Council Kills Plastic Bag Fee, Also Bans Plastic Bags
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Council Kills Plastic Bag Fee, Also Bans Plastic Bags

Long debate leaves heads spinning as councillors decide to not only rescind the five cent plastic bag fee, but also ban plastic bags themselves.

Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) played this video for her council colleagues during a day-long debate about repealing the plastic bag fee.

Rob Ford began today hoping that his colleagues would agree to rescind the five cent plastic bag fee. It was unclear whether he had the votes—many progressive councillors resisted, saying that the policy was working (as evidenced by the fact that plastic bag use has declined dramatically since that fee’s introduction) and that the environmental benefits were worth preserving.

Ford won, in the end—though it’s hard to say he’ll go home feeling happy. While council acceded to his bid to kill the fee on plastic bags, in an unexpected twist, they also voted to ban plastic bags themselves. As of January 1, 2013, retailers will be prohibited “from providing customers with single-use plastic carryout (shopping) bags, including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar.”

It’s a major loss for the mayor, who came out strongly opposed to the fee, and made a rare speech on the floor of council on the subject. (Opening of that speech: “Has it been a success? Absolutely it has. But it is really irritating people.”) It was also an unexpected one, unlike earlier losses on the budget and transit, emerging frenetically from a long debate which most of the time seemed remarkable only for being so predictable. And then came the motions to ban bags outright: first one from progressive councillor Anthony Perruzza (Ward 8, York West) with a start date of January 2014, and much more surprisingly, another from David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale), who sits on the mayor’s Executive Committee and is generally an ally of Ford’s, to start much sooner, January 2013. That latter motion is the one that passed, by a vote of 24-20—especially surprising since a few minutes earlier, councillors had decided that the recommendation to kill the bag fee should stand.

In short, observers who expected councillors to be both in favour of the fee (which provides one type of limit on bag use) and in favour of a ban (which precludes getting them entirely) were confounded, as they killed the fee but enacted the ban. The bottom line message was that if bags are problematic, we should ban them, not empower retailers to profit from their sale.

Ford left the council chamber shortly after the vote. His advisors will no doubt be spending the evening trying to piece together the politics of the day, and how they lost on a motion they didn’t anticipate from a councillor they thought they could count on.