Toronto’s five-cent tax on plastic bags could soon be a thing of the past with Mayor Rob Ford promising to take on the nickel charge next week.
The mayor’s executive committee will consider the five-cent fee at its meeting Monday when it hears from staff on a plan to encourage major retailers to direct some of the estimated $5.4-million they collect annually from the charge to preserving the city’s tree canopy.
“I am going to try to get rid of it,” Mr. Ford said Friday when asked about the fee. “I believe the taxpayers don’t want to pay the five cents any more. It is actually six cents with the HST.”
Executive committee member Councillor Michelle Berardinetti is pushing to keep the tax as a way to raise badly needed money to protect the city’s trees.
The city faces a major challenge replacing its aging stock of trees, a situation that will be made worse by the destruction caused by the emerald ash borer. Replacing trees attacked by the invading insect is expected to cost the city $10-million annually over the next six years.
While a city bylaw requires merchants to charge a nickel as a way to discourage the use of plastic bags, money collected from the fee remains with retailers. Under the proposal to be discussed at Monday’s meeting, the city’s Office of Partnerships and the Parks, Forestry and Recreation department would approach retailers, asking them to donate to a new fund. Merchants could claim a charitable donation and could display a notice to indicate their participation in helping the city’s trees.
Asked about the plan, Mr. Ford said, “I can’t support that. How are we going to go into the businesses? I don’t know how it can be done.”
Mr. Ford said it is up to businesses to decide if they want to contribute to a fund for the city’s trees.
Ms. Berardinetti said she hopes to go forward with her plan, with or without the mayor’s support.
The first-term councillor, who requested the staff report, said she already has one merchant’s support for the plan and has circulated a two-page report from her office to fellow councillors to lay out the merits of her plan.
“Maybe he hasn’t read the report,” she said of Mr. Ford’s continued opposition to the fee.
Toronto residents, she said, will have to pay to maintain the city’s trees if not through the bag tax, then through property taxes.