TORONTO, Ontario, Canada, November 28, 2012 (ENS) - Toronto City Council today threw out its controversial plastic bag ban. City Council voted 38-7 to approve a motion by Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong that kills the ban they adopted in July.
The ban on single-use plastic bags in Canada's largest city would have taken effect on January 1, 2013.
"We've made a decision. There is no ban on bags," said Minnan-Wong, who chairs the Public Works Committee. "There is no five-cent charge [for bags.] We have spent enough time at council dealing with this. We need to move forward."
So at this point, the Toronto City Council has endorsed a policy that calls for a ban on plastic bags, but today defeated the by-law implementing that policy.
Toronto's political struggle over plastic bags began on June 1, 2009 when a five-cent plastic-bag fee approved by City Council under then Mayor David Miller, took effect. Retailers kept the five cents they collected for each single-use plastic carry bag they sold.
On May 14, 2012 Councillor Michelle Berardinetti asked the Executive Committee to consider a proposal asking retailers to donate the proceeds of the plastic bag fee to the City's efforts to maintain the tree canopy, reopening the issue of the plastic bag fee.
Mayor Rob Ford, an opponent of the plastic bag fee, saw an opportunity to propose doing away with it.
On June 6, Council agreed to eliminate the bag fee, but, in a blow to Mayor Ford, Councillor David Shiner proposed banning plastic bags altogether based on environmental concerns.
Without public debate or consultation, this new policy was approved by City Council that same day.
Toronto's bag ban bylaw faced opposition from environmentalists, retailers and taxpayers' advocates. A coalition of 15 organizations protested at City Hall in October, warning that eliminating plastic bags would cause job losses in the plastic industry and would not reduce pollution because people would switch to paper bags, which take more energy to produce.
The Canadian Plastics Industry Association had also threatened to sue the City of Toronto if it implemented the plastic bag ban.
On November 14, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee drafted language for a plastic bag ban by-law, sending it to the next full meeting of city council for a vote.
The next day the Ontario Convenience Stores Association mounted a legal challenge to the by-law in Ontario Superior Court. The ban was being implemented without proper consultation, the group argued in court documents.
On November 28, after a 20 minute briefing from its legal advisors, City Council rejected the draft bag ban by-law.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association expressed relief that City Council backed away from the ban.
"This is a good day for small businesses in Toronto and we commend Toronto City Council for their thoughtful reconsideration of this by-law and the impact it would have had on convenience stores" said Dave Bryans, CEO of the Ontario Convenience Stores Association.
"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," Bryans said.
Under the council's rules, it will now take a two-thirds majority vote to reopen the bag ban issue within the next year.
City Council also asked its staff to prepare a report on "the benefits and implications of a range of measures to reduce the use and disposal of plastic bags in Toronto." That report is due in June 2013.
Meanwhile, Mayor Ford is vowing to appeal a court ruling that has ordered him out of office on a matter unrelated to plastic bags.
In his November 26 ruling, Justice Charles Hackland concluded that Ford's decision to speak about and vote on an item that freed him from repaying $3,150 in improper donations to his football charity amounted to "willful blindness."
The judge suspended his decision for 14 days so that the city can sort out an administrative path forward.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.
Cover photo: Toronto City Hall by ooburai @ flickr.com. Licensed by Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)