The Mayor’s Future Depends On Garbage

August 8, 2012

It may surprise you to know that I’m not pronouncing private waste collection in Toronto an abject failure based on whatever numbers emerged from its first day of operations. Surely such a mammoth undertaking should be expected to hit a few bumps in the road, take a wrong turn here and there. That goes without saying. In fact I agree with the National Post’s Matt Gurney that “Municipal waste collection is a surprisingly complicated operation…” that “…isn’t just a matter of deploying trucks to every house and business that must be serviced.”

Yes, I think many of those opposed to contracting out the service west of Yonge Street including Olivia Chow and CUPE over-reacted to the inevitable flubs that happened yesterday. It smacked of cheap politicking and gave the impression that in the hopes of a private contractor failure, unreasonable demands were being floated. Better to sit back and quietly chalk up what went right and what went wrong, and use it as a base measurement rather than snap judgment.

Me? I’d give Green For Life until the end of the year to – ahem, ahem – get their shit together. For better or worse, it’s a 7 year contract. There’s going to be many a twists and a turns in this saga before we can get a true handle on the situation.

This is not to say that I ain’t skeptical. Contracted out waste collection has something of a checkered history. For every glowing report that it was the best thing a municipality ever did, there’s a matching one that declares it a disaster. The dollar figures being bandied about during last year’s debate were nebulous, to say the least. Many councillors felt they weren’t getting a straight answer about how much this would ultimately wind up saving Toronto taxpayers in the end but voted in favour anyway, fingers crossed that it would serve as a useful experiment going forward.

Personally, I just don’t see how, as Peter Kuitenbrouwer reported in the National Post, 23 fewer trucks and 92 fewer collectors can deliver the same level of service. You really have to have that union hate deep in your DNA to believe such a thing is feasible. To truly imagine the public sector is that inefficient and the private sector that magical.

But hey. The game is now on. Contracting out services is Mayor Rob Ford’s bread and butter. This is why he was elected in 2010. To cut inefficiencies and save taxpayers’ money. End stop.

We’ve been told, guaranteed actually, that the contracting out of waste collection to Green For Life will save us $11 million annually with no reduction in the service provided. That is the benchmark privatizing proponents gave us. That is the goal that must be met. I will argue that the mayor’s ‘mandate’ depends on it.

In two years time, we should have a sense of the truthfulness of the claims. During the heat of an election campaign, these metrics are going to have to be met. Failure will not be an option for those who championed contracting out. The Mayor. The Deputy Mayor. The Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure committee and the scheme’s smirking public face, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong.

If by the fall of 2014 there’s any widespread perception that contracting out has failed to live up to its billing, that the numbers didn’t add up, that service levels dropped, Team Ford will find itself fighting a defensive battle. Not only on this particular issue but on its entire anti-government, pro-private sector, neoliberal, right wing ideological, libertarian platform. This has to work or the mayor and his acolytes will face the electorate empty-handed.

A day in is too soon to tell how it’s going to play out. But the countdown has definitely begun. And if, two years or so down the road, all we’re hearing is that we haven’t had a garbage strike since 2009, you’ll know that the whole operation has not worked out exactly as advertised.

stinkily submitted by Cityslikr