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Ford allies fail to stop plastic bag ban, but another manoeuvre could kill it

Mayor Rob Ford and his allies are vowing to keep fighting Toronto's controversial plastic-bag ban after an attempt to stop the prohibition failed Wednesday.

A majority of councillors voted to revisit the issue, but Mr. Ford's camp fell short of the two-thirds support it needed to reopen a decision council took just four months ago.

That means the bag ban should take effect as planned Jan. 1 – unless some elected officials try a procedural manoeuvre that would take council into "uncharted territory," according to the city's top lawyer.

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"Hopefully we can kill it," Mr. Ford said late Wednesday. "That's what the majority of people want but right now we're in limbo."

Mr. Ford said he was frustrated that he was unable to stop the ban, but noted he was just three votes shy of reopening the debate.

"The issue isn't dead," Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, an ally of the mayor, warned. "There are many of us that want this open and we will do whatever we can to re-open the issue."

Opponents have one last chance to kill the bag ban because of the hasty way it was passed.

Back in June, Councillor David Shiner, a conservative and member of the mayor's executive, tacked a surprise motion to ban single-use plastic bags as of Jan. 1, 2013 onto another item.

The prohibition passed, catching city legal staff off-guard.

Normally, a proposal like banning bags would wind its way through committee and public consultations before landing at council, giving the legal department time to draft a bylaw to enforce the provision.

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In this case, the bylaw has to come forward separately, likely in November. When that happens, council could ask for a separate vote on the bylaw and kill it with a simple majority.

Wednesday's vote to re-open the ban was 27-18, an indication that Mr. Ford's side could have the votes necessary to block the bylaw.

City solicitor Anna Kinastowski said she could not predict what would happen if council refused to pass a bylaw enforcing its own ban.

"In my 10 years as city solicitor I've never seen it happen. I've never seen a bylaw not be approved," Ms. Kinastowski said.

"We'll have to deal with it. I'm not going to speculate on what can happen."

During a closed-door session Tuesday night, Ms. Kinastowski reportedly warned councillors that passing the ban without consulting the industry and the public first had left the municipality vulnerable to lawsuits.

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"She said, 'If you want to do this, whether it's a good idea or a bad idea, you did it in absolutely the wrong way,'" said Councillor Peter Milczyn, who moved the failed motion to reopen the item.

Mr. Shiner said he hoped to shield the city from that outcome by asking for public consultations in November.

The public is still in favour of the ban, Mr. Shiner added.

"The mayor said, 'call your councillors.' I had eight phone calls," Mr. Shiner said. "I have 65,000 people in my ward alone, there's 2.5 million in the city. I got eight phone calls. People understand that it's the right thing to do."

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Health reporter

Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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