The City Council annuls the ordinance on bags but don’t worry they will make another one

Although council repealed the bylaw by a wide margin, a majority still favors crafting a new one with the same intent, to be introduced when Calgarians are in a better mood.

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Blanket zoning sucked the air out of the paper bags. That’s one way to look at Tuesday’s sparse turnout, just five speakers, at a public hearing on reversing the big bag bug.

The repeal passed with a comfortable 12-3 vote at the city council. Today, you don’t have to pay 15 cents for a paper bag, a clerk isn’t required to offer you a paper bag, and no one will be fined $250 for breaking the rules since they no longer exist.

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The hearing was a quiet affair, especially after more than 700 people spoke during nearly two weeks of hearings on the proposed bylaw to convert single-family detached neighborhoods to multifamily.

The controversy over the bag bylaw (January’s spectacularly hot topic) was absorbed by the much more important zoning bylaw.

Public hearing fatigue may explain why so few speakers showed up Tuesday. But as several councilors point out, this does not mean that people have completely forgotten.

Few city council measures have ever seemed so insignificant and invasive. After years of being told that paper bags are good because they’re not plastic, they suddenly became bad.

That didn’t make much sense until it was revealed to be part of a much broader environmental agenda.

I treasure the following comment from a city official, quoted above, which showed the broader city council ideology behind the assault on paper bags.

They are “much easier to recycle, but we have to think about the life cycle cost of that paper bag,” this senior bureaucrat told the council.

“If we can bring our own bags from home, then we won’t have to worry about trees being cut down and logging trucks bombing forest roads scaring recreationists, or about pulp mills and the storage and transportation of those bags of paper”.

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So it wasn’t about paper bags at all. The real target was forestry, one of Canada’s most important (and sustainable) industries. A harmless and compostable product was in the crosshairs.

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The thought of social control drove people crazy. More important goals are often hidden behind seemingly minor actions, such as a small exchange charter.

That trend certainly didn’t die Tuesday at City Hall.

Although council repealed the bylaw by a wide margin, a majority still favors crafting a new one with the same intent, to be introduced when Calgarians are in a better mood.

We can all agree that there should be less waste. Long before the ordinance went into effect, many people shopped with their own reusable cloth bags. Paper bags were irrelevant until the city council declared them a threat.

But does the council really have to deal with this issue in the first place?

Councilors remain deeply divided not only over this measure, but also over the very nature of the city council and what it should be doing.

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“It is inappropriate to bring things to the council that are not within its mandate, such as the bag regulation or the climate emergency,” says county district 1. Sonia Sharp.

“We should not focus on these things. We should focus on taxes, infrastructure and public safety – the things that are clearly within our mandate and that are important to people.

“I signed up to represent Calgarians and bring their voices to the horseshoe, not to push things or ideologies.”

Sonya Sharp
Calgary Ward 1 Councilor Sonya Sharp speaks to the media at City Hall on Monday, April 22, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedios

But the council’s very slim majority is committed to doing what they believe is best, not necessarily what voters want.

In his opinion, the real problem is Calgarians who are not properly educated in their way of thinking.

District 12 County. Evan Spencer said the statute was “noble work” that created “a storm on social media.” Now he has to “go back to the drawing board” to achieve the same goal.

Courtney Walcott of District 8, asking the first question of the session, wanted to know how long it would take to craft a new bylaw.

The next 18 months will be about which council faction will win the 2025 election. Candidates will almost certainly run under partisan banners.

It will be a fight that will last years, and they are already in it.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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