Follow the Money


A few years ago the City of Toronto voted to force a charge of 5 cents on plastic bags when they were used at grocery stores.

While any new costs incite anger in Ontario, this one was welcomed. The ‘plastic bag tax’ would be applied to the costs of waste management in Toronto, a program that has troubled the city for decades.

It was a good idea, I thought. The cost wasn’t by any means prohibitive and the application of funds was precise and meaningful.

But then across Ontario most grocery chains started charging the 5 cents per bag. And the troubling part began: where did the money go?

In Toronto, it was supposed to be applied to a specific problem that the bags themselves contributed to. But elsewhere, the money just vanished. Some chains claimed the money went into environmental initiatives, but as privately held companies, the proof was never available.

Now, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford had said he doesn’t know where the Toronto money went. His course of action was wise: cancel the charge. If you don’t know where taxes are going, something is very, very wrong.

But then Council as a whole, out of nowhere, decided to ban plastic bags entirely in the city. While I’m not necessarily opposed to the concept, the manner through which it was presented was horrific. Ford - along with the rest of the 3+million citizens of the city - were blindsided. How will this be enacted? How will it be enforced?

And what will it cost the taxpayers?

Ordinarily the advise journalists are given is to ‘follow the money.’ In the case of the disappearing , reappearing, disappearing plastic bags of Toronto, better advice may be to follow the smell.

Michael Howie is an award-winning journalist and blogger. Follow him online at www.ihowie.ca or on facebook at www.facebook.com/ihowieca.


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