At present, there are five provinces offering rebates of varying amounts when purchasing a new full battery electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. Quebec and British Columbia have each offered rebates for several years, while New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island have rolled out rebate programs within the past 12 months.

While it’s too early to know just how much of an impact the rebates in the three Atlantic provinces have had, the numbers do show that in both B.C. and Quebec, incentives make a difference.

According to a report published by IHS Markit, a market analytics firm, the percentage of ZEV (BEV and PHEV) vehicle registrations for the third quarter of 2021 was 13 per cent in B.C. and 9.9 per cent in Quebec. B.C. currently leads the country with 12.3 per cent ZEV sales.

By comparison Ontario lagged well behind, with just 3.1 per cent from July 1 to Oct. 31.

It should be noted that the federal government, through its iZEV incentive program offers rebates to Ontario purchasers, as it does across the country. Where provinces have programs of their own, motorists can double up on incentives.

Additionally, B.C. and Quebec have taken to using both a carrot and a stick approach. Each province has created zero emission standards, by which automakers must ensure a certain percentage of ZEV sales or face punitive measures. The mandates increase ZEV sales in both provinces, but it also impacts sales in the rest of Canada.

Given current supply shortages, any Canadian EV allotments from an automaker will first go to B.C. and Quebec. Provinces with EV rebates usually fall next in line. Meanwhile, other provinces — including Ontario — wait to get what’s left, if any are left at all.

A recent environmental report from the auditor general looked at the government’s promise for Ontario to match the national climate change targets for 2030, which were agreed to in the Paris Accord. At present they are only 20 per cent of the way there. A sobering figure, but one that can be accelerated thanks to some low hanging interventionist fruit.

The truth is that Ford needs to re-think his position on incentives for new EV purchases. Given that about 96 per cent of Ontario’s total energy supply comes from non carbon emitting sources, the more vehicles that are powered through our grid, the more carbon emissions we reduce. And with approximately 35 per cent of Ontario’s carbon footprint attributed to transportation, bringing back Ontario’s ZEV rebate program should be a no-brainer.