Plastic bags appear set to remain a staple of Toronto shopping in the days ahead, as the public works and infrastructure committee voted Wednesday to shelve a report on options the city might pursue to reduce their general use.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford also took part in the morning vote, telling reporters that he wanted to help drive "the final nail in the coffin" on a proposed bag ban that was voted in last year, but quashed in November before it could be implemented at the start of this year.
The mayor is an ex-officio member of all committees, which is why he was able to participate in Wednesday’s vote.
His rare appearance at the meeting was noticed by his fellow councillors.
"The mayor doesn't often, if ever, visit standing committees. However, today he's arrived at Public Works to discuss plastic bags," tweeted Coun. Josh Matlow, who is not a member of the committee.
The staff report laid out four options for the city had concerning plastic bags: implementing a mandatory fee once again; going ahead with a ban; implementing neither a ban, nor a mandatory fee; using a public education campaign to reduce the use and disposal of plastic bags.
Single-use plastic bags have been a controversial issue in Toronto for years, with a long-running debate centred on whether consumers should be discouraged from using them.
For three years, Toronto retailers were required to charge consumers five cents for each single-use plastic bag.
A year ago, Ford moved a motion at council to end the mandatory fee. He succeeded in killing it, but council then voted to create a total single-use plastic bag ban that was supposed to come into effect in January.
The mayor has long been opposed to both the bag ban and to the five-cent fee that was previously in effect.
"Torontonians pay enough in taxes. They don’t need to be nickled and dimed every time they go to the store to buy groceries or buy something that they need. It's bad business and it's a major inconvenience for our residents," Ford said Wednesday.
The proposed bag ban was an instant controversy, with Ford predicting that the city would be hit with legal challenges, which it subsequently was. The ban was not brought into effect and in November council asked staff to consider ways the city could drive down use of single-use plastic bags.
Staff issued their report this month. But Thursday's 5-2 vote by the public works committee means that the report has been received only for information.
"I want to make sure the nail is in the coffin. It's done, it's finished," Ford said.
Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, the chair of the public works and infrastructure committee, was similarly fatalistic about the bag ban.
"The item was received. That means the issue is dead and the status quo prevails," he told reporters after the vote.
But he acknowledged that it would not be impossible for some councillors to attempt to revive the issue in future.
"Nothing is ever done at city hall," he said.
Coun. Janet Davis was among the two councillors who had voted against shelving the report.
"It was sad, really, that the works committee decided to completely abandon probably one of the most effective waste-diversion strategies we’ve had," she told reporters Wednesday.