There will be no bag ban after all.
The prohibition on "single-use" plastic shopping bags, passed by a surprise council vote in June, was supposed to come into effect on January 1, 2013.
But two industry associations have since sued the city over the ban, and on Wednesday councillors voted 38-7 not to enact the bylaw that would bring it into effect.
Emily Alfred of the Toronto Environmental Alliance said the decision was "definitely disappointing."
"It's bad news for the environment, bad news for Torontonians," she said. "We're seeing that once again this administration and this council is, unfortunately, moving backward on the environment."
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who moved the motion that nixed the ban, said he believes Wednesday's vote will lay to rest once and for all the controversy around plastic bags, which has been a matter of debate at City Hall for the past five months.
"I hope this will bring closure to the issue of plastic bags," Minnan-Wong said, "as much as closure can ever be found on this council."
In a separate vote, council also requested city staff to report back next June on ways to reduce the use of plastic bags, leaving the door open to revisiting the issue. But Minnan-Wong predicts there will be little will on council to attempt a ban again in 2013.
"Council can go through this craziness if it wants, if they're really interested in this level of self-flagellation," he said. "I'm not."
After the ban was approved by a 27-17 vote this summer, Minnan-Wong urged anyone negatively affected by it to sue the city. Both the Ontario Convenience Stores Association and the Canadian Plastic Bag Association obliged, and earlier this month the groups filed lawsuits charging the ban was passed hastily and without proper public consultation.
The city solicitor advised council on the lawsuits during a closed door session Wednesday morning, and although her advice has not been made public, it appears to have convinced a majority of councillors that going through with ban would be unwise.
A confidential proposal will now be presented to the two industry associations, and Minnan-Wong says he expects it will resolve both legal applications to the satisfaction of the groups and the city.
The aborted bag ban's progress through council has been bizarre and unpredictable. Councillor Michelle Berardinetti first put the issue on the agenda in May, when she floated the idea of using the proceeds of the mandated five-cent fee that retailers charged for the sacks to rejuvenate the city's tree canopy.
Mayor Rob Ford then seized on the chance to scrap the five-cent fee, which he described as an unfair "tax" on shoppers. But when his proposal came to council for a vote in June, Councillor David Shiner shocked his colleagues by moving to ban bags altogether, without any of the staff reports or lengthy public consultations that normally accompany major council decisions. In the end, council voted at the June meeting to both scrap the fee and ban the bags.
Now that the ban's been reversed, Ford finally gets his wish; both the ban and the fee are dead (although nothing prevents stores from continuing to charge five cents for the bags if they choose).
Councillor Gord Perks, who supported the ban, rose on the floor of council Wednesday to sarcastically applaud the mayor's victory.
"Congratulations, Mr. Mayor. You won. That's all that matters to you, I know," he said.
"Thank you. The people won," Ford shot back.
After his council speech, Perks continued his attack on the mayor, accusing him of dropping the ball on environmental issues and tarnishing Toronto's reputation as a green city.
"Torontonians should be really quite frankly appalled at where we've wound up," he said.
"We're actually not doing anything for the environment. So once again, Mayor Ford has shown he's only capable of breaking things."
Councillor Shiner took a more optimistic view however, and said he had no regrets about introducing the ban without the normal consultation process.
"We've definitely moved the item forward. It's on the public agenda," he said. "People are aware about it, they're aware about the fact that [a plastic bag] pollutes the environment, and most people are supportive of us."
Shiner said he hopes to revisit the issue when the staff report on limiting plastic bag use goes to the public works committee next June.