Ontario subsidies for electric vehicles under fire after minister’s staffer leaves to work for Tesla


Rob Ferguson and Robert Benzie

The Ontario government is getting a rough ride over new $14,000 subsidies for buyers of some “luxury” electric vehicles around the same time the environment minister’s chief of staff left to work for Tesla.

“It doesn’t pass the smell test,” Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown said Thursday after his party raised concerns about the grant rising from $3,000 under a previous program.

“You’ve got someone that is leaving a minister’s office and going to a company that is now benefitting from these decisions.”

Ian Myrans, the former chief of staff to Environment Minister Glen Murray, left the government in February for the high-end electric vehicle maker, Conservative MPP Steve Clark told the Legislature’s question period.

Murray said the electric vehicle rebate program is not administered by his office, but at the Ministry of Transportation, and insisted there was no conflict of interest.

“First of all, Ian didn’t work for the minister of transportation who made the decision. The decision on this was made almost a year ago … it wasn’t a decision he was directly involved in,” said Murray.

“As soon as Ian was aware – and that was quite recently – that he was going to go pursue a position in the private sector, he immediately … went to the integrity commissioner and rules were put in place about his involvement,” Murray added.
“He followed the very letter of the law and the spirit of it.”

All Tesla models qualify for the highest Ontario government incentive of $14,000, which also applies to cheaper vehicles include the Ford Focus EV BEV (battery electric vehicle), the new Chevrolet Bolt, the Kia Soul EV BEV, and Nissan Leaf.

The size of electric vehicle subsidies, which start at $3,000, depends on several factors, including battery capacity and the number of passengers carried.

A Tesla Model S sedan can cost in the range of $90,000 to $100,000. Under the previous subsidy program, cars like Tesla in the $75,000 to $150,000 price category qualified for a smaller $3,000 rebate.

Murray’s office said the decision to remove the $3,000 cap on that price category was made in mid-2016, several months after the new rebate program was first announced, and wasn’t revealed until earlier this month. It is retroactive to January 1.

Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca defended the electric vehicle incentives, saying they are helping to get gasoline-powered cars off the road.

“Having an enhanced incentive, which we announced months ago, is something that helps give people the opportunity to participate in the fight against climate change,” he told reporters.

“We know that the transportation sector accounts for 35 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions,” Del Duca added, noting most subsidies help lower the prices for many electric cars down to the mid-$30,000 to $40,000 range middle-class families can afford.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath joined Brown in challenging subsidies for buyers of the most expensive electric cars.

“Why does somebody who can afford a luxury vehicle…need a tax break from the government? It makes no sense,” she said, calling for subsidies to be limited to more reasonably priced models.

“I think you can fight climate change without subsidizing $100,000 cars,” Brown added.