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Public-works head wary of plastic bag ban’s precedent

Plastic bags, including biodegradable ones like from Noah's Natural Foods, will be banned from Toronto vendors starting in 2013.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

Procedural wrangling is the wrong way to stop a controversial ban on plastic bags, says the head of Toronto's public works committee.

Toronto city council in June endorsed a plan to ban retailers from supplying single-use plastic bags beginning on Jan. 1. Since then, some councillors have expressed second thoughts about the off-the-cuff move, and Mayor Rob Ford has vowed to do all he can to fight what he describes as an "outright stupid" decision by council.

For the ban to take effect, council must pass a bylaw at its next meeting later this month, and opponents of the measure see this as a chance to undo the decision without the two-thirds majority usually required to reverse a vote within a year.

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Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, whose committee will hear public comments on the proposed bylaw next week, says trying to overturn the ban by defeating the bylaw would thwart the will of council and open the door to revisiting issues again and again.

"You are setting a precedent and a practice where all of a sudden it becomes okay to turn down any decision and every decision when the bylaw gets approved, so we will be reopening potentially every decision for a new discussion," he said on Wednesday.

"I'm not sure that council really wants to take that course of action," cautioned Mr. Minnan-Wong, a member of the mayor's executive committee. "We have long enough debates right now. I don't know whether we want to torture ourselves with going through debates twice on the same item."

A staff report on the new bylaw will be considered on Wednesday by the public works committee. It estimates it would cost the city about $400,000 to tell the public and retailers about the ban – $25,000 this year and $375,000 in 2013. With less than two months before the ban is to take effect, it also recommends not imposing any fines until July, 2013.

City solicitor Anna Kinastowski has said she cannot 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 last month after a bid to reopen the debate with a two-thirds majority failed in a 27-18 vote.

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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