An Ethical Leave Of Absence

July 25, 2013

Whenever a political dust-up occurs, a contretemps that leads to much partisan Did Not-Did So back and forth, I ask this question: didtooWhat if the party/politician you don’t support were to do the exact same thing the party/politician you do support did? Would you be cool with that, shrug it off as being all part of the game, yo?

So Conservatives pulling for Doug Holyday in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore provincial by-election, you’d be easy-peasy if the city’s “on unofficial leave of absence” Deputy Mayor’s opponents in the race did the same thing? Just called up the city’s waste collection company and asked for one of their trucks to swing by for a campaign photo-op? Totally fine, yes?

“… when the deputy mayor calls and asks for a truck, we supply it,” said Green For Life’s chief executive, Patrick Dovigi.

I am trying very hard to avoid stinky-garbage language here but that statement alone should set off alarm bells to anyone concerned with political propriety and rule bending. dougholydaypcPage 7 of the Integrity Commissioner’s Code of Conduct for City Councillors contains 3 violations the Deputy Mayor may have committed using the garbage truck as part of his campaign. (h/t Jude MacDonald). VI, Use of City Property, Services and Other Resources. VII, Election Campaign Work. VIII, Improper Use of Influence.

But Conservative defenders were quick to point out that since Green For Life is a private company, contracted out by the city to pick up garbage, it’s all good. No harm, no foul. Technically speaking, this isn’t a technical breach of conduct by the technically (maybe) on leave of absence deputy mayor.

From Article VI, “No member of Council should use, or permit the use of City land, facilities, equipment, supplies, services, [bolding ours] staff or other resources (for example, City-owned materials, websites, Council transportation delivery services and member of Council expense budgets) for activities other than the business of the Corporation.”

Waste collection is a service Green For Life provides to the city, isn’t it?

From Article VII, “No member shall use the facilities, equipment, supplies, services [bolding ours] or other resources of the City (including Councillor newsletters and websites linked through the City’s website) for any election campaign or campaign-related activities… No member shall use the services [bolding ours] of persons for election-related purposes during hours in which those persons receive any compensation from the City.

Again, if Green For Life isn’t delivering a service to the city, what exactly are we paying them for?

From Article VIII, “No member of Council shall use the influence of her or his office for any purpose other than for the exercise of her or his official duties.

“When the deputy mayor calls and asks for a truck, we supply it.” That seems like a pretty straight forward ‘use of influence’, doesn’t it?

Unless of course you want to argue that Doug Holyday’s campaign staff called Green For Life as representatives of a provincial candidate not the deputy mayor. technicallyspeakingIt’s just unfortunate Mr. Dovigi didn’t say that when a candidate running for provincial office asks for a truck, they’re happy to oblige. But he didn’t. “When the deputy mayor calls and asks for a truck, we supply it.”

But hold on, the deputy mayor PC candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore defender’s say, it’s not as if anyone pulled a truck off collection duty for the deputy mayor PC candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore. It just magically appeared at no cost whatsoever to the company, I guess. Free gas, free of charge for the person driving it.

Let’s chalk it up to a campaign donation from a private company to a provincial candidate who just so happens to also be the city’s deputy mayor. He’s also the politician who helped spearhead waste collection contracting out, first as the former mayor of Etobicoke and then as deputy mayor of Toronto. Contracting out that, ultimately, benefited the company supplying their garbage truck as a campaign prop.

Regardless of your partisan political stripe, it’s something of an ethical quagmire, wouldn’t you say?splittinghairs

We’ve come to expect such lapses in judgement from the mayor but until he decided to enter the by-election race, Doug Holyday had a straight-shooting, no bullshit reputation when it came to using taxpayer money even for legit reasons like office budgets.

“Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday said regardless of whether Ford pays for fuel, city vehicles should be used for city business alone.” This from a Toronto Star article last fall in response to Mayor Ford’s staff using city vehicles to attend Don Bosco football practices. To now defend the deputy mayor’s use of a Green For Life garbage truck during his provincial campaign as different because it’s not a ‘city vehicle’ seems like mendacious hair-splitting.

All this coming less than week after the Integrity Commissioner’s annual report to city council. Never mind the backtracking now in progress to justify the deputy mayor’s actions on this. How could he stand in front of a truck his staff had ordered up, festooned with the City of Toronto logo, to make a campaign speech and not for a moment think to himself, something about the optics here smell? (There. My one garbage reference.)

ignoranceisbliss

And how can anyone, beating the drum of ethical bad behaviour on the part of the provincial Liberals, look at this circumstance and shrug? It’s no gas plant boondoggle, costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars. As if ethics are simply about the amount of money involved and not the conduct it engenders.

demandingly submitted by Cityslikr


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


Manning The Lifeboats

October 25, 2011

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