Braid: Public fury sends the bag bylaw packing — but Gondek stays on wrong side

This was also the first big crack in the Gondek majority on council

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City council sent the hated single-use bylaw on a death march Tuesday, by a startling count of 8-7 on the first vote, and 10-5 on the main.

A public hearing must be held in May. There will be arguments for “improving” the bylaw. But it should be left to rest in eternal peace.

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This was more than the impending doom of a wildly unpopular bylaw that turns even paper bags into an environmental enemy.

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It was also the first big crack in the Gondek majority on council. The mayor, who could usually rely on seven other votes, was left with only four allies.

The rest of her crew went to the anti-bylaw gang of six that had become her unofficial opposition.

It shows that an application of common sense from angry voters can overwhelm sclerotic city hall.

With the approval of only 30 per cent of Calgarians, Gondek will now have a hard time rallying council to her causes.

Rather than voting against a motion responding to public opinion, she would have done herself more good by going with the powerful flow.

But no, there she is, virtually alone. On a major issue like this, that hasn’t happened to any mayor I’ve known going all the way back to Al Duerr in the 1990s.

On Tuesday, Gondek hauled the bylaw before council. It was an obvious effort to placate opinion and also push the tax issue into the background.

One councillor after another said they’ve had hundreds of emails from people furious about the new rules that levy charges even for paper bags.

“This blew fireworks out of the water,” said Coun. Sonya Sharp, referring to the uproar over last year’s decision, soon reversed, to ban fireworks on Canada Day.

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When city bureaucrats make their case, you can how see this bylaw was put over on gullible councillors. These officials are deep into behaviour-shaping and social control.

Most of us tend to think paper bags are OK because they’re compostable and biodegradable, right? Give them some time and they return to Mother Earth.

But this bylaw would fine a store clerk $250 for handing you a paper bag without being asked, or failing to charge 15 cents if you do ask.

One official explained why paper bags are the new enemy.

They are “way easier to recycle but we need to think of the life-cycle cost of that paper bag,” this person told council.

“If we can bring our own bag from home, then we don’t have to worry about the trees that were cut down and the logging trucks that bombed along the logging roads scaring recreationalists, and the pulp mills and the storage and the transportation of those paper bags.”

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So, the target wasn’t just landfill congestion or items that never biodegrade. City hall’s aim went all the way to the forestry industry.

A single-use bag is handed to a customer at a fast food drive-thru
Single-use items are causing an uproar in Calgary. Photo taken on Monday, January 29, 2024. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia

These bureaucrats are deeply committed to forced and escalating change.

“There will be initial discomfort as we build new habits,” another official said.

“It will take our collective effort and require a shift in behaviours.”

Such bylaws “have been proven to incentivize behaviour change.”

This attitude is driving people nuts for good reason. During the pandemic, we spent two years obeying government rules.

Many people were OK with that — it was a dangerous illness, after all. Others were furious at damage to their businesses, loss of mobility and the educational harm to their kids.

But hardly anybody of whatever view came out of that bleak time with happy thoughts about government.

Far from fading away, this feeling has metastasized into general mistrust of government rules and mandates.

Now city council spits out a bylaw packed with picky, fussy details, and the insulting assumption that we must be forced into proper behaviour.

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Calgary Council Chambers
Council speaks with administration regarding the single-use items bylaw in the Council Chamber at City Hall on Tuesday, January 30, 2024. Brent Calver/Postmedia

Politicians who didn’t see the fierce reaction coming are truly clueless. They have no sense of their city.

The same councillors who brought the motion against the bag bylaw also introduced one to reduce the 7.8 per cent property tax hike by two points.

Marc Henry, of pollster ThinkHQ, found a trend last December that should terrify the councillors who resist such measures.

Those who opposed the tax hike actually rose in popularity. The ones who favoured it slid even lower.

The question for all of them, Henry says, is, “What side of the line do you want to be standing on?

“Do you want to be on the side that cares about what citizens think, or do you want to be on the side that makes decisions you believe are best for people, regardless of whether they want them or not?”

On Tuesday, several councillors actually got that message.

Not the mayor. Quite soon, 30 per cent approval might look good to her.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

X: @DonBraid

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