Social engineering, one plastic bag at a time

Starting June 1st, the city of Toronto is mandating that all private businesses charge “a minimum of five cents for each plastic shopping bag requested by the the customer to carry out their purchases”. The City of Toronto, in their benevolent wisdom, also mandate that if the retailer does not offer plastic shopping bags, a free alternative must be offered.

One of the most offensive lines in this document is,

“Retailers are entitled to keep the money received from the plastic bag charge, the money is not remitted to the City of Toronto. While the City does not stipulate what retailers should do with this money, it does support reinvesting the funds in local environmental or community-based initiatives.

You see, it’s not a tax. The city of Toronto is mandating prices.

We also learn,

“Retailers will be prohibited from offering or providing to customers plastic bags that are incompatible with Toronto‚Äôs recycling program (e.g., biodegradable plastic bags, compostable plastic bags or plastic bags with metal detailing or grommets, rope or hard plastic handles)”

Two steps forward, two steps back. Biodegradable plastic bags do not conform to Toronto’s bureaucratic vision of perfection.

Today, in the National Post, we learn that the cloth reusable bags offered at Loblaws and now Metro Inc. grocery stores may contain unacceptable levels of microorganisms.

“The main risk is food poisoning,” Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former chief of medical mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health, stated in a news release. Dr. Summerbell evaluated the study results.

“But other significant risks include skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections,” he stated.

The study found that 64% of the reusable bags tested were contaminated with some level of bacteria and close to 30% had elevated bacterial counts higher than what’s considered safe for drinking water.

Further, 40% of the bags had yeast or mold, and some of the bags had an unacceptable presence of coliforms, faecal intestinal bacteria, when there should have been 0.

If we are to depend upon the benevolence of the state to protect us from ourselves, will Health Canada mandate that every reusable grocery bag be provided with cleaning instructions and warnings of reuse? How will the competing of agendas play out here? Will the city bow before the environmental lobby at the expense of our health?

Environmentalism is all about the efficient use of resources, and there’s something ironic in the fact that the market (and even the government) has determined that plastic bags cost 5 cents while a reusable bag is 99 cents. Would you reuse that bag 20 times to recoup the effective cost? If so, what effect will the bleach and detergent have on our lakes and rivers? I’m certain that city council will soon force retailers to build in the real cost of a resuable bag for their customers.

But let’s get our focus back. Fundamentally, it is the principle of choice that is under attack here. A retailer should be able to build in the cost of a plastic bag into their prices, just as retailers build in their other costs, such as municipal, provicial and federal taxes.

Actually, that gives me an idea. Businesses of all sizes should organize to list all costs on their receipts and thankfully, the city of Toronto has already started this process (though mandated). When you buy a television from Future Shop, the real price should be shown (cost + profit) and taxes should be added onto the sticker price afterwards. Among others, municipal property taxes, the garbage collection tax, the proprietor’s income tax, taxes that go to climate change awareness, taxes that go to subsidizing your neighbour’s mortgage, the CBC, Via Rail, and the post office. In fact, there are so many hidden costs built in via taxation, we should break down the tax burden for the customer so that they can then change their behaviour about government too.

I think that the city of Toronto is onto something here. If we show Canadians the damage that they are really doing to themselves and others perhaps then we’d have less tax, and less need for meddling city coucillors and tax collectors at all levels.

Liveblogging the cabinet shuffle

9:52AM: Rob Nicholson, Gail Shea, Leona Aglukkaq, Peter Kent and Peter van Loan, Chuck Strahl show up to Rideau Hall

9:52AM: And Christian Paradis, Jim Prentice. CTV has speculated Prentice to environment.

9:54AM: John Baird has arrived.

9:55AM: Some MPs showing up in Blue Line cabs, some in airport cabs, some in their own cars.

9:55AM: Rona Ambrose shows up. Rumour is she’ll move to HRSDC.

10:00AM: Lynne Yelich is at Rideau Hall and Stockwell Day

10:01AM: James Moore arrives

10:03AM: Rahim Jaffer has shown up. Probably to support his newlywed wife Helena Guergis.

10:06AM: Jim Flaherty arrives with wife Christine Elliot.

10:08AM: The Prime Minister’s motorcade makes its way up to Rideau Hall.

10:16AM: Rumour is that Jason Kenney is moving to Citizenship and Immigration. You heard it here first.

10:25AM: Cabinet embargo about to end. Should have the list up soon.

10:31AM: Other MPs at Rideau Hall: Bev Oda, Peter MacKay, Keith Ashfield, Gary Lunn, Chuck Strahl, Gordon O’Conner, Tony Clement, Gerry Ritz, Stephen Fletcher, and Lawrence Cannon.

10:40AM: Here we go. Here comes cabinet into the hall.

10:44AM: Nicholson stays in Justice, no surprise there.

10:45AM: Greg Thompson at Veterans Affairs, Chuck Strahl at INAC, Vic Toews at Treasury Board

10:48AM: Bev Oda at CIDA, Flaherty at Finance, Gerry Ritz at Agriculture

10:50AM: Jean-Pierre Blackburn to Revenue. Aglukkaq to Health. Finley to HRSRC.

10:55AM: Raitt to NRCan, Day to International Trade and Asia-Pacific Gateway.

10:55AM: Ambrose to Labour.

10:58AM: Prentice to environment. The could be to negotiate new regs with the provinces when it comes to GHG emissions. Alberta will need to sit down with the federal government soon to finalize the new regulations for the oil and gas sector.

11:00AM: Baird goes to Transport/Infrastructure.

11:01AM: Cannon goes to Foreign Affairs.

11:02AM: Tony Clement goes to Industry.

11:05AM: Josee Verner to intergovernmental affairs.

11:05AM: Jay Hill to House Leader.

11:05AM: PVL to Public Safety.

11:07AM: Jason Kenney to Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

11:08AM: Christian Paradis to Public Works.

11:09AM: James Moore to Heritage and Official Languages.

11:14AM: Gail Shea to Fisheries.

11:16AM: Gary Lunn to Sport.

11:17AM: Gordon O’Connor to Government Whip.

11:18AM: Helena Guergis to Status of Women.

11:19AM: Diane Ablonczy stays at Small Business.

11:20AM: Rob Merrifield to Minister of State (Transport).

11:22AM: Lynne Yelich to Western Economic Diversification.

11:24AM: Steven Fletcher to Democratic Reform.

11:27AM: Gary Goodyear to Minister of State for Science and Technology. Goodyear will work closely with Minister of Industry Tony Clement.

11:29AM: Denis Lebel to economic development for Quebec. Lebel will be the cash man for Quebec and this will help him electorally.

11:31AM: Keith Ashfield to ACOA.

11:32AM: Peter Kent to Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas).

Cabinet facts and speculation

See my final cabinet speculation here

Tomorrow, Prime Minister Stephen Harper will name his new cabinet at Rideau Hall at 10:30am. There is a lot of speculation flowing out there and from this, I’ve been able to discern a few facts.

First, the easy facts: cabinet will be larger and have more women. Stephen Harper was returned to 24 Sussex on October 14th with an increased minority. Among the new seats gained by the Tories include a number of well-qualified women.

Second, Jim Flaherty stays in finance. In a time of global economic uncertainty, and after an election fought on stability in these times, changing the minister of finance could be seen as a bad signal to the world.

A few speculated that Helena Guergis may be retiring to the backbench. However, Guergis has told her junior ministerial staff that they’ll be employed in her office for at least the short-term future. I’ve also heard that Guergis is moving portfolios. Josee Verner is also moving portfolios.

Environment minister John Baird will also be moving portfolios now that green leader of the opposition Stephane Dion is stepping down. Baird was the go-to guy for acting as a shield for the government on tricky portfolios. He’ll move on to new responsibilities in cabinet.

As of Friday night, when most cabinet hopefuls had received their calls from the PM invited them to serve in the new cabinet, Maxime Bernier was left waiting. A few speculated that he’d return to cabinet, however, it seems that he’ll have some more time in the penalty box.

The newly minted Member of Parliament from Nunavut Leona Aglukkaq will serve in the next cabinet. Stephen Harper personally recruited the former territorial minister and has made northern sovereignty a defining issue of his Prime Ministership. Aglukkaq would be the first female Inuit to serve in federal cabinet. It is expected that she’ll become responsible for the new opportunities agency for the north.

Speculative news that I’m hearing is that Trade will be shifted from Foreign Affairs to Industry and that the Minister of Industry would also assume duties for this portfolio. Or, alternatively, trade will be under Industry bur will have a separate minister. The last election saw the defeat of Harper’s trade minister and a failure to re-offer by his foreign affairs minister.

On foreign affairs, I’m hearing that Lawrence Cannon will herd the cats at DFAIT. A french-speaking and centrist Conservative, Cannon may be Harper’s choice to head that portfolio.

In departmental news, I’m hearing that Transport and Infrastructure will be broken into two. Rookie MP Lisa Raitt may be a perfect fit for a reduced transport portfolio, while a Toronto area minister such as Peter Kent may fit the bill to shower the region with infrastructure development money. UPDATE: A bureaucrat that has seen the briefing books for Transport’s next minister says that infrastructure is still part of Transport’s mandate.

Will there be another Liberal defection to cabinet? I’m hearing yes and that it’ll be from Quebec (I’d categorize this as speculative even though my high level source seemed to be certain). After the last election Vancouver MP David Emerson jumped from the Liberal ranks to sit as a Conservative cabinet minister. With a Liberal party in ruin, we may just see one or more defections tomorrow.

UPDATE: Tony Clement is now confirmed as moving from the Ministry of Health.

UPDATE: Jim Prentice is expected to stay at Industry.

UPDATE: I’m hearing that Verner is going to intergovernmental affairs.

UPDATE: Late breaking speculative gossip: Ambrose to HRSDC?

UPDATE: Hill from Whip to House Leader?