By now, most people will know that a majority of city council members are determined to ban smoking in restaurants, bars, casinos and bingo halls.
The biggest push toward that came this past week following a one-day public hearing to get feedback on the city's current smoking bylaw.
After that hearing, Coun. Jane Batty successfully sponsored a motion asking bureaucrats to come up with "recommendations and a time frame" for the prohibition of smoking "in indoor public spaces." Such "spaces" include restaurants, bars, lounges, bingo halls and casinos.
It's thought that as early as January city council could pass what would be one of Canada's toughest anti-smoking laws. I think this is wrong - terribly wrong. In fact I'll give city council 10 good reasons why it should not change the current bylaw:
1) The way democracy is supposed to work is politicians stand up before elections, make a promise to do something, then carry it out if elected. (OK, politicians don't often keep election promises, but that's a whole other issue.)
Virtually none of the council members campaigned in the last election on a platform of banning public smoking everywhere. Batty, the councillor who proposes the ban, did not campaign on this. Voters have a right to know where politicians stand on such major issues before elections. But these politicians hid their secret agendas.
2) There has been no public outcry for a further toughening of our smoking bylaw. Indeed, a poll in April by the independent company Criterion Research found that about 60% of Albertans believe hospitality establishment operators should decide themselves whether or not to allow smoking in their businesses.
3) A wide-scale smoking ban does hurt business. There is no denying that when you look at the endless statistics supplied by the hospitality industry. And logically speaking, why would hospitality reps bother to fight so hard to stop smoking bans if those laws did not hurt business?
4) Smoking bans are an unreasonable intrusion into private enterprise. Restaurants, bars and the like are not truly public spaces. They are private property where the public is invited by the owner. If you don't like smoky places, patronize businesses that are smoke-free.
5) Tobacco is still a legal product in Canada from which the federal government earns billions of dollars in taxation. How hypocritical is it when one level of government sells a product to the public and another level of government bans its use?
6) Adults in Canada are supposedly guaranteed freedom of choice under our laws and Constitution. Smoking is unhealthy and all adults know this but still partake in the vice. It is their choice just as it is the choice of overeaters to wolf down unhealthy amounts of greasy fast food, thus risking heart disease.
A city council should not undermine such a basic, sacred right such as a person's freedom to choose.
7) City council has numerous better things to do other than waste months on bylaws that ban things in our society.
Obviously, they should have better things to do such as finding ways to cut taxes, delivering good core services and pushing to see the city run efficiently.
They have lost sight of their primary duties.
8) Passing a tougher smoking bylaw will actually increase city hall's already sizable bureaucracy.
It is inevitable that, if a total smoking ban passes, we will need more bylaw control officers to be hired, more support staff and more managers to supervise.
Is that what we want? A fatter civic bureaucracy?
9) We should not pass a total public smoking ban because the public has not been suitably consulted.
Sure, a day of council public hearings was conducted this past week on the general topic of giving feedback on Edmonton's current smoking law.
After those hearings Coun. Batty sneakily introduced a motion calling for administration to give a time frame for a total ban.
Had more members of the public known this was the direction city council was headed, we likely would have had people scrambling in far bigger numbers to address the hearing. To me, the way our politicians have gone about this total ban was plainly sneaky.
10) City council's own administration has concluded our present smoking bylaw is working.
That bylaw sees restaurants allowed to offer some seats for smokers so long as they ban anyone under age 18.
To me, that is still a needless intrusion into the free market, but it is far better than what is now being proposed.
So what can be done to stop city council from this meddlesome madness?
Two words: Public pressure. Politicians are inherently big chickens when faced with an angry public. If the majority of Albertans believe entrepreneurs should be able to set their own smoking rules - especially in restaurants, bars, bingo halls and casinos, these people have to speak up. If we believe in democracy each and every one of us has to speak up.
If you believe a total smoking ban is wrong, let the politicians know.
Call them. E-mail them. Fax them. Demand a meeting with them.
If you are in the hospitality industry let council members know you will not contribute to their next election campaign.
Let council members know you will contribute to the campaigns of those who run against them in the next election. Start an official petition.
I'm sure the folks at the city's Citizen Action Centre - 496-8200 - can tell you how to go about that. You can reach any city councillor by e-mailing them using their first and last names combined with the general civic e-mail address.
For instance, Batty's e-mail would be firstname.lastname@example.org and Mayor Bill Smith's e-mail is email@example.com.
You can e-mail all councillors at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Citizen Action Centre, at 496-8200, will also record all comments and forward them to the politicians.
There is no absolute way to tell who is in favour of a wide ban but from previous meetings, these are the council members who would likely support such a law:
Allan Bolstad, Janice Melnychuk, Michael Phair, Bryan Anderson, Dave Thiele, Batty and Smith.