Bagging for change by banning plastic bags

The Complex Laws Stopping the City of St. John's from Banning Plastic Bags

The city of St. John’s is not able to ban plastic bags because an old provincial law is still under review. However, city council continues to support the ban provincewide. 

Melissa Wong

Capital cities such as Montreal and Victoria are banning plastic bags. Halifax is in the process of getting rid of them, too. However, St. John’s, the capital city of Newfoundland, has been unable to enact a ban.

“The city is not blocking the ban,” said Max Liboiron, an assistant geography professor at Memorial University and director of the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research. “I believe you’re looking at a provincial issue.”

Other municipalities in Newfoundland and Labrador have been able to ban plastic bags.

Nain banned plastic bags in 2009, followed by Fogo Island, Makkovik, and Postville. So far, St. John’s has been unable to do the same. Instead, some St. John’s businesses provide cash incentives to encourage customers to use reusable cloth bags.

Cloth bags on a kitchen floor.
Businesses in St. John’s encourage customers to use cloth shopping bags, but environmentalists say a ban is needed. Melissa Wong/Kicker

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary said small cash incentives are not effective.

“Research has demonstrated it actually has a very little impact on the amount of plastic consumption that continues to happen,” said O’Leary. “. . . In order to be effective, it would require a much higher fee to discourage people from using plastic available.”

To create a real change, a ban on all plastic bags is needed, O’Leary said.

The St. John’s City Act

St. John’s City Council cannot place a ban on plastic bags because a legislative ruling has ensured that St. John’s is treated differently from other communities such as Fogo Island. This legislative law is called the St. John’s City Act. The act requires the municipal government to act in accordance with the province.

According to the St. John’s City Act:

“The council shall have power to make rules, regulations, and by-laws for the purpose of putting into effect the powers and performing the functions and duties vested or imposed by this Act in or on the mayor and council or an official of the city, provided always that those rules, regulations, and by-laws shall not be contrary to the laws of the province.”

This act means the city cannot enact a ban unless the province consents to it.

The city of St. John’s Act is now under review, but the jury is still out. In the meantime, the council has already voted three times in support of the ban.

“We are continuing to lobby”

The city of St. John’s is lobbying to get the Act updated, and it is currently under review. In the meantime, to support the ban on plastic bags the municipal government has joined forces with other municipal governments across Newfoundland. They are lobbying the provincial government to ban plastic bags.

“This request falls in the hands of minister Eddie Joyce . . .who is the minister of Affairs and Environment, and that is who we are continuing to lobby,” said O’Leary.

“That is where the power lies,” O’Leary says. “And that’s why all our efforts are focused on the province.”

Eddie Joyce has not responded to emails or phone calls to discuss the provincial government’s stance on the ban on plastic bags. The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment did respond to inquiries by email, but Kicker avoids publishing emailed responses from government whenever possible.


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