Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Toronto's plastic bag fee debate buried

Mayor Rob Ford helped hammer the “final nail in the coffin” of Toronto’s five-cent bag fee on Wednesday.

Ford made a surprise appearance at the public works committee to vote to bury the plastic bag debate indefinitely.

The mayor — an ex-officio member of all council committees — didn’t speak during the debate but did cast his vote on the winning side of the 5-2 vote to receive a report on plastic bag reduction strategies “for information.” That result keeps the issue away from council and almost entirely rules out any debate to bring back the bag fee or the ill-fated bag ban for at least a year.

“Torontonians pay enough in taxes, they don’t need to be nickel and dimed every time they go to the store to buy groceries or buy something,” Ford said in a press conference following the vote.

Ford led council in trashing the bag fee last June but at the same debate councillors also ended up voting to ban plastic bags. After a legal challenge, council ended up dropping the ban late last year.

“Today I cast my vote as mayor at the public works and infrastructure committee ... to make sure we put the final nail in the coffin of this plastic bag fee once and for all,” Ford said. “Folks, we have to remember, these (plastic) bags are 100% recyclable and reusable.”

Public works chairman Denzil Minnan-Wong acknowledged the issue could be brought back to council with a two-thirds vote but suspected there was “debate fatigue” around plastic bags.

Councillor Janet Davis tried to get the committee to order city staff to consider a bag fee as part of the city’s long-term waste strategy.

“There is definitely a desire for this government to take proactive action on plastic bags,” Davis said.

A number of councillors lamented the fact the city has spent so much of its time debating plastic bags.

“This council has some sort of Freudian preoccupation with plastic bags,” said Councillor John Parker.

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti hoped the bag fee debate would return after the next election.

“We’ve beat the issue to death and it is something that should be raised in the next term of council,” Berardinetti said.

Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon questioned why council messed with the bag fee in the first place.

“The fee worked, it changed people’s behaviours for the better,” she said. “Why did we go down this weird, slippery slope?”
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