Manning The Lifeboats

Yeterday, 24 hours or so before his first anniversary of being elected mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, decked out in Ticat black and yellow, pushed through council yet another solid plank of his election platform, that of contracting out curbside waste collection between Etobicoke and Yonge Street. There was a certain grim determination to it. Although there was much back slapping and handshaking after the vote among some of the 25 councillors who sided with the mayor, it was absent the gleeful triumphalism that had accompanied such successes earlier in his tenure.

Mayor Ford better be right this time. Eyes shut, ears plugged, fingers crossed. There’s no longer really much wiggle room.

In less than one year supporting the Ford agenda has gone from being an absolute must for councillors looking to occupy the space anywhere near the middle of the political spectrum to something not far from a liability. The mayor’s approval rating has dropped startlingly low startlingly quickly owing to the fact that much of what he campaigned on turned out to be a solid combination of bunk and hokum. There wasn’t nearly the amount of waste (or ‘gravy’ to use the tired, tired turn of phrase) he promised there would be to find and it has become apparent that, in fact, city hall does have a revenue problem more than it does a spending problem. So the mad rush to eliminate the Vehicle Registration Tax and freeze property taxes has created a wider gap in the budget than there needed to be which has put cuts to services front and centre. Something the mayor guaranteed would not be necessary.

Despite all that, Mayor Ford still had his way with council yesterday.

But I’m guessing that, if not a pyrrhic victory, it set the clock ticking on the ultimate fate of his administration and those who have thrown in their lot with him. Because if the contracting out of waste collection to GFL does not translate into $11 million in annual savings to the city, if there’s any sort of hiccup in the delivery of the service, if the public aren’t happy with the change in providers, it will turn out to be yet another boondoggle from the mayor and his team. Fool me once, shame on you and all that.

The significance of this vote is all in the timing. The change won’t take place until next August. To be fair, it’ll really take a year to be able to assess the performance which will be 2013, just a few months before the next election cycle kicks into gear. By August 2014, two months before the election, the success (or not) of private waste pickup west of Yonge Street will be a major issue. If it’s seen as a success, all those who supported it will have something to crow about. If not, well, it’ll all be scurrying for cover.

Which goes a long way to explaining the rather tepid defence put up at council during Monday’s debate.

Yes, the hardcore ideologues and true believers sang the praises of contracting out, with all the improvement in services and millions of dollars saved being touted. (Remember this, people. $11 million per year. Guaranteed.) They were joined by the union haters and everyone who suffered mightily during the horrible summer of 2009. And, of course, the doomsayers of inevitability, featuring the hangdog hysteria of Budget Chief Michael Del Grande. If we don’t do this, we will be sued. Sued, I tells ya!

The rest, however, just seemed to want to be done with it. No discussion. Let’s get `er done and move on. In no way did they want to go on record in favour of proceeding.

Why?

There were too many questions about the true worth of the move. There always are when it comes to contracting out or privatizing waste collection. For every claim for the upside of such a move, there’s a counterclaim of a city or municipality taking things back in house. While Deputy Mayor couldn’t say enough about the 16 years of non-city worker trash pickup in Etobicoke, it comes with asterisks. Less diversion. Easier routes.

And the GFL proposal council approved is additionally fraught with questions. How was the bid so low? Do the numbers actually hold up? Who knows. Since it was just a Request For Quote process, the bid wasn’t assessed against the others. It came in lowest. That’s all the city needed. Even the outside consultants brought in to look at the bid, Ernst and Young, weren’t asked about its feasibility, leading me to wonder what exactly their role was. Yep. We can confirm those are numbers.

Most of the mayor’s supporters didn’t want to know the answers to any of those questions. Only Councillors Gloria Lindsay Luby and Josh Matlow expressed any concerned about how low the GFL bid was, saying it might be too good to be true and that you ultimately get what you pay for. Still, they both fell dutifully in line.

But if, like so many of Mayor Ford’s ill-thought out schemes go south on him, if this move to contract out waste collection does indeed turn out to be too good to be true, those two councillors along with their silent cohort, will have provided themselves cover. We thought something was fishy but the mayor, the deputy mayor and the chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee assured us it would all be fine. ‘A win-win for everybody,’ I believe Councillor Minnan-Wong said. So don’t look at us. We’re just as a surprised as you are that things didn’t turn out like we were told they would.

A distancing embrace, let’s call it. Fence straddling might be another way to look at. Diligently delivering deniability when the cows come home to roost rather than doing their due diligence. Not only is the bulk of the mayor’s support softening, it’s also shirking its responsibility. That’s bad news for him and, more importantly, bad news for the citizens of Toronto as a disturbing number of our elected officials have gone on record as now looking out for themselves rather than for those who put them in office.

harbingerly submitted by Cityslikr

One Response to Manning The Lifeboats

  1. Sonny says:

    It may over a year since the election, we are 2 years, 2 months and 1 week from the start of the next municipal election cycle. So the question is which new councillors will be in play given the long term incumbents are difficult to defeat?

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