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Despite Ford promises, failed Ontario licence plates increased costs by 26 per cent

Author: James Wood 2021/06/16

Although Premier Doug Ford said changing Ontario’s licence plates wouldn’t cost taxpayers anything, the new plates ended up costing taxpayers an extra $238,621.

“Ontario has hundreds of billions of dollars worth of debt,” said Jasmine Moulton, Ontario Director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“Wasting money on redesigning new licence plates seems like the last thing the Ontario government should have been doing.”

The Ontario government announced its licence plate redesign in April 2019.

At the time, the plates were described as a “new look” and an effective product that would last longer for residents.

The switch was expected to reduce both the cost of materials and energy for plate manufacturing, and Ford repeatedly said the new plate design wouldn’t increase costs for taxpayers.

“I just want to remind the House and the people of Ontario that changing the licence plates doesn’t cost a penny to the taxpayers,” said Ford, on Apr. 2, 2019.

“They (the producers) are still producing the plates. It’s going to be the same cost.” 

But Ford was wrong. The price of the new plates cost taxpayers an extra $238,621, with the cost to taxpayers to manufacture licence plates rising immediately after the new plates were put into circulation.

Records obtained by the CTF show the prices paid by Ontario’s Ministry of Government and Consumer Services for plates from September of 2019 to July of 2020.

MGCS purchases plates from Trilcor, a provincially owned company which uses prison labour to make licence plates for Ontario. MGCS also manages the plate stock and distribution, with 3M Canada supplying the sheeting for the new plate design.

The price of standard passenger plates, in both English and French, spiked from $3.60 per plate in September of 2019 to $4.54 per plate in January of 2020, before going back to $3.60 per plate in June.

The rise and fall lined up with the rollout and subsequent abandonment of the new plates.

Throughout the entirety of the new design run, a total of 253,852 were purchased by the Ontario government. At $3.60 a plate, the final bill would have added up to $913,867.

At $4.54 a plate instead, the total cost of the failed design run came in at $1,152,488, a 26 per cent increase.

The redesign effort was criticized as a political branding exercise because the new licence plates resembled the colours of Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario.

The money spent on the new licence plates amounted to “public money for partisan purposes,” according to Ontario’s New Democrat Leader Andrea Horwath.

“It’s such an obvious Conservative branded licence plate,” Horwath said, when the new design was first announced.

“It’s just shameful that this is a priority of Doug Ford is to have his ego on the back of everybody’s car.”

A few weeks into the rollout of the new plates, both the public and police officers began to raise alarms about the plates being hard to read at night.

Initially, the government defended the new plates, with MGCS Minister Lisa Thompson saying the new plates were “very readable” and an improvement over the old “Liberal plates.”

The government eventually conceded the problems with the plates and promised to examine the issues with the new plates. This led to the issuing of “advanced plates” starting in March, which carried the same price as the defective new plates.

By May, Ford had thrown in the towel, and brought back the original plates.

“This entire fiasco amounts to nothing more than a colossal waste of time and taxpayers’ money,” said Moulton.

The CTF reached out to MGCS about the cost increase and Ford’s original promise that the new plates would not cost taxpayers more money.

“After thorough testing by law enforcement and other key stakeholders, alongside addressing durability issues with white “Yours to Discover” plates, the government decided that it was in the best interest of Ontarians not to move forward with the redesign of Ontario’s licence plate,” read a statement from MGCS.

“The government and 3M Canada worked in partnership to resolve issues raised about the blue Ontario licence plates, and reached a resolution at no cost to taxpayers.”

Ontario NDP MPP Jennifer French said Ford did not tell the truth to the public about the cost of the plates.

“Ford’s faulty vanity plates cost drivers hundreds of thousands of dollars for plates they didn’t need and they never asked for,” said French, who represents Oshawa and serves as the party’s critic for Transportation and Highways.

“Now, while we still can't see the numbers on the faulty plates, we can see the numbers behind them. Ontario has every right to be furious about this massive and unnecessary expense.”

French said there were costs of time, money and frustration for Ontarians to get the plates, which she described as expensive and defective.

“On top of that, it continues to risk public safety, while people still drive around with plates only suitable for a getaway car.”

The ministry said a replacement plan for the failed plates is being developed.

“At a time when the government should be focused on an economic recovery and addressing the massive growth in Ontario’s debt, it’s still bogged down trying to clean up this licence plate mess that should have been avoided in the first place,” said Moulton.

“Let’s hope this government smartens up and focuses on the real issues facing taxpayers.”