City scraps flyer opt-out bylaw

·6 min read

A future bylaw that would have likely introduced penalties for flyers delivered to households that wish to opt out of receiving them has been scrapped before it has been written.

On Monday, St. Albert city council passed a motion to rescind administration putting together a bylaw that would have allowed St. Albertans to opt out of receiving flyers in their mailboxes.

The motion passed 5-2, with Coun. Natalie Joly, who originally asked administration to look into creating a bylaw to opt out of flyer delivery, and Mayor Cathy Heron, in opposition.

Coun. Sheena Hughes introduced the motion to rescind the bylaw, citing a negative impact on businesses, especially after the difficult time they have had during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is not just about a business, it's about everybody who was getting their living from the business, who we could be inadvertently interfering with their ability to do so,” Hughes said.

“I really think that we should be doing anything we can to support business and we don't need to create bylaws that are not necessary.”

The councillor said that even if some houses opt out of receiving flyers, they will likely still be printed and recycled before they hit the streets.

Hughes noted that flyers and newsprint are recyclable, and if a household receives the flyers, they can recycle them, but if the company producing them is left to discard them, it isn’t known how they will dispose of the extras.

Coun. Ray Watkins said opting out of receiving flyers sounds like a “logistics nightmare” and supported the motion to rescind the bylaw because The St. Albert Gazette wrote a letter to council letting them know how much the company relies on flyer revenue to operate.

Watkins said the flyers he receives at his home are mostly from local businesses.

“They're mostly people from St. Albert and they're trying to make a living, for the most part,” Watkins said.

If residents don’t receive the flyers from the local paper or flyer delivery services, they will receive them from Canada Post, Watkins said, as local bylaws don’t impact the delivery of flyers through the federal organization, and residents won’t be able to opt out of receiving them from Canada Post.

Joly defended her original request to administration, saying the bylaw would not ban flyers in the community, and that the Environmental Advisory Committee was in support of moving forward.

“It supports our environmental initiatives, and it doesn't ban flyers, so businesses can still advertise via flyers. Lots of people like flyers and this doesn't prevent them from getting flyers,” Joly said.

Heron also spoke to keep the original request to explore the creation of a flyer bylaw on the table, saying administration should look into the issue, bring it forward to council, and allow residents who want to speak out on the issue to do so.

“To me this is about showing our respect to the residents who don't want the waste in their mailbox, and they have not had a chance to speak,” Heron said.

In early 2020, council narrowly voted 4-3 in favour of administration drafting a bylaw by September 2020 requiring companies delivering flyers to respect “no flyer” signs, after Joly brought forward the motion. For businesses that were not in compliance, there could be a fine of up to $10,000 applied and it would be enforced on a complaints basis.

The motion, if it had been approved, would impact three major businesses operating in St. Albert that rely on distributing flyers as part of their business model, including Great West Newspapers (St. Albert Gazette) and Postmedia Network Inc. (Edmonton Journal).

Political literature would be excluded from such a bylaw, administration said, because numerous Supreme Court cases have demonstrated “political speech is the most important speech to protect in our free society.”

Since Canada Post is under federal jurisdiction, the bylaw would not apply to flyers delivered by the national postal service.

Administration was slated to bring the bylaw back for council’s consideration in late 2020, but asked for multiple time extensions due to staff dealing with emerging items from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the bylaw would have impacted distributors such as The Gazette, other local businesses that rely on the The Gazette to get out their literature would have been impacted. The Gazette spoke with the businesses in June before the potential bylaw was rescinded.

Cheryl Dumont, executive director at St. Albert Further Education, who delivers their course calendar through The Gazette flyer program, said having the course catalogue delivered into people's homes is key to keeping St. Albertans informed about the programs they offer.

“It sticks around for a couple of months because our courses begin at different times,” Dumont said.

Along with being important to St. Albert Further Education, Dumont said many of the local businesses that offer different types of learning through the organization rely on the catalogue's delivery.

“It's important for those small businesses as well that they get to be in people's homes where they can flip through them at leisure,” Dumont said.

If St. Albertans could opt out of flyers delivered through the local newspaper, Dumont said, as a non-profit, the transition to Canada Post would be prohibitive due to the higher cost.

Other businesses, such as Graham and Associates, which provides accounting and tax services to St. Albertans, would not have been able to transition to Canada Post, because their flyers are so unique.

Owner Wendy Graham-Bennett said they send out a special envelope as a flyer in the newspaper, where residents can store their tax information. On the envelope is a checklist of items needed for tax season, such as T4s, pension slips, RRSP slips, donations, and union dues.

“It's really our only form of advertising,” Graham-Bennett said. “It would definitely hurt us if we couldn't deliver. I don't know what we would do.”

In St. Albert, the envelope annually brings in around 50 clients, who often stay for years after.

The company looked into options for sending the envelope in other regions where they operate, but they can't send it through Canada Post, as it would have to be sealed, which defeats the purpose of sending it out.

Betts Robinson, owner of M&M Food Market in Giroux Business Park, said they advertise weekly with a flyer in The Gazette.

“It's very critical to our business,” Robinson said.

She said upset customers come into the shop if they miss their flyer for the week, adding switching to delivery through Canada Post would be a pricey option.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette

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