OPINION: Trudeau grasping at straws with single-use plastic ban

Business In Vancouver

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I remember my pack-a-day mother swearing off cigarettes when the doctor scheduled her for a partial lung removal. She lived for more than a decade afterward, but the damage had been done.

But at least my mother had a plan to move forward.

We woke up today to see Justin Trudeau barely has a plan to make a plan. His pronouncement Monday on eventually banning prolific single-use plastic has all the trappings of my mother’s panic involving a menace that had too far spread.

plastic straws
Plastic straws/Shutterstock

The prime minister, no doubt stirred by the international embarrassment to his Canadian-style environmental brand of the Philippines returning our disguised plastic waste by freighter, has become a convert to the notion that we’re using too many straws, cutlery, bags, plates and so on the way NBA-bound collegiate basketball stars use their academic stations – one and done.

Fair point. It’s a molten mess. We have waited a long time to properly confront this. But more of a mess can be made without a strategy to diminish the overused resource and find a competent replacement that doesn’t cause as many problems as it addresses.

Which is why Monday’s miasma on the file smacks of a poll-friendly pre-election promise with more aspiration than precision. This is no way to convince the skeptics, doubters and opponents; even to some of the environmentally conscious, it must seem cynical to make a big announcement with no big detail.

That being said, here come headlines for a day or so, lovely social media buzz to make many feel as if the egg is hatched and the bird will fly when it has been barely conceived.

Now, much as this will leave many traditionalists sighing or snorting, let’s not lose sight of the benefits of a ban. Our landfills and oceans are rife with plastic and our technology can smartly move in the right direction to put incentives and disincentives together to get us out of the deep hole we pour plastics into. We could have used that information Monday.

But, somewhat like the dilemma Trudeau has in supporting a pipeline project and professing the need to address climate change, this is not a problem we created in 500 days and not one that can be addressed by 2021. The balance of proceeding and ceasing needs to be struck.

It feels eerily like the super-swift, lacking-in-foresight ban on plastic straws Vancouver proposed last year. If anyone noticed, we still have them lingering about in the city, mainly because these issues take a lot more effort to confront than a bylaw on a piece of paper takes to create.

As other jurisdictions would inform us if we’d consulted them and adopted their measured strategies, there are easier plastics to eliminate than others. Moreover, there are smart exemptions we want so that people with disabilities and others don’t face further struggles.

There will be businesses that arise and businesses that sink, and unsurprisingly Monday’s focus was on none of the latter and more of the former. But for a government that has dropped 20 points in the polls since its 2015 election, it might be – as the Conservative leader Andrew Scheer suggests – time to clutch at straws.

And it is, I suppose, how our politics have evolved – drive-by announcements, few details to confront the worries about the eventual consequences, and a follow-up well down the road once the impression has been seared into us that government is doing something.

In other words, politically: single-use and plastic.