Last Thursday, city council voted to ban plastic bags beginning January 2013. Political implications about our mayor’s relationship with council aside, it was no big deal. Get in line and join the club. Toronto is not the first municipality in Canada seeking to enact such a ban. Not even close.
Yet some who aren’t necessarily against the idea of banning plastic bags found the process with which council went about it detrimental, let’s call it. “Irresponsible,” Torontoist’s Steve Kupferman suggested. “There’s a real chance this move could prove to be a disaster,” Matt Elliott wrote for Metro’s Urban Compass.
Really, guys? Really?
I get that how the vote came to be was out of the ordinary. Oh yeah, I’ll admit that it was impulsive even. Items are traditionally studied before coming to council. Staff delivers reports. They are put through the committee wringer.
All for very good reasons. Councillors should have all the facts there are to have before them ahead of making decisions. To be as informed as possible in order to facilitate easy implementation.
I get it.
But strange times call for strange measures. There’s a gaping agenda hole that needs be filled. Mayor Ford seems intent on whiling away the next couple years campaigning and repealing much of what council achieved over the course of the Miller years. It’s legislative entropy. Without some pushback from the rest of council, the entire apparatus might collapse into itself.
It wasn’t as if it all came right out of the blue, out of left field. They weren’t talking bike lanes or economic development and – boom! – suddenly there’s two plastic bag ban motions. The mayor brought plastic bags to the table. He wanted to rescind the 5¢ fee retailers were supposed to charge for them. As the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale pointed out in his calm, even-handed article, “…once a proposal is brought to a meeting of the whole council, any councillor can propose an amendment to the policy in question — and have the amendment decided upon once and for all on that same day.”
Shit happens in other words. Mayor Ford came to council unprepared for any sort of possible curve in the road. Caught flat-footed by an audible called at the line of scrimmage, he had no back up game plan. It was a rear-guard fight he didn’t have the forces at his disposal to fend off.
This should come as no surprise. Since the bruising transit battle in the spring, the mayor has cast himself in the role of opposition. He’s reactive not proactive; rejecting not building. All with an eye toward finding that one thing that’ll get him in good with ‘taxpayers’ again, that one issue to re-ignite the ire of Ford Nation.
It’s a game of counter-punching now. Unless or until council seizes control of some of the key committees at midterm this fall, we should get used to legislation being made in an extemporaneous manner. As John McGrath wrote back in March, “Every. Single. Decision. From here on out everything the city does is going to be decided on an absurd, ad hoc basis…Toronto’s going to lurch from one battle to another as the two sides at council try to poach votes from the centre.”
But I don’t see this as necessarily a bad thing or an institutional crisis. (Do I think our municipal governance needs some tweaking? Absolutely). This is simply a crisis of… no, let’s not use such catastrophic language… a failure of leadership. Up until the mayoralty of Rob Ford, the amalgamated city of Toronto admirably muddled through for 13 years. Our current cris—predicament is about one guy and the strictest of his ideological adherents.
And as Mr. Dale points out in his article, we’re not in uncharted waters with the plastic bag ban. “Unlike the federal and provincial legislatures, which take months to turn an idea into law,” Dale writes, “council regularly makes policy changes on the fly.” City staff will still write up a full report. If council’s smart, they’ll make time for public deputations. “Since the actual bylaw has not yet been approved, only a council motion,” Dale goes on to say, “the city could still hold public meetings or otherwise allow for corporate feedback. But spokesperson Wynna Brown said ‘it’s premature to speculate on next steps at this point.’”
Leave the speculation to Mayor Ford. That’s really all he’s got. For the rest of us, as the t-shirts and fridge magnets recommend, Stay Calm and Carry On. The wheels of municipal government must keep turning even if it’s unclear who’s at the wheel.
— improvisationally submitted by Cityslikr