By Sean Meyer/London Community News
London councillors are prepared to recommend changes to the city’s policy regarding smoking in public spaces, but only in places likely to affect the health of children.
When it comes to action that could lead to the closure of bars and restaurants, however, members of the city’s Community Services Committee said on Monday (Feb. 13), they were drawing the line.
Ward 2 Councillor Bill Armstrong suggested city staff look at amendments to the city’s smoking policy in locations that could affect the health of children, including sports parks, pools, splash pads, public gardens and playgrounds. Armstrong wasn’t, however, prepared to support any action that would penalize the bars and restaurant across the city that invested significant dollars into patios.
“For us today to take that away, I can tell you I honestly believe a lot of them would go under. There is no doubt in my mind. I haven’t personally had one email, one complaint, about bars having those patios.”
Mayor Joe Fontana supported that kind of selective approach, particularly where children are concerned.
“Bill has the right approach in terms of being very target in terms of where we might want some proposed changes, especially where they relate to playgrounds and the pools,” Fontana said. “I also agree with him that festivals and patios and bars, forget it. The present bylaw covers a number of areas; provincial regulations cover a number of areas. So some of these proposed changes, I don’t have an issue around playgrounds. I am prepared to look at that.”
The issue was brought to the committee floor in a report prepared by the Middlesex-London Health Unit. During the health unit’s meeting last November, its board narrowly voted to request the city look at instituting a total ban on smoking in public outdoor spaces.
The committee would vote have to civic administration prepare a report that looked at areas where amendments to the smoking bylaw were appropriate, while specifically leaving out bars, restaurants and festivals.
Ward 12 Councillor Harold Usher suggested a public meeting should be held on the issue, but couldn’t get a member of the committee to second his motion. Without someone to second the motion, council moved forward in the direction suggested by Armstrong.
Committee chair and Ward 7 Councillor Matt Brown suggested that after civic administration brings back its report, a public participation meeting could still be the result.
Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser, who is not a member of the committee, agreed with the selective approach that was being recommended. However, Orser also wanted the committee to look at the 60 municipalities who have taken the time to create their own, often very different bylaws and ask the question if London should be taking on the same time and expense.
“The bigger issue is that this is really a matter for the province to regulate,” Orser said. “This is another example of something that should be the domain of the Province of Ontario to decide. We should send a message to the province to take control of the situation.”
Ward 9 Councillor Dale Henderson suggested the committee take no action at all on the issue, suggesting the issue is not one of health but of democracy. Henderson said the community as a whole is “in big trouble if we push this idea ahead.”
Henderson suggested there are just as many impacts from people breathing in chemicals fumes created by cars and buses so how long before the call is to take them off the road. How long, Henderson asked, before cities are asked to regulate other habits the majority of people don’t agree with.
“This is all about democracy; this is the thin edge of the wedge. We are looking at a lot of habits we can’t stop just because we wish they would stop,” Henderson said. “Where do our rights stop and where does everyone else’s rights begin.”
Henderson also said there would be a never-ending list of fines to be passed out if a total ban was put in place — a bylaw that would ultimately push thousands of visitors and employers away from the city.
“This is not the city I want to live in; this is not the city we want to convey. This is not the City of Opportunity,” Henderson said. “I agree to have staff take a look at this, but this is not where we want to go.”