Ford looking to abolish plastic bag fee

Natalie Alcoba
December 30, 2010
National Post

Mayor Rob Ford has set his sights on abolishing Toronto’s controversial bag fee after hearing over the holiday season from shoppers who “can’t stand” the levy.

“All of a sudden the five cents is really becoming a sticking point with people and it wasn’t really before, so I want to get rid of it,” Mayor Ford said of what it costs in Toronto to get a plastic bag at a store.

The fee was brought in by David Miller’s regime as a way to reduce the amount of packaging ending up in the landfill. Consumers often pay six cents, when stores pass on the HST.

Several major grocery chains have reported a dramatic drop in the number of bags distributed since the bylaw came into effect in 2009, but critics have blasted the tax, the proceeds of which can go entirely to retailers. The city encourages the money be given to community or environmental initiatives, but can’t force businesses to do so. During the campaign, Mr. Ford suggested mandating the charitable donation, but he’s rethinking it now.

“I don’t want to burden the businesses with it to say that you’ve got to pay x number of dollars into this environmental program, so I don’t know what the answer is. But the taxpayers shouldn’t pay these five cents anymore,” said Mayor Ford. “I’m going to change how it’s being implemented right now, put it that way. How we’re going to do it, I’m not quite sure, but we’re definitely going to review it. Because spending five cents and just putting it in the pocket of businesses doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, said that “given that it doesn’t cost the city a penny to administer this,” he doesn’t see why it should scrap the fee. “We think anything that reduces plastic use is a good thing.”

But Mayor Ford highlighted the tax as one of his important goals for 2011 during an interview with the National Post on Wednesday. He said quashing the land transfer tax and “getting subways built” are also at the top of his agenda; he’s committed to freezing property taxes for residents “however we can achieve it.”

He envisions changing the composition of the TTC to include a majority of transit experts next year, too, and has already embarked on a drive to eradicate graffiti. “It’s just out of control, nobody likes it, it doesn’t help our city,” said Mayor Ford, who has asked senior managers in the parks and transportation departments to make sure the facades of bridges, hockey arenas and community centres are spotless.

He has also asked Jim Hart, in charge of the city’s municipal licensing and standards division, to give commercial property owners a “30 day heads up” that they have to clean their buildings, or the city will, at a cost. “I don’t want to see them face a fine, but after two or three warnings, I don’t think it would be so much a fine, it would just be done and put on the property tax,” said Mayor Ford.

His pledge to hire 50 police officers in 2011 seems less of a sure thing. “I haven’t had a chance to sit down with Chief Blair yet. I want to do it, but if he says it’s not necessary, well I’m not the expert there, but we’ll see. I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.


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