Mayor Rob Ford asked council to get rid of the bylaw that requires stores to charge 5 cents for plastic shopping bags.
Instead, council got rid of plastic shopping bags.
In a major embarrassment for Ford, his effort to kill the fee boomeranged on him in stunning fashion on Wednesday, when council voted 24-20 to prohibit retailers from giving out or selling any plastic shopping bags, “including those advertised as compostable, biodegradable, photodegradable or similar,” as of Jan. 1, 2013.
The vote — on a surprise motion from Councillor David Shiner, a conservative Ford ally — would not have occurred if Ford had not brought the issue to the council floor. To the consternation of other conservatives, it was imposed without any consultation with major retailers or study by city legal or economic officials.
Ford earned a consolation victory: council also approved his original proposal to eliminate the fee bylaw. That means retailers will be allowed to hand out plastic bags for free between July 1 and Dec. 31 this year. But they will then have to distribute non-plastic bags or no bags at all.
Fort McMurray, Alta.; San Francisco and Seattle, among other U.S. cities; and countries including Italy have already imposed plastic bag bans. Toronto is the first major Canadian city to do so.
Ford appeared upset after the vote, blinking rapidly, though he told reporters he had succeeded in doing “what people wanted” by getting the fee bylaw scrapped. When it was pointed out that he had also inadvertently gotten plastic bags banned, he said council’s decision “doesn’t make any sense.”
“I think we’re gonna get sued. I don’t see how we’re gonna win that. It’s gonna be very difficult. It’s not a smart move by council to ban plastic bags. I don’t think it’s gonna hold up,” Ford said.
The Retail Council of Canada did not respond to a request for comment late Wednesday. A spokesperson for Loblaw said the company already has eight stores across Canada where bags are not offered, including a Real Canadian Superstore in Milton.
“We have good experience in the area of bagless stores,” said the spokesperson, Julija Hunter, in an email. She would not say whether Loblaw would go bag-free or offer paper bags in Toronto.
The Canadian Plastics Industry Association immediately blasted the decision, though executive Marion Axmith said it was too soon to say whether the group would challenge the ban in court.
“We’re pleased that council rescinded the bag fee bylaw because bags are not an environmental problem. We’re shocked, however, that they moved to ban bags, because there will be no winners here. The residents of the city, the environment, the industry, no winners whatsoever. Jobs in the city will be lost, and investment in the city will be lost,” said Axmith, director general of issues.
Shiner, one of Ford’s most loyal allies, said he spontaneously came up with his motion in the middle of Wednesday’s meeting. A Ford opponent, Councillor Anthony Perruzza, had already proposed a ban for 2014; that proposal failed on a 22-22 tie before council approved Shiner’s proposal to begin the ban in 2013.
Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) served as Mel Lastman’s budget chief and ran for provincial office in 2007 as a Progressive Conservative. Citing environmental concerns and calling plastic bags “junk,” he told reporters that the ban is “the most progressive move that this council has ever had.”
Shiner dismissed criticism of its sudden imposition, saying it is simply the right thing to do. And he attempted to frame the move in fiscal terms. “Less plastic use equals less plastic in the garbage, less litter in the street, and ultimately less cost to taxpayers,” he told council.
Ford did not campaign on eliminating the bag fee bylaw, which has cut plastic bag use in half. He has said that he was persuaded to pursue the matter by people who have called him to complain about it.
“Has it been a success? Absolutely, it has. But it’s really irritating people,” he told council.
Councillor Gord Perks, a Ford opponent and former environmental activist, said the mayor has only himself to blame for the defeat. He said Ford was “reckless” in asking council to make a decision on the fee without study or consultation.
“He continues to block good governance,” Perks said. “Typical of this mayor — thinking and public policy don’t seem to go together.”