It was a bug on Mayor Rob Ford's butt since he was elected: a 5 cent fee on all plastic shopping bags. But in the midst of the mayor's many other issues as of late, perhaps it's unsurprising that the vote didn't go exactly according to plan.
In a surprise move yesterday, Toronto city council voted to ban all plastic bags from the city starting in January 2013 in a vote of 24-20. What's more surprising is that the motion was brought by Councillor David Shiner, a conservative on the council and a Ford ally. So sudden was this decision that there's been no research at all about impact or implementation, and to add insult to injury, the move comes just about a month after another embarrassing incident for the mayor involving a Toronto Star reporter.
But perhaps more embarrassing than that is that the cancellation of the bag fee was one of Ford's main platforms when he rain for election as Toronto's mayor in 2010, so the double whammy of no cancellation plus the termination of all plastic bags has got to sting Ford in his political fortunes. “I think we’re gonna get sued," he managed to tell reporters after the initial shock wore off. "I don’t see how we’re gonna win that. It’s gonna be very difficult. It’s not a smart move by council to ban plastic bags. I don’t think it’s gonna hold up.”
What Ford doesn't realize though is that populist support may not be with him on this one. Toronto now joins numerous, diverse communities across North America in banning the plastic bag: Fort McMurray, AB, San Francisco, Seattle, and most recently Los Angeles. Undoubtedly these other towns and cities have had to navigate the legal waters surrounding such a ban, so Ford's argument that his city's lack of forward thinking will yield a wave of post-ban litigation is somewhat alarmist. And even though there's no plan in place as to how Toronto will rid itself of plastic, it's not nearly the impossible mission Ford and other critics would like to people to believe.
Maybe that's because individuals and companies are already making that move. Loblaws has eight stores across Canada, including a superstore in Milton, where plastic bags are not offered as an option at all. A report earlier this year by the Metro chain of stores said that since they began charging 5 cents per bag at all their stores in June 2009 demand has gone down 80 per cent. People's behaviour can be attenuated, whether they like it or not, and like paying taxes, the people may grumble, but most of them realize it's for the greater good, and that's especially considering there's a 100 million tonnes of plastic floating out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as an artificial island of its own.
But what about the political implications for Ford? Well this is a big hit considering how hard he fought against the bag fee, characterizing it as a huge overstep by the left-leaning Toronto city council. For the attempted repeal of the ban to come back on him so back-handedly, and by a councillor he considered a supporter, does not bod well for Ford's agenda for the second half of his term. He's already been snaked by his own gaffs, and his attempts to restructure transit in his own image of what it should look like. By comparison, this vote should have been a cake walk, but instead it comes across as a full-blown revolt.
So now what? Can we say now officially that the Ford Revolution is over? I'm not sure I'd go that far. He does still have broad support for his efforts to create a more fiscally responsible and to keep taxes low, but neither of those two agendas was served by repealing the bag fee. Since even his own allies now seem to think there's value in being green, perhaps Ford to should consider that his own ideas may not necessarily be the only ones that work to the benefit of his city.