The Friday Rant: Ban City Council From Banning Anything

The Friday Rant

8 minute read

June 8, 2012

Are we all mature enough to engage in a nice, healthy debate?

I’m fully against the plastic bag ban, and if you can please forgive my rant, I’ll tell you why…

On Wednesday afternoon, Toronto City Councillor David Shiner spontaneously moved a motion that Toronto ban all plastic bags.

Shiner himself admitted that he wasn’t planning the motion, and that the idea just came to him on the spot.

People of Toronto, I ask you: is this what we want from our City Council?  To come up with radical ideas on the spot, spontaneously, and some might say “recklessly,” and then pass them without any input from Torontonians?  Without any studies, reports, or research of any type?

I admittedly am against the “plastic bag ban,” but it’s not because I’m a capitalist, a right-winger, a neo-conservative, a middle-class member, or anything else I’ve been accused of being on this blog.

It’s because I don’t think it’s practical, I don’t think it’s necessary, and I don’t think City Council thought it through.

Let me explain, one item at a time.

1) Practicality

I’m not being lazy here, believe me.  I’m not trying to suggest that bringing my own bags is a hardship, but rather it’s not always practical, and thus the consumer (not to mention the retailer – we’ll get to that), should be able to decide.

Here are three situations I want to describe:

a) A massive Sunday grocery shopping excursion to Loblaws.  In this case, there should be no reason for me to use plastic bags.  I am planning in advance to go for a massive shopping excursion, I’m in my car, and I can bring eco-friendly bags with me – or just leave them in my car 24/7!

b) An unplanned purchase of goods.  This is where things get murky, because personally, I don’t think the onus should be on Torontontians to carry a plastic bag with them at all times.  There is NOTHING else on this planet that we must carry with us at all times (driver’s license?  passport?  medication?), and yet now we must carry a plastic bag unless we want to walk out with our hands full.  I keep an eco-bag in my car for when I need it, but what if I don’t have one?

b) An impulsive purchase from a pop-in to a local shop.  This is where it hurts the shop-owners.  If I’m walking along Queen Street West on a sunny afternoon, and I walk into a store selling novelties, or “widgets” to use a business-term that can refer to any product, I might not decide to buy 18 widgets if I can’t put them in a bag and carry them out.  What if these widgets are fragile?  Or dirty?  Or wet?  Or cumbersome?  I might not buy these 18 widgets if I have to carry them in my arms all the way home!

I just don’t think it’s practical to ban plastic bags in every and all case.

This afternoon I went into Sobey’s to buy a few things for my fridge at the office – two pre-made sandwiches, a bunch of bananas, some of those packaged hard-boiled eggs (yes, I know you all think they’re gross, but what can I say?) and a few apples.  After the plastic bag ban, do I really have to stuff eggs into my pockets, and put bananas down my pants?

Oh wait – I forgot – I have to carry a plastic bag on me at all times.  Check.

So what about when I walk into Subway?  They roll up the sandwich in a flimsy piece of paper, fold the corners, and then put it into a plastic bag.  Now what?  Do I have to hold it with all my might and ensure it doesn’t unravel and fall into the street?  Or do they use a rubber-band?  Is rubber better for the landfill than plastic?  See my point #3 for why this doesn’t matter…

2) Necessary?  Necessity?

Is it NECESSARY to ban plastic bags?

I mean BAN them?  Like make them illegal?

There are a lot of issues in Toronto in 2012, and I can’t believe that this one is at the forefront of City Council’s agenda.

I’m thinking about the long-boarder who got run over by a cab driver on King Street two weeks ago.  What became of this?  There are so many things that need to be ironed out!  Do long-boarders need to wear helmets?  What about cyclists?  What about roller-bladers?  What about people on those really odd horizontal cycles?  And who goes on the road and who goes on the street?  Did you know that long-boarders are supposed to be on the sidewalks?

I was shocked that after this incident, City Council didn’t undertake to sort out the mess on our roads.  The “war on cars” and the battle between cyclists and motorists is raging, but the streets aren’t safe because, in my opinion, they’re not regulated.  Nobody knows who is supposed to be on the sidewalk and who is supposed to be on the street; who is supposed to wear a helmet and who isn’t; and who has the right of way in what situation.

And that’s just one issue in our city, out of thousands.

But Toronto City Councillors were too busy “spontaneously” voting to ban plastic bags to deal with real issues that affect our citizens.

And what did we get from City Council in terms of an explanation?  They just re-directed us to their various web-sites for pre-fab notations about plastic bags being banned in other cities.  There’s no substance there; no reason why this was done, and more importantly, why it was necessary.  What affect are the plastic bags having on Toronto?  What would be the results of the ban in terms of our economy, or environment, and the feelings of our citizens and retailers?

Oh, wait, they didn’t do any homework.  Which leads into my third point:

3) City Council didn’t do any background.

The key word here is “spontaneous.”  David Shiner admitted that this idea wasn’t planned, and it just came to him.

It’s like City Council got together to decide what pizza toppings to put on their two mediums thin-crusts, and in the end, they ordered Swiss Chalet.

They didn’t consult anybody.

There were no staff reports

There was no committee.

There were no deputations.

They didn’t survey their constituents; they just acted swiftly, and if the reaction today is any indication, I might say “recklessly” as well.

Mississauga mayor, Hazel McCallion, said, “I think there are implications that have to be looked at.   I believe that when you are going to ban something or you’re going to put any legislation in, you should do an impact study, and I don’t know if Toronto has done one.”  Well said, by a woman with more years of public service than almost everybody on City Council combined.

Rob Ford said today (and haters can think what they want about this…) that 80% of the calls coming in to City Council today are opposed to the plastic bag ban.  So WHY did City Council make this motion?  Was there something they didn’t know about here?  Or are they the new moral authority?

Is City Council determining what is right and wrong now?  Can I still put salt on my steak even though it’s bad for me?  Can I use Drano to unclog my toilet?

What’s next?

Everybody has a different opinion on the matter, and the newspapers, talk-radio shows, and news stations are all abuzz.

You can try to sway people to the left or to the right.

The Toronto Star headlined with “Toronto Joins A Growing Club,” which of course, puts a positive spin on the issue.

The Globe & Mail headlined with “Toronto’s ‘Ludicrous’ Plastic Bag Ban Was A Rush Move,” which demonstrates their views, and that of their target readers.

CFRB 1010 and AM 640 both dedicated hours of banter to the issue today, and the reaction was mixed, but I will say (and you’ll have to believe me) that a large majority of the callers and hosts were against the bag-ban.  Maybe only those opposed are the ones that want to call in, but regardless, I didn’t hear anybody in favour make a reasonable argument.

One caller suggested something to the extent of, “This is good for our economy because if we start using paper bags, then Ontario would be a great place to produce paper, and it will create jobs.”  But is that why we’re doing this?  Is City Council looking out for our employment needs?

Another caller reminded us that Los Angeles banned plastic bags, and is on their way to banning paper bags as well!  Of course, you can still carry two handguns into the local pharmacy in some States down south, but screw the plastic bags!

This is the issue I’m having; it seems as if this has turned into a moral debate, whereby City Council is making our environmental considerations for us.  But isn’t this what differentiates us from “some” other countries, where guns are awesome, abortions are terrible, condoms are the devil’s tool even if they protect against disease, and two men in love can’t get married but it’s okay for a rich, white CEO to marry his fourth secretary in a decade?

Okay, I took that a bit far.  And I know some of my readers will tear that apart and throw it back to me, pointing to other moral issues that I’m probably for/against that City Council (or any other level of government) did/didn’t vote on.

Even Globe & Mail columnist Marcus Gee, who I find is often anti-Ford, said the following in his article:

Proponents of the ban argue it will reduce litter and stop landfills from filling up with plastic bags. But bag use is already down by half since the bag fee took effect three years ago and by one estimate plastic bags take up less than 1 per cent of landfill space.

The argument that they don’t break down in landfills for thousands of years doesn’t make much sense. That is a good thing. They just sit there, inert, without degrading and entering the air or water in some other form.

In any case, plastic bags are recyclable. You can toss them in the blue box for shipment to the recycling plant instead of the landfill. Many households practice the second of the three Rs by reusing plastic bags to line garbage bins, hold school lunches or pick up after the dog. In short, the things are darned useful.

Many consumers will now go out and buy plastic bags in bulk for household needs. Others will use paper bags, which consume more energy to produce than plastic ones. It is hard to see how the environment comes out ahead.

If there are good, solid, factual arguments why there is no better option than banning plastic bags, fair enough. Let’s hear them. Instead we got a rushed decision on a feel-good measure. Start hoarding those bags, Toronto.

Well said.

So if plastic bag use is down by half, and if millions of dollars are being collected in fees from the five-cent bags that are bought by us lazy, selfish bastards that are trying to kill the environment, then why not just continue as we were doing, but re-route those millions of dollars towards new trees in Toronto like Councillor Michelle Bererdinetti suggested all along?  All in favour say “yay.”

Or maybe, just maybe, this is about something else.

Conspiracy theorists believe that City Councillors are already jockeying for the next election, and every single move they make is calculated, and aimed at somebody, or some issue.  Some believe that council will vote against anything Rob Ford tables, or vote for anything he’s against.  How mature is that?  Is “honest politician” really the single greatest oxymoron in the history of the English language?

Mr. Ford, of course, blames us:

“If there was a couple hundred thousand people down in Nathan Phillips Square saying they want plastic bags back, yes, then the councillors will listen,” Ford said. “But if people don’t, like I said, take action and don’t get in the councillors’ faces, it’s not going to happen. It’s up to the taxpayers. They have to be more engaged and they’re just not. It’s frustrating when stuff like this happens.”

Geez, I dunno.  I’d hate to think that I have to call up “a couple hundred thousand” of my closest friends to go and protest something that never should have happened in the first place.  I’d hate to think that I have to worry that City Council will make hasty, “ludicrous” decisions without consulting anybody, anywhere, at any time.

Is this what our city has turned into?

Have a great weekend everybody.  Despite the last 2,100 words, it’s not life and death – the weather is nice, so go out and sit on a patio with your friends (hopefully not a couple hundred thousand), have some drinks, enjoy life, and enjoy this great city….while it’s still great.  Sorry, I just had to get one lost shot in there!

Written By David Fleming

David Fleming is the author of Toronto Realty Blog, founded in 2007. He combined his passion for writing and real estate to create a space for honest information and two-way communication in a complex and dynamic market. David is a licensed Broker and the Broker of Record for Bosley – Toronto Realty Group

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  1. Ralph Cramdown

    at 7:09 am

    No blame for a mayor who fails at leadership, again? If he wanted a certain outcome, but didn’t know what council would do, maybe he shouldn’t have advanced the agenda until he DID know. Rather like the old trial lawyer’s maxim: “Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.”

    The mayor should be getting council’s consensus, or at least marshalling a majority, and getting things done. Instead it seems he just randomly introduces motions to see what council will do, and then when he doesn’t get the result he wants, he has the temerity to blame me and you?

  2. lui

    at 8:29 am

    I want to ban panhandlers and squeegie kids from touching my car and pestering me to give them a toonie for food..which I doubt they would use the money for since they are begging outside a LCBO store…I also want to ban drug dealers hanging around my neighborhood and drunks from pissing on my lawn when the bars closes…can the lefties in City Hall do that for me please….

  3. Dan Dickinson

    at 9:07 am

    I was all for the $0.05 fee on plastic bags, though I think the fee should have been diverted to environmental causes rather than into the merchant’s pocket.

    So I was against Ford getting rid of the fee, but manoman…this ban is ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as Ford blaming us. That’s it, I’m getting out of the city for a few days so I can forget about this nonsense. At least until January when I have to start carrying around a burlap sack.

  4. Jewel

    at 10:07 am

    Don’t forget raw meat!

    I’m someone who regularly uses reusable bags. I have a whole stack in the trunk of my car. In fact I used them even before the 5 cent bag fee. They’re stronger, they hold more and that’s why I prefer to use them anyways. But whenever I’m buying raw meat…chicken breast, ground beef, whatever…I always get a plastic bag to put it in.

    I think its really more of a food safety thing. Yes, you’re supposed to wash your reusable bags, but the reality is they won’t get washed after every single use. And sometimes those meat packages can be a bit “drippy”. For this stuff I want a single-use bag.

    I will use reusable bags 95 percent of the time, but when the situation requires it (either for this reason on any of the ones you mentioned above) they should be available even with a fee.

    1. DavidP

      at 9:41 am

      Try using the produce bags. No fee and you can use them again for collecting compost in the kitchen if you’re in a condo that requires compost to be bagged.

  5. Joe Q.

    at 10:13 am

    I agree that a full plastic-bag ban is shortsighted, but what fascinates me most about this is the context (which I don’t think you mentioned): this all got started during a debate to repeal the five-cent plastic bag fee.

    The mayor wanted to get rid of the plastic bag fee, and instead City Council (led by a conservative, no less) turned the tables on him and went in the opposite direction. It’s like an own-goal, like a heat-seeking missile turning back and blowing up the launch pad, and somewhat emblematic of his whole mayoralty, IMO.

  6. Perfect Fit

    at 12:30 pm

    “The argument that they don’t break down in landfills for thousands of years doesn’t make much sense. That is a good thing. They just sit there, inert, without degrading and entering the air or water in some other form.”

    The part that is missing from this paragraph is what happens during those thousands of years. It takes that long to fully break down. In the meantime, they are releasing chemicals like BPA into the environment. I’m sorry, but I don’t really need those pollutants affecting my daughter and my daughter’s eggs before she’s even grown up.

    Further, there are more options than paper. Hasn’t anyone ever heard of hemp? And what’s to prevent retailers from being able to supply bags that aren’t made of plastic for those spur of the moment purchases?

    I suggest that you watch Plastic Planet on YouTube.

    1. Joe Q.

      at 9:44 pm

      Plastic shopping bags are made of polyethylene, which does not contain BPA or anything like it. BPA is generally only used to make “hard” plastics like polycarbonate.

  7. Moonbeam!

    at 2:21 pm

    Seriously, could anyone have predicted that David Shiner would spring this motion in council right after the bag-fee ban was passed?? Apparently not even he did!! The idea came to him spontaneously, he thinks like a stroke of genius!! and even more bizarre, who could have predicted it would pass??
    So now any councillor with a ‘brilliant spontaneous idea’ could just bring a motion and have it voted on…. When did all this happen?

  8. Philip

    at 3:25 pm

    Hi David
    There’s one thing you’re not taking into account: paper bags still exist and they don’t typically come with a five-cent charge. Spontaneous or not it’s an easy transition. So what’s the fuss?


  9. Mad Max

    at 3:59 pm

    Forget about Ford – all these comments are relating back to him. Its irrelevant. What is relevant is the complete fucking idiocy coming from twats like Shiner. This mutant should be tarred and feathered, and then dragged down yonge street like a captured Marine in Mogadishu.

    1. Moonbeam!

      at 2:43 pm

      I agree — a gaggle of lefties on council pushing their own tree-hugging, Ford-bashing agendas — but totally scary that they can bring a motion & have it passed! What next???

      1. Joe Q.

        at 9:50 pm

        Give me a break. David Shiner is a conservative. He ran for the Conservatives in the 2007 provincial election. He was part of Lastman’s inner circle and clashed repeatedly with David Miller and his allies. He is now (or was) part of Ford’s inner circle. Suddenly he’s a lefty?

  10. jeff316

    at 4:00 pm

    I don’t like the ban much myself, though I think it won’t end up being all that much of an inconvenience. I agree with Joe that this is an own-goal of sorts, although this is one of those things that will likely help Ford get his vote out again in the next election. This, subways, LRT, etc. all help to create a nice re-election narrative of “you elected me to do x but council wouldn’t let me” for him.

  11. DavidP

    at 9:39 am

    I don’t mind the plastic bag ban, but I think this was all in reaction to Rob Ford’s un-studied, un-consulted motion to do away with the 5 cent fee. It’s one huge high school mess over at city hall right now.

    Personally I liked the 5 cent fee. It’s a nominal amount that encouraged me to bring my own bag more.

  12. Rachel Vanderveen

    at 4:50 pm

    Aaaaand I just pushed RSS. YES! Why is the government constantly trying to legislate our lives??? We lose freedom with every excessive law that gets put through. Plastic bag or not. Every single law that comes into place needs more scrutiny than some guy being like, “Hey, dudes, this law just popped into my mind. What say we pass it?” Good post.

  13. George

    at 3:34 pm

    We are only hurting ourselves with this plastic bag ban. It will do next to nothing for the environment. Laws that provide noticeable annoyance with unnoticeable benefits should not be made.

    1. Irene

      at 6:36 pm

      Hi George,
      No offense but banning plastic bags will do a lot for the environment. I think you need to do a little more research before you make such blanket statements.
      Check out Plastic Planet on Youtube.

      1. George

        at 10:01 am

        I meant that banning them in Toronto alone won’t make a noticeable change, especially in Toronto since our garbage goes elsewhere. I was thinking from a Toronto-centric point of view, which is what the councilors should be doing too. It is not up to the local government to attempt to save the world. A national ban on plastic bags would be something I could support. A local one just inconveniences the locals.

  14. Jason

    at 10:09 am

    But why ban plastic bags? Why not just require retailers to offer biodegradable plastic bags. Surely our 5 cent bag tax would cover the cost of those and if not raise it to do so.

    One of the biggest problems with recycling is so many products are made from multiple types of plastic which makes it difficult to recycle. In fact some of the most efficient recycling plants in the world only recycle 20% of what’s collected for them.

    If we really want to do away with bags and help the environment just change the rules ensuring products are packaged with material that is easy to recycle and use biodegradable plastic gabs. Problem solved.

    1. jeff316

      at 11:42 am

      Biodegradable bags do not solve the problem. They just break down into bits of plastic.

      1. Joe Q.

        at 7:15 pm

        Some behave as you have described — others (such as PLA, “compostable plastic”) are completely digested by bacteria and leave nothing behind.

  15. Natalie

    at 11:44 am

    I agree its ludicrous. You know what else is? Double Land Transfer Taxes pinned on Toronto residents.
    Toronto home prices are skyrocketing and the Land Transfer Tax seems overbearing when the City’s budget has a surplus. I have started a petition to reduce Toronto Land Transfer Taxes so that is is in line with every other municipality in Ontario (and not double!) Any help (signatures and promotion) is greatly appreciated.

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