The Trouble with Banning Plastic Straws

By Jacob Friesen

Vancouver is the latest major city to ban plastic drinking straws. The ban will come into effect on June 1st, 2019. Seattle and San Francisco have already banned plastic straws, and New York City is considering a similar policy. Taiwan plans to eliminate the use of single-use straws by 2025. The United Kingdom and the European Union are considering following suit. Major businesses, such as Starbucks, as well as numerous small businesses, have also taken initiative to reduce or eliminate the use of plastic straws in their restaurants.

Plastic waste is definitely a problem. 80 percent of all the rubbish in the oceans is plastic. Almost 9 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in the oceans every year. Straws account for 2,000 pounds, or 0.02 percent, of that. As a popular single-use product, a ban on plastic straws may be of marginal benefit to the environment. However, it is worth considering the unintended consequences of plastic straw bans that have been experienced in places which have implemented them.

Two frequently cited unintended consequences of plastic straw bans are the negative consequences they can entail for people with disabilities and for consumers in general. First, people with a variety of disabilities need straws to eat and drink. Banning straws creates one more obstacle for disabled people in the public sphere. While some jurisdictions with plastic straw bans have made exceptions for people with disabilities, disability advocates worry that undue burdens are still inevitably placed on disabled people, making it a little harder for them to live normal lives in comfort and dignity.

Second, many alternatives to plastic straws are problematic. Compostable straws don’t work as well, especially in hot drinks, and can be dangerous for people with severe food allergies. Reusable metal straws can be less comfortable to use, as they can be bracingly cold or hot depending on the beverage, and they are less flexible – which can be a huge issues for some disabled people. Being expected to purchase a reusable straw and carry it around at all times is, further, an example of an unintended burden plastic straw bans can place on disabled people. Additionally, reusable straws can be difficult to clean.

None of this is to say that the unintended consequences of plastic straw bans outweigh the good they do for the environment, or that plastic straw bans are the wrong policy. The bans are implemented with the best of intentions. With increased demand for alternatives to plastic straws, driven partly by the bans and – probably more significantly – by consumer trends favouring environmentally friendly products across the board, there is every reason to expect that better alternatives will be developed and made available. Nevertheless, plastic straw bans illustrate a golden rule of economics and public policy: that every policy comes with unintended consequences.

The USMCA and Nova Scotia

By Samuel Kirsh (AIMS On Campus Student Fellow) 

While the media space of the past two years has generally been taken up by the roguery of the Trump presidency and the perceived havoc that has been wrought on the global political order, recent developments have pertained to a more pressing matter for Canadians: the renegotiation of North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. The new, immodestly titled United States-Mexico- Canada Agreement has been published for approval through the legislatures of its respective signatories. Trump’s vow to “get a better deal” for America has started with one of the most well-received trade deals ever implemented, however the result is a document that bears a remarkable resemblance to the document it is replacing. There have been some considerable concessions made on the part of Canada, but overall the real story lies in the shredding of amicable diplomatic relations through a heavy-handed process dominated by the United States.

NAFTA provides security and trade rights to the three major economies of North America, and improved Canada’s ability to challenge the US through dispute arbitration guaranteed in Chapter 19 of NAFTA. In fact, over the course of NAFTA’s lifespan, Canada has used this clause more frequently than the other partners, to combat illegal American trade policies, as well as to protect Canadian lumber industry. Keeping independent dispute arbitration is a key win for the new agreement. Further, the other industries that are protected under the new treaty stand to benefit Nova Scotian industry, particularly the tire industry. Of the $2 billion in tires exported to the US last year, Nova Scotia accounted for just over half, or just below a third of Nova Scotia’s overall exports. The protection of automotive parts and equipment is crucial to protecting one of Nova Scotia’s most lucrative exports. This is reflected in the agreement by guaranteeing that 62.5% of car parts must be manufactured by USMCA partners, ramping up to 75% over the next several years. Another major export from Nova Scotia is lobster and shellfish. Driven by growing Chinese demand and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and Europe, Canadian lobster fishermen benefit in the near term as the China-US trade war heats up: Maine lobster fisheries have been subjected to exacting retaliatory tariffs. As such, Nova Scotian stands to benefit in the foreseeable future while instability temporarily lends them the upper hand. On the systemic level, however, changes appear minimal for the major exporting sectors of Nova Scotia.

Despite the clear positive aspects of USMCA, the manner in which it was negotiated and portrayed has been flawed. Primarily, this was through the campaign promises of Donald Trump to renegotiate a “better deal” for the United States, a premise that is empirically flawed through the economic benefits that the US has reaped from the agreement. Additionally, the new document is not such a far cry from the original NAFTA treaty, and new provisions do not, at first glance, have the potential to radically redistribute income in anyone’s favor. The obtuse process instigated by the United States also undermines the complexly intertwined diplomatic relations with Canada and will likely accelerate Canada’s intention to diversify its trading partners. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is one example, and a bilateral trade deal with China might also be tempting considering the current uncouth resident of the White House. The blunt superseding of American desires and the refusal to discuss existing Section 232 tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum (both valuable to the US industrial sector) should dampen future economic cooperation without a reevaluation of Canadian foreign policy objectives and mores.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is sure to cause hair-pulling and head scratching in the near future as the federal government tries to sell its merits to the Canadian public. Despite minor wins in specific sectors, the quid pro quo remains unchanged going forward, likely to no one’s surprise, despite grandiose promises of change to the South. For now, the future of the Canadian automotive, lumber, dairy, and fishery industries can breathe a sigh of relief as dispute arbitration is retained and the US has tied itself in a web of tariffs with an intractable economic adversary. Despite the dairy lobby’s attempt to cry foul of the expansion of import quotas, the real damage will be seen in the years to come as Canada’s foreign economic engagements pay dividends while its biggest trading partner squanders a mutually beneficial relationship.

The Franchisement of New Brunswick Women, 100 Years On

By Jacob Friesen

April 17, 2019 marks an important anniversary in New Brunswick history: the 100th anniversary of the day when women won the right to vote in provincial elections in New Brunswick. New Brunswick was one of the last provinces in Canada to extend the franchise to women. Federally, women had been eligible to vote since 1918; provincially, after New Brunswick wandered over to the right side of history, only Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland, and Quebec disenfranchised women.

There are a few things worth thinking about as this anniversary approaches. First, change for the better is always possible. The New Brunswick Women’s Enfranchisement Association was founded on April 4, 1894 – the 125th anniversary of that organization is another date to mark this year. 25 years of determined effort later, the Association go what it wanted.

Second, while progress is always possible, it is never guaranteed, and must always be fought for. Regress is possible too. Much less well-remembered than the outcome of the struggle for the franchise is the reason the struggle was necessary to begin with. Until 1843, women were legally eligible to vote in New Brunswick. The province’s 1795 electoral legislation allowed qualified “persons” to vote – and “persons” was interpreted to include women. On January 1st, 1843, a law was passed explicitly limiting the vote to men.

Claiming that “persons” were only men was conventional at that time. Indeed, the famous “Persons Case”, the legal battle to win the right for Canadian women to sit in the Canadian Senate, was in response to successive federal governments in the early 1900s refusing to grant this right to women on the grounds that when the British North America Act, a piece of legislation drafted shortly after New Brunswick banned women from voting, described which “persons” were qualified to sit in the Senate, the writers of the legislation only considered men to be “persons”.

When the case was eventually decided in favour of Canadian women by the Privy Council of England – which the Famous Five petitioners had to turn to after the Canadian Supreme Court unanimously ruled against them – one member of the Council famously defended moving away from the original, sexist interpretation of the word “persons” because that interpretation was “a relic of days more barbarous than ours”.

Third, there is always more to do in the long struggle for justice. While most provinces allowed women to contend for public office once they were allowed to vote, New Brunswick did not extend this right to women until March 9th, 1934, and it wasn’t until 1967, when Brenda Robertson won a seat, that a woman was actually elected to public office. Moreover, it is important to remember that only some women won the right to vote in 1919. Entire populations of men and women, such as Indigenous people, would not win the franchise until decades later.