We warned

Almost one year ago today Montreal Executive Committee President Benoit Dorais announced that the city was considering a by-law to outlaw Public-Sac distribution. We wrote then that this was another damaging example of arrogant dogma replacing common sense in public policy. Again, instead of concentrating on getting public services right, here was government substituting prohibition for progress

Dorais used two reasons to buttress his argument. The first was environmental. Protection of trees. The second was to accommodate those residents who didn’t want commercial material at their doors. Neither reason stood the scrutiny of facts.

Trees are a renewable resource. Indeed the forestry industry has a commendable record in making sure that more new trees are planted than are cut. Additionally, the Publi-Sacs — flyers and bags — are recyclable and made from recycled material. They damage nothing. As for delivery of commercial material at one’s door, the city already has a regulation that forbids such delivery where there is a sticker indicating the household does not wish it.

Perhaps more troubling was the total lack of consideration that this supposedly “progressive” administration has for the harmful effect of such a suggestion on working men and women and indeed on those of marginal income. What will happen to the thousands of workers whose jobs will be eliminated due to such a regulation? The printers, graphic artists, copywriters, drivers, sorters and the delivery people who supplement their incomes — or depend completely on the incomes — from this work.

Furthermore, this administration seems to forget the many people on low and fixed incomes. They count on savings in the coupons to make ends meet. They compare prices in order to survive. Half of Montrealers do not use computers. Many seniors are not tech savvy. Others are too poor to afford internet service in a city with 34% of households below the poverty line or working poor. Nearly two million Quebecers count on the Publi-Sac coupons to make their weekly budgets.

It was some pre-Christmas present last year. It is worse this year. Last week the city’s Standing Committee on Water, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Large Parks tabled a report that would ban distribution of Publi-Sacs unless homes had a specific “opt-in” sticker. It used the environmental excuse as its reasoning even in the face of data that nullified that argument. In the face of the data, the Committee then argued that it was a matter of municipal recycling capacity. Well, if we need another recycling plant let’s build one. It will cost one-third the price of Mayor Plante’s ongoing destruction of St.Catherine St. closing all but one traffic lane, and won’t cause the pollution and congestion she is forcing on the city.

But the damage the Committee did had a yet darker and more menacing aspect. It called for newspapers to be distributed only in depots in public buildings and spaces. We warned last year that the ideological dogma of this administration would lead to restrictions on freedom of the press and the free flow of information. We were poo-pooed. But we were right.

This is not only another intervention into private business and people’s freedom of choice, it is an intervention on the printed word. The city seems ready to use the same excuses to stop newspapers from being delivered. Does that mean that people without computers lose the right to be informed? The essence of a free society is the freedom to choose. Government has no right to decide on how people get their information. Nor to curtail their access to it as our provincial government did when it let municipalities post notices only on the web. Even the unions have joined Transcon, publishers and distributors in out fight. The fact that a committee of a democratic government can even think of such an attack is appalling. Sadly, you read the prediction here first.

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