With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Salmon Arm is holding off on bringing its ban of single-use plastic shopping bags back into effect. (File photo)

Salmon Arm holding off on plastic shopping bag ban

Provincial support gives weight to municipal bylaws banning single-use plastic bags

When the city’s bylaw banning single-use plastic bags is pressed back into service, Salmon Arm Mayor Alan Harrison is confident it will have the support of residents and the province.

The bylaw came into effect on July 1, 2019, and remained in place until and March 2020, when the city, due to the onset of COVID-19 and related health and safety concerns, allowed retailers to transition back from reusable bags to plastic.

On Sept. 12, 2020, the B.C. Ministry of Environment announced steps to reduce plastic waste. One was the approval of similar bylaws banning single-use plastics for Richmond, Victoria, Saanich, Tofino and Ucluelet, clearing the way for those communities to implement their bans.

The ministry stated it would consider other bylaws as they are submitted.

Harrison said he spoke in March with then environment minister George Heyman. At that time, the province had yet to decide on an action plan. Harrison and council had another opportunity to speak with Heyman during the recent virtual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference, and were provided with three options on how to proceed with the ban. The first, Harrison explained, was for municipalities to submit their bylaw over the next six months to the environment ministry for authorization. The second was to wait between six months and a year, when the ministry expects to give municipalities authorization to proceed with their own bylaws and not have to submit them for provincial approval. The third option was to wait until the B.C. government introduces legislation for a provincewide ban of single-use plastics.

Harrison said the city is considering the second option, acknowledging that now is not the right time to bring the bylaw back.

Read more: Salmon Arm mayor unconcerned over top court’s quash of plastic bag ban in Victoria

Read more: Video update: Shuswap store owner wants plastic bag ban to be customer friendly

“We’re going to wait six months and see what happens and, if the timing is right, we have the option to go ahead with our own bylaw,” said Harrison.

The ministry’s September announcement came after the City of Victoria spent two years fighting for its bylaw banning single-use plastic bags, which went into effect July 2018. In January 2018, the Canadian Plastic Bag Association (CPBA) challenged the bylaw and in May of that year, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of the City. However, in 2019, the B.C. Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the CPBA after determining that the bylaw was invalid because approval from the Minister of Environment was needed under the Community Charter.

Asked if he’s concerned the ministry’s support may not be the same with a change in government, Harrison said momentum in the province towards the banning of single-use platics is now far enough along that there will be support for such environmental measures regardless of who is in power.

“What I do know is that the people of Salmon Arm, when COVID is over, they are ready,” said Harrison. “Because we saw it happening, we saw it work. And people talk to me about it. It’s a little beyond our control right now but it’s something that we will do. But we’ll do it when the time is right.”

With files from Devon Bidal/Victoria News.

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