Wednesday November 28, 2012
Paul Maloney, Urban Affairs Reporter
Faced with lawsuits from the plastics industry, Toronto City Council voted 38-7 Wednesday to forget about banning plastic shopping bags on Jan. 1 as planned.
At the behest of Mayor Rob Ford, council earlier this year scrapped the mandatory 5-cent bag fee introduced in 2009, which supporters said had been successful in slashing the number of bags dispensed.
After the latest move, there are no official restrictions whatever on bags.
“It’s just a sad day,” said Councillor Michelle Berardinetti. “Without a bag fee or a ban — with either one not in place — people will use those bags and it’s unfortunate for the environment.”
Retailers reaped the 5 cents. Berardinetti had hoped to steer some of that revenue into tree planting, in part to offset destruction by the emerald ash borer.
Instead, Mayor Ford suggested, let’s just scrap the fee. When it came to council in June, councillors voted to do away with the fee on July 1 — and in a surprise move adopted a motion to ban plastic bags outright as of Jan. 1, 2013.
The bag industry cried foul, noting the surprise vote meant they had not been consulted.
Recently, members of related industries commenced legal action, and city lawyers warned they had a case. After a closed-door discussion Wednesday morning, councillors emerged with the news that they’d decided not to proceed with a ban.
“We’re very happy,’ plastics industry spokesperson Joe Hruska told reporters. “Council made the right decision today on behalf of all Torontonians. We just believe that the plastic bag has never been a problem for the environment. So this is a good day for Toronto and for consumer choice.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers said council’s original decision was flawed because the city had failed to conduct public hearings before voting.
Wednesday’s move to scrap the ban “validates our view that this bag ban bylaw was probably illegal, and with no prior consultation or deliberations, set a dangerous precedent,” federation president John Scott said in a statement.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association said it was speaking with city lawyers on steps to resolve the lawsuit it had launched Nov. 15. The Canadian Plastic Bag Association filed suit Nov. 19.
“This is a good day for small businesses in Toronto and we commend Toronto City Council for their thoughtful reconsideration of this bylaw and the impact it would have had on convenience stores,” said Dave Bryans, the association’s chief executive. “By selectively prohibiting merchants from providing certain types of plastic bags, shoppers would have been less likely to make purchases, and that would have hit Toronto’s small, family-run convenience stores the hardest.”
Councillor Gord Perks blamed Mayor Ford for setting the stage for a surprise ban, which had passed on a motion tabled on the fly by Councillor David Shiner.
“Councillor Berardinetti thought she had a way to make the 5 cents work better,” Perks said. “And then, unfortunately, Mayor Ford — who seems only capable of breaking things — stuck his oar in and threatened to take the 5 cents off. Some members of council then decided, if we’re not going to have the 5 cents, let’s have a ban.”
The end result is no controls on bad, Perks lamented. “We’ve wound up in the terrible mess we’re in now where we’re actually not doing anything for the environment.”
The one bright spot, Perks said, was that council voted 31-14 vote to ask staff for a report next June on measures to reduce bag use.
“Torontonians were ready for a bag ban,” said a disappointed Emily Alfred, of the Toronto Environmental Alliance. “They’ve shown that they’re willing to change their behaviour to reduce the amount of bags they use.
“It’s really unfortunate to see that, instead of good policy-making that considers what Toronto and the environment needs, this got mired in politics and a pet project by the mayor.”
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