Garbage Debate

It all ended so anti-climatically. A day’s worth of debate and bluster, bare knuckles and bared teeth. A flurry of motions, amendments and barely contained confusion, wrapping up in a couple, three quick votes. Then a recess was called, an in camera session declared, spectators, many clad in union supportive orange, wandered from the council chambers toward the elevators, surprised to learn that it was all done, the deal sealed.

Toronto now has private garbage collection, west of Yonge Street to Etobicokie, from Steels down to the lakefront. Sort of. Rather, a call to tender out trash collection in the city’s District 2 has been approved by council. The winning bid will then be brought back, further debated and voted on, subject to a series of stipulations and benchmarks crafted at Tuesday night’s council meeting to help ensure that the savings we have been guaranteed will be had.

Let’s call it step 1 toward the full implementation of Mayor Ford’s campaign pledge to privatize garbage collection citywide, thereby fulfilling his mandate of respecting the taxpayers and saving them x amount of dollars. (x being a fluid, evasive number dependent on who was touting it and for what purposes but always variable.) It wasn’t the slam dunk many of the mayor’s previous initiatives were and much of the drama had been bled from it when, in the face of some stiff opposition to an earlier plan to have council give carte blanche to the Bid Committee to sign off on any deal, Team Ford appeared to have caved to council’s will. The real battle is set to happen when the selected bid comes before council for its approval.

Of special note is the role played by the so-called mushy middle in tempering the mayor’s desired stampede to full on privatization. The two Joshes along with Ana Bailão, new councillors all, managed to push through amendments that, in theory at least, establish more rigorous oversight when the bid comes back to council for final approval. In doing so, they delivered a few nice body shots to the mayor, proving that he is not invincible and his grip on the majority of council members is not ironclad.

Yet… yet… not meaning to diminish their achievements, defeating the mayor in some important votes on such a high profile item that he so identifies with is nothing to sneeze at, but it all felt so unnecessary. I know Councillor Josh Matlow is a big proponent of ‘process’, of not adhering to simple ideology in determining how decisions are made. It just seemed to me that the process should’ve been simpler. There were two sides to the debate. Those favouring privatized waste collection and those not. (Or in Mayor Ford’s more nuanced view, those respecting taxpayers versus tax-and-spend socialists.) Each presents and makes their respective cases, the pros and cons discussed and deliberated thoroughly and thoughtfully, leading to a majority decision. That’s council process.

If the mayor and his forces want to privatize garbage collection, all they have to do is to prove that it will save money and improve the service we already have. Simply put, they couldn’t do it. Their numbers are suspect and all they had for improved service was to point out that in Etobicoke where collection has been fully private since the mid-90s, they get no more complaints than in the rest of the city.

No more?! That isn’t an improvement. That’s a wash. And without being able to show that privatizing will actually respect the taxpayers and save them money, all they had to go with was guaranteeing there’d be no more strikes.

And that’s not even guaranteed. There’s no way the city can include a no-strike clause in any contract it signs with a private firm. City staff admitted as much on Tuesday. All that is possible is a decreased likelihood of future strikes because non-union workers don’t tend to go on strike and, from the arguments I heard, private waste collection is usually performed by non-unionized workers. Workers working for less money and with less benefits which is where the savings for the taxpayers are supposed to come from.

But that’s really all the rabid pro-privatizers had to go on, and they went with it with all the shrill, hectoring vehemence they could muster. Between Councillor Mammoliti and Speaker Nunziata, they painted a veritable Mad Max of garbage collection up in their York wards. Trash ridden streets, broken and busted bins, anti-social, unionista collectors putting the fear into old ladies and keeping them cowering in their houses, taking cover weekly, waiting until the garbage trucks passed to re-emerge out in the daylight to clean up the mess left behind.

All anecdotal and unlike anything I’ve ever seen with garbage pickup outside of my house. More to the point, every horror story councillors Mammoliti and Nunziata used to fire up their supporters must be matched by similar tales of woe in Etobicoke because as Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure, Denzil Minnan-Wong, and city staffed told council repeatedly, complaint levels on both sides of the fence are roughly the same. Privatization has not proven to be an ingredient for increased public satisfaction.

In terms of process, the anti-privatization argument at Tuesday’s council meeting won the day if for no other reason than their opponents’ case was flabby, unproven and based almost exclusively on hearsay and unbridled emotion demanding vengeance on those who caused us so much discomfort and heartache for nearly 40 days during the summer of 2009. On the face of it, the vote should’ve been one-sided in the other direction that it ultimately went. That is, if councillors had left their concerns of being smeared as free spending socialists and enemies of taxpayers back in their offices.

All was not lost. If some of the amendments that managed to get out from under Councillor Mammoliti’s down turned thumb are adhered to as the debate moves forward, and the numbers are actually explained and examined honestly and without bias, the move towards privatization may not yet be a done deal. Of course, that’s predicated on the assumption that the councillors still sitting on the fence of the privatization issue really are waiting for all the facts to fully emerge. That’s something I’m not convinced of.

trashily submitted by Cityslikr

16 Responses to Garbage Debate

  1. giltay says:

    … from the arguments I heard, private waste collection is usually performed by non-unionized workers.

    The Etobicoke trash collectors are unionized, though. They belong to the Teamsters, perhaps the strongest union in North America. If this is an attempt to get revenge on The Unions for the garbage strike, it seems rather an inept one.

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Giltay,

      Here’s the problem we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are having with the privatized garbage debate. The facts and figures are shockingly fluid. You say Etobicoke trash collectors are Teamsters. The National Post says collection in Etobicoke is done by unionized workers. Other places claim that Turtle Island, the company picking up Etobicoke’s trash, is a non-unionized workplace. During Tuesday’s debate, in the morning when asked, Deputy Mayor Holyday said it was a non-union work force trash collecting in Etobicoke but in the afternoon he said it was the Teamsters.

      It should be a relatively easy answer to get. Why isn’t it?

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Giltay,

      In fact, here’s a link from just a couple weeks ago. http://www.windsorstar.com/business/Turtle+Island+employees+reject+union/4743866/story.html In it, it says: “If the Windsor workers had voted to join CUPE, it would have been a first for Turtle Island Recycling: None of the firm’s 500 or so employees in municipalities across southern Ontario are unionized.”

      This would suggest that Turtle Island workers in Etobicoke aren’t unionized. But do the Teamsters pick up other, non-residential aspects of Etobicoke’s waste?

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke aren’t trying to prove ourselves right on this. We really would like to know the answer. But like we’ve said, they are surprisingly hard to come by.

      • giltay says:

        Spending too much time at work looking this up. If I still lived in Etobicoke, I could just wait till Tuesday and ask one of the guys directly.

      • Sonny says:

        Garbage pick-up in Etobicoke is not unionized. Mayor Ford repeatedy made that erroneous assertion during the campaign. The contractor that originally won Etobicokes’s trash pick-up was unionized; Turtle Island, the current contractor, is not.

        So considering we’ll be paying $7 M more for the current level of pickup with the recent price increases! Let’s say Turtle Island gets the contract for the 165,000 * $10/household. That would be $1.65 M that would be folded into the Utilities Budgets rather than be returned to the property “taxpayer” because the water rates would still go up under Ford…

        P.S. 300 jobs would rotate into the private company; which would be the single biggest beneficiary.

  2. mcflash says:

    I do not, and never will, understand why a provision that the private bid has to prove that it will save money had to be an amendment (a contested one, at that) rather than part of the initial motion. To me, there’s no bigger indicator that this was about revenge and not about savings.

  3. mahlersfifth says:

    Streamed council yesterday… and followed many “recent outburts”.

    Brother Doug and “Red Light” Mammo are almost as insufferable to watch as they are to listen to.

  4. You had it right in the first place. This isn’t being driven by facts or numbers; it’s all spite, ideology and a desire for vengeance.

  5. Michael Methot says:

    Something has been bothering me for a while – the use of the term “privatizing”. I hear “privatizing” garbage service and I immediately picture countless contractors going door to door in open competition trying to sign up customers; grabage trucks in heated free market competition barrelling down Bloor street in order to beat their rivals to the last bag of stinky disposabled diapers etc etc. In short, I picture unregulatable chaos.

    What we have here is not privatization (thank God) but something, in its own way, even worse. We have our elected reps lying supine and selling us out as a captive market to whichever suitor they favour… Catch that whiff? No – not garbage, its the hint of inevitable crony corruption. Count on it… in a few years we’ll have something that makes Lastman’s computer scandal look like small spotato peelings.

    Privatization? I don’t think it means what they think it means.

  6. Andrew says:

    Privatized garbage has worked well for Etobicoke. Have put out my garbage consistently each other week for the past twelve years and it has been picked up consistently for the past twelve years without complaint.

    • Who got the contract, and how did they get it? Was the process transparent? How do you know you got the best possible deal? Were there any unfortunate side effects, and if so, what were they? Who benefits? Who gets screwed?

      Until you can answer those questions, I’m not convinced of the benefits of privatization.

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Andrew,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke can say the same thing about garbage collection where we live in the old city of Toronto. Always collected, never a complaint registered. Does it cost the taxpayer less in Etobicoke than it does in the rest of the city? We don’t know. Those kind of numbers seem hard to come by which always makes us a little suspicious.

      The only difference I can see between the two districts is that for the past 15 years or so, Etobicoke’s waste collection hasn’t been interrupted by a labour strike. Is that what this is all about? Fine, if that’s the case but let’s not pretend the move toward privatization is about anything else, money saved, improved quality. The facts don’t seem to back any of that up.

      • Andrew says:

        If privatization saves money, bonus. People should rejoice that they will not have to deal with unionized city malcontents in the future. Garbage will be picked up and taken away, uninterrupted.

        No more union monopoly on services.

  7. Greg Burrell says:

    One major problem with all of this talk of savings is that the city’s own numbers don’t add up. CUPE hired a well-known forensic accounting firm to review the city’s costs, and found them to be complete baloney (not a direct quote). Allowing the bid committee to select the winning bid without review would allow a group to award a contract without actually knowing how much the city pays for garbage collection in the first place. These independent reviews are a good thing, from a respect for taxpayers perspective.

    I also see this whole process as reeking of union-busting and profit-from-tax capitalism, and only masked by a false air of fiscal responsibility. If our Mayors Ford were really interested in saving money, they’d have pushed for the independent review themselves.

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