Ontario’s license plate renewal rebates could be making big-fleet owners big bucks: NDP

License renewal fee waivers that have put hundreds of dollars back into the pockets of regular drivers could still leave tens of thousands of dollars for people who own fleets of vehicles.

Last year, a rebate program sent millions to people with more than five cars and wrote its largest check for $38,000, the equivalent of licensing about 160 cars over a two-year period.

At the time, the rationale for the $2.24 billion program was to help Ontarians with the cost of living during the pandemic.

License renewals are now free online and eligible vehicles have been expanded to include company-owned vehicles.

The government could be giving up income to individuals or companies with fleets of vehicles and the program needs to change, NDP financial critic Catherine Fife charged in a legislative committee last week.

“The government has positioned this policy as a cost of living issue. Is someone who owns 82 cars facing a cost of living crisis? Fife asked Finance Minister Peter Bethenfalvy.

“We are not looking to redesign the program. We are behind that program. I’ve talked to hundreds of families who thought it was timely relief,” Bethenfalvy replied.

Fife was referring to a CTV News investigation last year that found that rebating $2.24 billion in license plate renewal fees was giving some drivers amazing refund checks.

Among them was car collector Steve Plunkett of London, Ontario, who said he received $8,500 for his 82 cars.

Some 21,000 people received a refund of more than $1,200, the equivalent of registering about 5 cars, for a total of $32 million.

The largest refunds were in the tens of thousands of dollars: one received $16,020.50, another received $19,096.50, and the largest refund was $38,779.50.

At the time, the rebates only applied to personal vehicles. Going forward, registration plate renewals for most vehicles have become free online, including vehicles owned by corporations.

But a question from CTV News to the Transport Ministry about whether big companies also get deep discounts on fares was not answered.

And when we made a Freedom of Information request, we were told that the information was so difficult to obtain that it would cost us $4,350. That would have been the equivalent of licensing about 36 cars for a year.

Fife said in an interview that if big companies get big opportunities, there should at least be transparency about it.

“The government hands out checks to people who don’t need them,” Fife said of the refund program.

“For him to come back and say, ‘We’re cool with this,’ goes against everything about fiscal responsibility,” he said.

At a press conference this week, Transport Minister Caroline Mulroney said the reimbursement program was fast and effective.

“He made life better and easier for Ontarians. That was a great program for us. We were able to put over a billion dollars back into people’s pockets very quickly,” she said.

The Rev. Francesca Schettini, whom CTV News interviewed while filling up her vehicle, said she received a welcome check in the mail last year.

“I thought that was cool. About time they should have done that. It was over $200 for me and my partner, we have three vehicles, so it’s a lot of money,” he said.

When told that one person received more than $38,000, Schettini shook his head.

“The first five cars, I agree. Anything after that should be in a different category. Who has 100 cars? she asked.

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