If the Workers’ Compensation Board hadn’t recently brought in new smoking rules, and if local business owners hadn’t already sunk thousands of dollars into complying with those rules, the city’s proposed non-smoking bylaw might have been a slam-dunk.
The Clean Air Coalition, which is backing Councillor Murry Krause’s motion to ban smoking in all public places, has a survey that suggests almost two-thirds of the population would support the bylaw.
So, if council were to simply listen to the wishes of the majority, it would vote in favour of the bylaw.
But it’s not that simple.
Owners of local bars and restaurants have spent over $600,000 putting in designated smoking rooms to comply with new WCB rules. A smoking ban would make those ventilated rooms pointless.
And so the debate over the smoking bylaw has become one about business versus health.
Councillors Glen Scott, Don Zurowski, Sherry Sethen and Mayor Colin Kinsley have all expressed concern about the financial impact on those businesses and on superseding provincial regulations.
“If we really, truly believe that we’re a business-friendly council, then this cannot proceed,” said Scott, the only one to vote against the bylaw at first and second readings.
The other councillors agreed to let the bylaw go to third reading so it could be fully debated at a public meeting.
“It seems to me it’s significant enough that we should allow this to go to a public hearing,” said Cliff Dezell, who supports the bylaw for health reasons.
Second-hand smoke kills, he said, and 64 per cent of the city’s population agrees it should be banned from public spaces for the health of all.
The city would not be on the hook legally if it does proceed with the bylaw, said City Manager George Paul. There has been speculation that businesses might sue the city for compensation of the costs incurred in complying with WCB rules.
“It’s self-evident that we have the authority to do that,” said Paul. “Every time you make legislation, you affect someone financially.”
Paul said he didn’t think such a suit would succeed. He did say, however, that the public meeting would provide the chance to discuss how to implement the bylaw with the least impact on local businesses.
The public meeting will be held April 7 starting at 7 p.m. in council chambers.
Third reading, with any changes to the bylaw, would happen some time after the public meeting.