Despite pleas, city moves to privatize trash pickup-Toronto Star

Dozens of people opposed the outsourcing plan at a Tuesday meeting of council’s public works committee.

David Rider and Daniel Dale 
Staff Reporters
Toronto Star
April 28, 2011

Toronto has moved to the brink of privatizing garbage collection for 165,000 homes west of Yonge St., despite pleas from scores of speakers at a marathon meeting of the works committee Tuesday.

At 10:30 p.m., after almost nine hours of deputations and discussion that mostly criticized the controversial proposal aimed at cutting costs by shedding city jobs, the public works committee voted 4-2 to proceed with the management-recommended outsourcing plan.

“It’s going to reduce the cost and size of government and that’s what this mayor (Rob Ford) was elected for,” a defiant Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the committee chair, told a still-packed City Hall meeting room just before the vote.

“We’re moving forward with this initiative.”

Minnan-Wong touted potential savings of $60 million over seven years. A staff report estimates Toronto can cut costs by $6 million per year by contracting out curbside collection between Yonge and the Etobicoke, and another $2 million through other outsourcing initiatives.

Voting in favour of the recommendations, which staff estimate will result in contracts not being renewed for about 300 city workers with “temporary” status, were Minnan-Wong (Ward 34 Don Valley East), David Shiner (Ward 24 Willowdale), Mark Grimes (Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore) and John Parker (Ward 26 Don Valley West).

Voting against were Mike Layton (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina) and Gord Perks (Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park).

Ford made the privatization a central plank in his election campaign, and he’s expected to have the required 23 votes to make it official when the recommendation goes to council’s May 17-18 meeting.

Still, Mark Ferguson, president of the CUPE Local 416 that represents the city’s solid waste workers, said he’ll spend the next few weeks drumming up public opposition to the plan and targeting centrist councillors, sometimes dubbed the “mushy middle.”

“We had no hope that this hand-picked (works) committee was going to decide to take a decision against the mayor but we think city council is a different beast in its entirety, that (there is) a contingent in the middle of council that is susceptible to common sense and reason,” he said.

Much earlier in the day, Ferguson told the committee that other cities’ experience is that contracting out city work degrades the service to residents, while fixing problems usually costs them money in the long run.

Ferguson wants the city to put outsourcing on hold and co-operate with 416 on a vaguely described “public bid” to make collection more efficient, and save the city money, while maintaining workers’ salaries and benefits.

He warned that Tuesday’s vote is a first salvo in Ford’s plan of, in the words of the mayor’s brother and adviser, Councillor Doug Ford, “outsourcing everything that’s not nailed down.”

Many of Tuesday’s more than 70 speakers passionately urged committee members to reject contracting out.

John Sharkey, a resident of the Bain Co-op in Riverdale, said: “The . . . perception in the Bain Co-op is that public is more accountable. Citizens can call up their councillor, you can call up city employees and complain. That’s less likely to happen, as we all know, if it’s run by private contractors.”

Franz Hartmann, executive director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance, disagreed with city staff assurances that contracting out pickup won’t jeopardize the city’s goal of diverting 70 per cent of waste from landfill.

“The devil is in the details,” he said. “If you want to make sure future waste diversion is not compromised, make sure that councillors, and council — not staff — get to scrutinize the contract.”

City staff have recommended that, if council votes to approve the issuing of tenders for the work, it also delegate authority to approve the final contracts — potentially worth a total of $300 million — to a small committee of city managers. That would fast-track the initiative and help save millions of dollars in 2012, Minnan-Wong said.

Councillor Frances Nunziata (Ward 11 York South Weston), a staunch Ford ally, tore a strip off Ferguson over the 2009 civic workers’ strike that has fuelled public support for more contracting out.

“You talk about providing good service and working with management,” she said. “And is providing good customer service going on strike for five weeks and having residents with garbage on their front lawn? Is that good service?”

One thing is certain — the contracting out wouldn’t cut a dime from Torontonians’ property tax bills. Garbage collection is funded through a separate levy. Minnan-Wong said any savings “will be used to reduce any increase in the solid waste fees charged to residents.”

Here are comments from some of the other presenters:

• “Where all the savings will come from is by reducing the wages and benefits of workers. And we don’t think that any business plan should be based on devaluing work.” — John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council

• “Our city is going to get dirtier if we contract out our work.” — Paul LePage, solid waste worker

• “It really offends me that some of my property taxes are going to be taken and paid to a private company for their own profit. That’s not my idea of why I pay taxes. I pay taxes for quality city services that employ employees who get decent wages and pensions like everyone should.” — David DePoe, retired teacher

Originally Published: Despite pleas, city moves to privatize trash pickup