Subways It Is

July 18, 2013

Hats off to Toronto city council’s subway warriors, for they won the hearts and minds of a majority of their colleagues and have earned the right to finally deliver more subways to our Scarborough brethren. robfordstreetcarsLet us take a break in the seemingly never-ending transit battles and allow them room to manoeuvre, to bring their subway dreams to fruition. This is, after all, a democracy, and that’s how democracy works.

After 3 years or so of Sisyphean struggles, Mayor Rob Ford can now claim to have delivered on his campaign promise of subways, subways, subways. On paper, at least. The devil, as they say, is in the details and having watched the mayor this week during the transit debate we were reminded that he is not really a details kind of guy.

It’ll also be interesting to see how the mayor attempts to square the circle of higher than promised dedicated property tax increases to pay for his Scarborough subway. Or, to put ‘skin in the game’ as he liked to say over and over and over again. Since the city manager’s report on the LRT-to-subway conversion came out last week, Mayor Ford has held firm on his no more than a .25% increase. rollingrockWell, yesterday he wound up voting in favour of the city manager’s recommendation of anywhere between 1.1 – 2.4% over 3 years, beginning with .5% in next year’s budget.

But as we have seen in the past, the mayor seems unperturbed by logical inconsistencies and operates under the assumption that normal rules of reasoning and accountability don’t really apply to him.

It’s a knack the TTC chair appears to want to hone and develop.

Councillor Karen Stintz, having a Scarborough subway road to Damascus moment sometime during the course of the past year, loved LRTs (after she didn’t) when she pulled the carpet from under the mayor’s bid to build a subway extension on Sheppard Avenue. roadtodamascusShe thought they were just great running along Sheppard, east of the subway. And along Eglinton and Finch avenues.

But apparently not as an extension of the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Why the change of heart? Some chalk it up to mayoral ambitions but there’s no way of knowing that for sure. Until next year’s campaign, at any rate. For now, let’s just take her at her word that there’s a funding plan in place, based on a whole lot of contingencies and variables which, if they don’t all fall neatly into place, we will simply revert back to the original LRT plan.

But no one will be able to accuse Councillor Karen Stintz of denying Scarborough residents their long overdue subway. Especially not Mayor Ford if it just so happens they meet on the 2014 campaign trail.

Ditto Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, another late convert to the need for a subway in Scarborough. glenndebaeremaekerLike the TTC chair, he extolled the beauty and sleekness of LRTs during last year’s Sheppard subway debate but now finds them something less than perfect when proposed to run through his neighbourhood. He expertly tapped into the vein of entitlement, resentment and divisiveness in Mayor Ford-like style this week in demanding his residents in Scarborough get the respect and subway they deserve. LRTs may be just fine for other Torontonians but his tribe, well, they actually vote in Councillor De Baeremaeker’s ward.

As a confirmed and noted tax-and-spender, the councillor won’t have to contort and convulse having to explain the billion dollar+ extra expense for building the subway. Unlike some of his more “fiscally conservative” colleagues who gave the project a thumbs-up. Take Councillor Mike Del Grande, for instance. whome1During his time as budget chief in the first few years of the Ford Administration, no one was more vocal about the profligacy of the David Miller regime and its love of taking on debt to buy cupcakes for the widows and orphans.

But for a subway in Scarborough that will actually have little effect for transit users in his ward? Completely different story. Our debt is better than their debt, I guess.

But at least such naked parochial pandering on the part of the mayor, the TTC chair, Councillor De Baeremaeker and a bevy of council fiscal hawks that supported the subway plan could be visible to the jaded eye that chose to look at things through that sort of lens.

How the likes of councillors Joe Mihevc and Paula Fletcher got all caught up in these proceedings is more of a mystery, their motivations more opaque. Was it just to come to the rescue of their fellow leftie colleague from Scarborough? iminchargeIt’s one thing to compromise and juggle your integrity for the sake of your own political career but for another councillor? The nice word for that is loyalty. I’m sure the good people of Scarborough will find that devotion commendable if it amounts to any sort of delay in expanding rapid transit for them.

We have been assured no such thing will happen. Many of the amendments brought to the motion yesterday were safeguards against things like unforeseen delays, lack of funding from other levels of government and a multitude of variables, any of which could amount to an actual decrease in rapid transit expansion throughout the city. There’s even a drop-dead deadline, we’re told, September 30th, for the provincial and federal governments to shit or get off the pot. If this isn’t sorted out in full, all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, well, then an LRT it would be. No harm, no foul.

I will take them at their word on all that.

I will believe that city council is in full control of the situation, able to negotiate multiple competing agendum and put the brakes on any situation that arises that in any way threatens the plans we already had in place or risks any sort of significant delays in building rapid transit. stayquietThis is what we were told. At this point, I have no reason to not believe it and only my healthy skepticism whispering negatively in my ear.

I’ll try my best to ignore my concerns and take the next few months to think of other things than dismal transit arguments and dubious transit plans. It’s a big city, our Toronto. Plenty of stuff to focus on. Subway advocates won the day. They’ve earned the right to step forward and see this through.

That’ll be me, quietly standing on the sidelines, enjoying the sultry summer.

chill-ly submitted by Cityslikr


The Righteous Indignation of the Sanctimonious Small Mind

May 13, 2013

If after two and a half years you’re still trying to get a handle on what drives Ford Nation, to pop open the hood and see the grinding of the gears, to catch a glimpse into its beating black heart, allow me to introduce Exhibit A.onthecouch

I’ll set the table for you first.

It’s during Tuesday’s city council debate. The item is a request for a report from the City Manager on an exemption to the commercial jet ban at the island airport for Porter Airlines. Like everything else about the island airport, the issue is heated and contentious.

Up stands Councillor Mike Del Grande to wade in with his thoughts. Remember the topic. A report. From the City Manager. Exploring the merits (or not) of lifting the current ban on jets flying in and out of the island airport. Porter Airlines. Jets. Island Airport. Staff Report.

Take it away, Councillor Del Grande…

Umm… What?

A quick reminder. A report. From the City Manager. Exploring the merits (or not) of lifting the current ban on jets flying in and out of the island airport. Porter Airlines. Jets. Island Airport. Staff Report.

I guess somewhere in there is an attempt at a logical through line that with jets, whatdidhejustsayPorter would experience an overall expansion of operations and, with that, more jobs although given the company’s labour dealings right now with its striking fuel handlers it’s tough to say that would necessarily be a good thing for the overall economy.

But frankly, I’m stretching to give those five minutes any kind of coherent narrative. It’s really nothing more than impenetrable resentment and anger directed at those who, what did the councillor say, come to City Hall, impolitely bullying councillors and “… sit there smug because you got it good and other people don’t have it good.”

Now, it always bears pointing out that, back a little while ago when this very councillor was the city’s budget chief, he derided the widows and orphans for wanting cupcakes. And somehow he now views himself as a class warrior, looking out for the have-nots? And standing up in defense of re-opening an agreement that would allow one company to buy a fleet of jets it’s already pre-ordered with delivery contingent on the city now allowing it to fly jets in and out of the airport will somehow bring prosperity to the land and spread the wealth around?

Trying to piece together such rantings is entirely beside the point.angrywhiteguy

Like the mayor and the mayor’s brother, Councillor Del Grande’s outbursts are never about making a particular point. It’s always about the anger. The entirely misplaced feeling of alienation. These guys don’t give a shit about the existence of the very real underclass in this city. If they did, they would be entirely different kinds of politicians.

They rail and fulminate against those who don’t see the world exactly like they do, don’t live their lives exactly like they do. There’s no rational sense behind it. It’s just a vituperative antagonism to anyone or anything they see as different or holding dissimilar views.

Looking out for the little guy? Hardly. It’s basic chest-beating tribalism. A noxious mix of rigid ideology and angry opposition that makes for potent noise-making but ineffectual and divisive governance.

angrywhiteguy1

lividly submitted by Cityslikr


Oh No, It’s Di Giorgio!

February 6, 2013

If upon hearing the news of Councillor Frank Di Giorgio’s appointment as Mayor Ford’s new budget chief you didn’t share in the collective shudder, you really need to go see your doctor. simpsonsshudderClearly you don’t have whatever mechanism it is a body needs to shudder.

Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio. Mr. Budget Chief, as the mayor kept referring to him during yesterday’s Executive Committee meeting. Budget Chief Frank Di Giorgio.

As any regular reader of these pages knows, we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoker were no fans of the previous budget chief, Councillor Mike Del Grande. In fact, it would be safe to say we loathed him in the position. Not only was his approach to municipal finances shockingly misguided, woefully hampered by a 19th-century view of society and a rigid ideological abhorrence toward the idea of government spending, he was petty and dismissive of those he disagreed with.

But at least you knew where the man stood.loyal

Budget Chief Di Giorgio?

“One of the most loyal, loyal folks we have,” according the Councillor Doug Ford.

Ah yes. Loyalty. Loyalty above all else. A one-way type of loyalty, of course, where the mayor is free to play the field according to whatever whim stirs him to turn his back on those doing his bidding.

With one more budget to go before heading into a re-election campaign, Mayor Ford has tapped someone to oversee billions of dollars in spending and revenue based purely on being a good soldier on Team Ford. A numbers guy for sure with an impressive resume if he were being asked to teach algebra to high school students. Back in the 70s.

From my perch in the cheap seats at city council chambers, Frank Di Giorgio has been a wholly unimpressive, inconsequential councillor. whatHis contribution to the discourse of city business has been almost exclusively twisted logic and syntax. A golden oldie from way back in 2003 as noted by the Toronto Star’s David Rider yesterday:

“Mr. Chairman, I think we find ourselves in an unfortunate position simply because, simply because we have tended to over-regulate perhaps too often, or Madam Chairman I should say, we have a regulatory system that is trilateral in the sense that we have three levels of government that fall in a regulation system and two levels of government that do their part.”

What?!

And a book of such quotes could be written.

Certainly, his first 24 hours on the job as budget chief did little to suggest he might grow into the job. His first media scrum with the mayor after the announcement he told all assembled that he’d be looking to freeze property taxes, department budgets and look at reducing the land transfer tax by some 10%. Later, he clarified his position, saying that an inflationary property tax might be necessary and that he was only talking about keeping spending at 0%.

“There’s no clarity as to what I’ve been asked to do, other than examine certain things,” the new budget chief said, “like: What’s the likelihood of doing something with the land transfer tax? What’s the likelihood of coming in, let’s say if (Ford) says to me, ‘0 per cent tax increase’?howhigh

“I think those are far-fetched ideas, but I will look at them.”

One might think before taking the job that sort of ‘clarity’ would be something the budget chief might want to sort out. You want me to do what? That’s kind of — how’d he put it? – ‘far-fetched’ from a budgeting standpoint, to continue slashing revenue. Oh well. Lemme see what I can do.

Good, loyal soldiers never question their superiors.

Say what you will about the previous budget chief but he had a certain independence of thought and ultimately stood firm when he felt his job and contribution to the administration had been compromised by Mayor Ford.

There’s little sense Budget Chief Di Giorgio will show the same spine in the face of the mayor’s disregard.

“One of the most loyal, loyal folks we have.”

This lack of resolve in our new budget chief as the push forward to a discussion of transit expansion and new generation of revenues was on full display in an interview yesterday with CBC’s Here and Now (h/t John Lorinc). yesgiorgio“I personally will not be supportive of the tax increases that will come forward as potential tax increases,” the budget chief said, sharing a similar view with the mayor, “to pay for transportation.” Instead, we must ‘grow the economy’ as if transit has nothing to do with that equation.

“And if congestion is something we have to live with in the short term, we have to look at alternative ways at easing congestion.” And those ‘alternative ways’, Mr. Budget Chief? Stay tuned but don’t hold your breath in anticipation.

To paraphrase a title of a forgettable movie from the 80s: Oh no, Di Giorgio.

dismayedly submitted by Cityslikr


Here’s Your Coat…

January 18, 2013

I will admit to a slight glitch of feeling, a tiny moment of near compunction when I heard the news on Wednesday night of Budget Chief Mike Del Grande’s resignation. waitasecHuh? That’s… something, I thought.

Then we proceeded to pop the cork on some bubbly.

I write no note of gratitude or appreciation toward our outgoing budget chief. Like in our post last weekend on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, I can find no redeeming qualities in the political life of Councillor Mike Del Grande. There’s nothing to respect or applaud. Even if I were to lie just a little bit.

Given enough time and a couple glasses of wine, I probably could byte a few positive words about Mayor Rob Ford. Probably. In a pinch. But increasingly, I have great difficulty coming up with duly appropriate nods of respect for conservative politicians. thinkingThose propelled into a life of elected office on the wings of anti-government sentiment and the core conviction that it is nothing but a determinant to be neutralized and dismantled.

Michael Del Grande is one of those types of politicians.

Read through yesterday’s perfectly timed feature in The Grid on the then-but-now-ex budget chief and consider this following passage:

“I grew up poor, so I know what it’s like to make a buck. My attitude is, any dime that’s spent out there, I treat it [like] it’s my own.”

There’s no sense of community, no belief in a greater good. I pay my taxes. I expect results. Certifiable, directly benefiting me, bang-for-my-buck results.

It’s almost as if he wanted to become budget chief in order to be able to track every penny he pays in municipal taxes mineminemineand make sure he personally was getting something in return.

Of course, I could just say that being the budget chief of Toronto and overseeing billions of dollars must be one hell of a job, thankless in that you can never please everybody and onerous in terms of demands on your and your family’s time. But I don’t need to. The ex-budget chief reminded us of that fact every time he got in front of a microphone. Here. And here. And here.

Yes. A terrible job which, when push comes to shove, pays a paltry amount. (Owing, ironically, at least in part to the penny-pinching attitude held by the likes of Councillor Del Grande). It is not one for the faint of heart or thin of skin.

But nobody forced him to take or keep the job, did they? If you can’t stand the heat and all of that. It seems nothing short of unanimous and uncritical praise is payment enough for him.

So here goes.

Thanks very much, Councillor Del Grande, theresthedoorfor the sweat and toil you put in coming up with 3 successive budgets I couldn’t agree less with. I thank you. The widows and orphans thank you.

Over-worked and under-appreciated as budget chief, Mike Del Grande still found time to personally respect my tax dollars.

“Del Grande is so committed to efficient service that he occasionally leaves his office to drop in on city employees unannounced. If he catches them slacking off, there’s hell to pay,” writes Rob Duffy in The Grid. “I’m the kind of guy that will call them over, ask them if they know who I am. Most of the time they’ll say no. I tell them who I am, then they crap their pants. And I basically just tell them, Look, the public wants to see value for their money. They’re working for me. I’m the boss. It’s my money.”

No, wait. It gets better.

“My philosophy? You don’t have to fire everybody. You take the biggest bull, the biggest problem, whatever the heck it is, and you gore it publicly. You make it bleed so bad that it scares the shit out of everybody else, to put them in line if things are going bad.”

Not only does he behave that badly, he seems to brag about it, relish it. I mean, it’s like Donald Trump without the bad hair and money. doyouknowwhoiamThese are the words and actions of a petty tyrant not a thoughtful city builder.

“I presented an extraordinary budget, an extraordinary turn around with respect to where the city was going. I’ve done my job, the ship was set in the right direction,” the National Post’s Natalie Alcoba quotes him saying after Wednesday’s vote. “Everybody then wanted to be the budget chair on the floor of council and they extracted their individual peeves.”

The startling self- (*a-hem, a-hem*) -delgrandizing aside, it is the statement of a man seemingly unable to experience the sensation of empathy. Everything he does is selfless, for the betterment of the city. Everyone else? Pet peeves, pet projects.

He is an evidence-based decision maker, as he’d taken to pronouncing in the months leading up to the budget debate and vote, rather than one subject to mere ‘whims and emotions’. Which is a rich claim coming from someone absolutely wrapped up in the frenzied fiction that this city was in some sort of out-of-control dire financial straits before he assumed control of the purse strings. Our debt payments especially compared to other levels of governments and municipalities didn’t indicate that. Our lower than other GTA jurisdictions residential property tax rates suggested otherwise. sailthisshipaloneOnly in the small-minded, small-government views of conservatives was there some sort of monumental problem that needed to be fixed, a ship in need of righting.

A divisive downtown-suburban warrior (such the fiscal hawk, he beat the drum loudly for the financially dubious Scarborough subway), as much a vilifier as the vilified, Council Del Grande represents the absolute worst instincts of this city. As an elected representative he symbolizes all the reasons we don’t build nice things here. I wish I could find one thing about his service to Toronto I might be gracious about. Unfortunately, I’ve come up empty.

nothing nice to sayly submitted by Cityslikr


Taxing My Patience

December 11, 2012

Just a quick slapdash entry after deputations on the 2013 budget wrapped up this afternoon. madhatterHopefully it will appear entirely different from my regular slapdash efforts.

Mike Del Grande. Councillor Mike Del Grande. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande.

Mike Del Grande, Mike DelGrande, MikeDelGrande, mikedelgrande…

Despite listening to over 200 deputants, none of whom I heard demand their taxes be cut, and a litany of the usual suspect downtown lefty councillors suggesting their constituents would prefer a better city over lower taxes, our budget chief doesn’t buy any of that nonsense. People don’t like paying taxes. End of story. Let’s move on.

How does our budget chief know this? By a rigorous examination of a solid, evidence based study, OK? Voluntary repayment of the Vehicle Registration Tax back to the city. All these people, coming down to plead their case in front of the Budget Committee year after year, all the bleeding hearts the likes of Councillor Janet Davis meets in her ward, all saying they would happily pay more in tax. Well? Where are they, the budget chief wonders. Certainly not filling the city coffers out of the goodness of their hearts, let him tell you.

Now, I don’t have a car, thus don’t pay the VRT but if I did and didn’t have to pay the VRT because the Ford Administration is averse to that kind of revenue generation, nothankyouthe last place I would be returning that money saved is to a City Hall run by a gang of far right, anti-government ideologues. All taxes are evil, as far as the likes of Councillor Doug Ford is concerned. Yeah… sure. Here’s my rebate, Mr. Budget Chief. Please do something nice with it, OK?

Instead, I know a couple people who have diligently used the $60 they saved when renewing their car sticker and donated it to places hurt by recent city cuts – i.e. the library. So, the budget chief’s certainty that people don’t like paying taxes based on a lack of returns back to the city is based on, what do you call it, an inadequate sampling? Nonsense? Pure and utter bullshit?

On top of which, taxation really only works as a collective enterprise. Elective participation in handing over one’s hard earned cash doesn’t tend to fill the coffers like a compulsory obligation. It only fully functions if we’re all in it together, contributing. Some more, some less but none voluntarily.

I’d like to think my willingness to pay taxes is based on an absolute selflessness. That I am constitutionally more inclined to help out the ‘widows and orphans’ than our budget chief is. But that wouldn’t be entirely true.taxation

From an unequivocally selfish perspective, I want to pay more for better transit (which I don’t depend on), for fewer people forced to live on the streets (I have a house), for free recreational programs (which I’ve never taken) because it means the lives of other people (mostly who I don’t know but share this city with) are made just a little bit better, a little more liveable, their prospects of a better life just a little brighter. Why does that matter to me? The possibility of them being able to contribute more significantly and positively will make this a better city for me to live in.

And I can’t do that single-handedly, giving back my VRT or making some other voluntary contribution to the likes of Mike Del Grande. Taxation only works en masse. Everybody pitching in what they can.

It’s disheartening that the person in charge of spending billions and billions of dollars annually either doesn’t realize it or doesn’t believe it.

taxingly submitted by Cityslikr


Sometimes A Surplus Is Just A Surplus

September 19, 2012

Gather round, all ye loyal readers, and prepare your ears to hear that not heard in these parts muchly. Tis an admission of error on our part. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke were wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For some time now, pretty near since our inception over two and a half years ago, we’ve suggested that the mayor and his fiscal conservative ilk have budgetary issues, let’s call them. That their numbers rarely add up. In fact, they are an assault upon reason itself.

But the problem, dear readers, may lay with our abacus not theirs. Our eyes blinded by the ideology of government spendthriftry and the love of dwelling in a gravy slathered city. We are wanton with the money of others when restraint is something near godliness. Affix the letters D P E in brightly stitched pink to our breasts and take the keys to the safe from our sweaty, grubby hands and greedy, bleeding hearts.

For you see, yesterday a word was spoken in the halls of City Hall that has seldom been uttered anywhere near that vicinity if uttered at all. A word so delicious to those hungering for the twin notions of fiscal sanity and respect for the taxpayers that all they could do was but to gobble it up, swallow it whole. That word, curious readers?

Surplus.

Ohhh, sweet, sweet surplus. How we have longed to embrace you all these dark, dank days filled with deficits and debt. Let us never part again, shall we? Not? That is to say, tongue tied as I am in your magnificent presence, may we be together forever and never leave each other’s sight. Ever.

How long has it been, dearest one, since your name upon our lips last passed? Last year? 2010? 2009? 2008. 2007. 2006. 2005. 2004… Every fucking year, year after fucking year, Toronto has a surplus. It pretty much has to since the province mandates against municipalities running any sort of deficit on their annual operational side. It would be news only if we didn’t have a surplus not when we do. Because we always do.

No, any surplus news should involve how we went about achieving said surplus. Increases in revenues? Decrease in costs? A healthy mix of both? An unhealthy mix?

For a couple reasons that angle’s not really in the best interest of our current administration. One, while very revenue generating shy (or tax hating in the common parlance), Team Ford would have to accentuate their approach to surplus delivery has not made them wildly popular. Call it ‘finding efficiencies’ or ‘service adjustments’ all you want, it still strikes some especially those directly affected as the exact same as service and program cuts, user fees replacing tax increases. Things Mayor Ford campaigned on never implementing.

More importantly however, any talk of operating budget surpluses being par for the course in Toronto lays waste to the claim that brought the mayor and other hawks to power. It was all about out of control tax-and-spending, costly union appeasing, money burning on sweetheart deals, complete and utter breakdown of order on taxpayer respecting. “Toronto’s financial foundation is crumbling,” Mayor Ford pronounced, not long after using hundreds of millions of surplus dollars from the Silly Socialist David Miller regime to stuff holes in his first budget.

Hold on there, bucko. A David Miller surplus? Hardly. A one-time savings is all. An annual savings that happen every year. Don’t count on that regularly.

Besides much of that repeated one-time savings comes from the loathed Land Transfer Tax and, based as it is on real estate, we know how volatile that is. So undependable we need to get rid of it altogether to free ourselves from such instability. Once we do that, then we can start talking about a strong, stable surplus.

Maybe.

Unless of course widows and orphans come knocking at our door, thinking we’re suddenly flush with cash to spend on their little ‘nice to haves’. Budget Chief Mike Del Grande will know just what to say to nip that in the bud. “I don’t call it a surplus, I call it a positive variance.” Words matter. So get the hell off my lawn.

To ensure all hatches are battened down on the HMS Tightfisted, council’s surplus deniers also delight in pointing out the capital side of things. Plenty of unfunded liabilities there, folks. Any surplus—I mean, ‘positive variance’–must be rolled over onto capital expenses. Otherwise… otherwise… Even former Ford chief of staff and campaign honcho, tough as nails Nick Kouvalis wets his pants at mention of our capital budget outlook. “What’s the Capital Budget deficit,” he tweeted. “Why do reporters not talk about the real issues?”

OK, Nick. Let’s talk about real issues. Let’s talk about our capital budget.

Yeah, it’s big. That tends to happen when big cities need big capital projects like public transit and infrastructure. Just comes with the territory.

It may appear insurmountable to those whose politics are defined exclusively by lowering taxes and cutting spending. So I get why you blanch at those numbers. How the hell can we afford everything that makes a city liveable and prosperous?

Well, we certainly can’t cut our way there. The city manager, Joe Pennachetti said as much earlier this year, suggesting there’s not more than $100 million left in efficiencies to find in the budget. How many subways stops will that buy us? Contracting out some of the city’s waste collection might, might, save us $11 million a year. Contracting out cleaning services looks to save another $800 000. Won’t make a dent on capital costs.

Senior levels of government have largely walked away from their obligations to cities and caught up as they are in the downward spiral of austering us from rocky economic times shouldn’t be expected back any time soon. That well is as good as dry for the time being.

So we’re going to have to figure this out on our own. Operating budget surpluses or one-time savings or positive variances, whatever you want to call them, is the easy part. Everyone does it. Everyone has to. That’s not newsworthy.

What I want to know is how you’re going to spend the money necessary to keep Toronto from collapsing under the weight of small-minded frugality masking as rock solid fiscal stewardship.

unimpressedly 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