TORONTO – I still remember that cold, raw day in November of 2008 when then mayor David Miller summoned the press to an odoriferous transfer station to announce his five-cent plastic bag fee.
Using scavenging seagulls and a mountain of waste as a backdrop (don’t get me started), the enviro-mayor stood cheek by jowl with officials from Loblaws and other major grocery chains, acting as if he had just saved the planet from imminent global warming.
The subject of the photo-op that day was to tell us he had reached a so-called compromise with the big grocery chains. Instead of mandating them to rebate consumers 10 cents for each refillable bag brought into stores, Miller agreed to allow them to impose a five-cent fee on consumers for every plastic bag purchased.
My goodness, Loblaws’ Galen Weston Jr. and his confreres in the grocery industry were only too happy to comply. As it became obvious, this was a real cash cow for the grocery business. While consumers considered it a bag tax, the city would not see any of the proceeds.
The retail industry was expected to hand over a portion of the fees collected to environmental causes. But it also quickly became clear that the city was not in any position to do much more than propose such donations occur.
In a 2010 feature, I revealed that Loblaws opted to give $1 million each year for three years to the World Wildlife Fund Canada starting in ’09.
Note I said World Wildlife Fund Canada, the organization Miller will head starting in September.
I calculated conservatively that Loblaws was raking in at least $10.7 million in profits a year from the bag sales alone.
Fast forward to Tuesday, when WWF chairman Roger Dickhout announced Miller’s hiring, effective Sept. 3, noting his record of environmental accomplishments as mayor and his leadership as chairman of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group.
(Of course, Dickhout did not mention Miller’s disgraceful use of precious city money to prop up his environmental agenda, even though that was probably one of the last things the city’s nearly depleted reserve funds should have subsidized. What about fixing our roads? Or balancing the books? Not sexy enough for Mr. Enviro-Mayor.)
Based on WWF employee earnings reported to the Canada Revenue Agency for last year, Miller could be making in the range of $250,000 to $299,000 — or more.
A review of the WWF website shows that Alexandra Schmidt Weston — Galen Jr.’s wife — sits on the board of directors.
I said when he left office it would only be a matter of time before Miller parlayed his shameless use of the taxpayer purse on environmental causes into an enviro career for himself.
Clearly being a lawyer isn’t really his cup of tea.
The Loblaws-WWF connection aside, I was virtually the only media person who reported in ’09 that Miller was funnelling $140,000 from the cash-strapped budget to fund the C40 office based in London, England — even as he handed citizens a 4% tax hike. No one from the left-wing media bothered to cover this obscene abuse of taxpayer funds. It didn’t fit with their agenda.
But the worst was yet to come.
In early 2011 — after Miller had stepped down — city manager Joe Pennachetti reluctantly conceded that virtually every penny of the $158 million — Yes $158 million! — plunked into the enviro mayor’s less-than-transparent Climate Change Fund had been spent.
Miller couldn’t have cared less that he created said fund in November ’07 — using some of the proceeds of the city’s $900-million-plus Toronto Hydro note — barely a month after council passed the land-transfer and personal vehicle taxes.
Instead of using the money to pay down the debt, Miller and his climate change cabal on council threw the cash at energy retrofit, solar and wind installation loans, tree plantings and a long list of green grants.
I’m betting that to this day the city’s enviro-crats have no clue how many of these grants and loans were put to good use.
As for the plastic bag fee, it and plans to ban the plastic bag completely were abandoned last November in the wake of two lawsuits. The issue comes back to public works committee later this month. Can’t wait.