Ontario Pays for Permission to Print Provincial Law

February 23rd, 2014

The Government of Ontario is paying the Canadian Standards Association (“CSA”) a per-unit royalty on sales of the Ontario Electrical Safety Code (the “Code”), this Code being the body of the Province’s electrical laws.  The basis for this payment is the notion that the CSA owns Ontario’s electrical laws as a result of having lobbied for their adoption into law.

We know that the Ontario Government is paying a steep royalty to the CSA but we don’t know the full figure.  We do know however, that the production cost of a Code book is about $15, whereas actually buying one in Ontario costs $225.  Why so pricey?  Well, burried in the price of the Code is that steep royalty payment to the CSA. 

Keep in mind that reading electrical laws isn’t optional for electricians, the Code is mandatory, it is the body of regulations that these professionals comply with every day.  That means that every electrician in Ontario is harmed by this royalty payment and, cumulatively, the Province of Ontario is financially encumbered by many millions of dollars of additional, and arguably unnecessary, expenditure.

RestoreCSA met with the Government of Ontario to discuss this problem during the summer of 2013.  We wanted to know why the Province was paying a private company for permission to print Provincial law.  We submitted the following five questions:

1. Does the Province of Ontario believe that private companies can own public law?

2. If public law cannot be privately owned, what is the basis for royalty payments made by the Province to the CSA?

3. Does the Province of Ontario pay royalties to any other lobby group or private company in exchange for submissions made to any legislative committee or any Provincial Ministry?

4. If there is no basis for royalty payments made by the Province of Ontario to the CSA, will the Province commit both to an immediate termination of all such payments to the CSA and to an attempted recovery of past payments made to the CSA?

5. Does the Province of Ontario agree that if public law cannot be privately owned, and if dissemination of public law is in the public interest, there is no basis for restricting the private dissemination of public law?

Then we warned them:

“As discussed, the issues of private ownership of public law, of unimpeded public access to public law, and of the equality of citizens in respect of the law, are all affected by Government attitudes to the above noted questions. This is not a minor matter. Foundational precedents are being challenged by CSA. The Provincial Government’s response will either set new precedents and usher a wave of new claims upon those new precedents, or it will affirm the historical contiguity of our common understanding of equality before the law.”

Our formal inquiry was submitted on September 8th, 2013 and we have yet to receive any Provincial response.  And its not hard to see why. 

If the Code isn’t the law then people don’t have to pay fees to comply with it, but if the Code is indeed the law then the Province doesn’t have to pay CSA to use it.   Whichever answer the Province chooses, massive payments of the one sort or the other will be delegitimized.  The sum of whichever payments are deemed illegitimate will have to be returned.  And that’s a lot of money.  And that’s why they’re stalling.

Of course, Ontario isn’t the only province affected.  The Government of British Columbia is also sending money to CSA for access to its own laws, and that pushes the total annual take for the CSA deep into the millions.  From the taxpayer’s perspective, a clean-up of the CSA will save each of these two Provinces several millions every year.

As for Ontario’s response to our inquiry, we are still receiving Government promises that their response will come soon, and we’re still pushing.  We’ll keep you posted.