Tofino and Ucluelet’s mayors were united in disappointment when the B.C. Court of Appeals ruled in favour of the Canadian Plastic Bag Association and declared the City of Victoria’s plastic bag ban invalid.
“For me, it’s a slap in the face for local governments that are trying to take leadership roles,” Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel told the Westerly News. “It discourages people from changing some of their habits and it makes a mockery of some of the bylaws that local governments are trying to do.”
The Victoria News reported that the city adopted a bylaw on July 1, 2018, that regulated “the issuance and sale of single-use plastic bags,” but that the CPBA challenged that bylaw and the Court of Appeals determined that, while municipalities can regulate businesses, “the dominant, underlying purpose of the bylaw was to protect the natural environment, which falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial government.”
According to the Victoria News, the court concluded that Victoria needed to have sought permission from the province to enact the bylaw, which it did not do.
Both Tofino and Ucluelet’s municipal councils adopted synchronized bylaws last month similar to Victoria’s in that they banned businesses from providing plastic bags or plastic straws to customers.
Noel said Ucluelet has no plans on rescinding that bylaw, but suggested last week’s court ruling will increase skepticism about the West Coast’s efforts to tackle single use plastics.
“For those that are on the fence and for the naysayers, it just supports their case that there’s no point,” he said. “When the courts make decisions like this, it puts us back by 20 years. It doesn’t make any sense with today’s logic about the situation with the environment.”
He added that he viewed plastic bags and straws as a starting point for tackling single-use plastics in general and suggested the provincial government should be leading the charge, rather than relying on municipal governments.
“The province should be doing it, but they’re doing such a [bad] job that us local governments are having to do it,” he said.
In an email to the Westerly News, Tofino mayor Josie Osborne agreed that the province should be taking on a larger role and suggested the court’s decision opens an opportunity to do so.
“While I am disappointed by the court’s decision because it injects uncertainty and delay in the growing movement of municipal regulation of how businesses use single-use plastic items, it also provides a very timely opportunity for the province to demonstrate leadership and follow through on its commitments to reduce plastic pollution,” she said. “A best case scenario would be provincial regulations that eliminate the possibility of a patchwork of municipal regulations that are confusing for retailers and consumers, and in the interim I hope that the province will enable municipalities to continue with their regulatory bylaws.”
She said Tofino was paying close attention to Victoria’s court case “but did not let the fact that the decision was being appealed stand in the way of doing what we felt was the correct action in Tofino,” and noted the court’s decision is specifically directed at Victoria’s bylaw.
“We will continue with our current regulations, and when the Province indicates how it intends to handle the decision, we may re-evaluate our course of action,” she wrote. “Tofino has taken the position that regulation of single-use items is entirely within the municipal authority, but clearly two levels of courts have disagreed whether Victoria’s bylaw—which is similar to ours in many aspects—regulates businesses or regulates the environment.”
She added that Tofino has not heard whether its bylaw will be challenged as well.
“I don’t know whether the Canadian Plastic Bag Association intends to challenge all other municipalities that have enacted plastic item bylaws, but it would obviously be inefficient and expensive, and I can’t imagine for a minute that the Province would permit that to happen,” she wrote. “While it’s up to the City of Victoria to decide whether they will seek leave to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court of Canada, the best and most pragmatic outcome is provincial action that eliminates the need for municipalities to have these bylaws in the first place.”