Nfld. & Labrador

A plastic bag ban is too 'heavy-handed,' says business group

Should government impose a ban on single use plastic bags? The Canadian Federation of Independent Business says no.

'In this world some people need rules,' warns Corner Brook Coun. Keith Cormier

The City of St. John's has spent nearly half a million dollars to build a fence to keep plastic bags contained in the Robin Hood Bay Landfill. But as you can see, many bags still pollute the woods nearby. (CBC)

A group that represents small businesses in Newfoundland and Labrador is calling for caution in the plastic bag ban debate.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), which represents 2,000 businesses, says a government ban on single-use plastic bags would be heavy-handed, and other options should be considered first.

During Monday night's city council meeting, the City of St. John's passed a motion to support a ban on plastic bags.

Although the city doesn't have the legislative authority to ban plastic bags in St. John's, it can — and has voted to — support Municipalities NL's effort to have the government ban bags across the province. 

Vaughn Hammond, CFIB director of provincial affairs, proposes a voluntary plastic-free approach, like the one introduced on Fogo Island last year.

"Our tendency to regulate in this province, I think we need to step back from it," he said.

Vaughn Hammond, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, is asking government to take a "cautious approach" when considering whether to ban single-use plastic bags. (CBC)

"We need to fully understand what other alternatives are available, and we think from looking at Fogo Island there are a number of alternatives that can be used."

In August 2015, businesses on Fogo Island switched to paper bags. Hammond describes is as a voluntary ban which he says is an important distinction.

Some people will care, and unfortunately in this world some people need rules.- Corner Brook Coun. Keith Cormier

"Small business owners are voluntarily taking it upon themselves to remove plastic bags from their businesses based upon their own personal views or because they see a cost savings," said Hammond.

"And if that's something we can encourage and something that we can promote, maybe that will negate the need for an outright regulation like the plastic bag ban."

According to Hammond, some businesses on Fogo Island have since reintroduced plastic bags because of customer demand.

'Some people need rules'

Government should look at education and other types of incentives before considering a ban, Hammond added.

But Corner Brook Coun. Keith Cormier said sometimes choice doesn't work.

Corner Brook Coun. Keith Cormier supports the idea of a plastic bag ban. (CBC)

"Some people will care, and unfortunately in this world some people need rules," said Cormier.

"Not everybody fastens their seatbelts so we have rules. Not everybody doesn't drink and drive so we need rules. And I believe down the road, we're going to need rules put in place so we don't put any more plastic in the landfills."

Municipalities NL has been lobbying government to ban single-use plastic bags, something Cormier said was "a great start."

"When the municipal leaders that represent 90 per cent of the population do that, then the government has to take notice," he said.

Meanwhile, the department of Environment and Climate Change says the process to examine the possibility of a ban is in the early stages, and includes the Municipal Affairs, Service NL, and the Multi-Materials Stewardship Board.


Carolyn Stokes


Carolyn Stokes is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and frequently cohosts Here & Now.

Files from Colleen Connors