Mayor John Tory says he wants to clean up an increasingly messy city. But critics are skeptical - CBC News

CBC News

By Naomi Barghiel 

Mayor seeking legal advice on cutting ties with company responsible for garbage bins

Mayor John Tory says he wants to tackle Toronto's increasingly messy streets and parks, promising everything from clean-up blitzes to seeking an end to the city's contract with the company that maintains its trash bins. 

Tory, who was elected to his third term as mayor last Monday, is vowing to take immediate action, saying he heard many complaints on the campaign trail about how dirty the city has become.

"I did want to start to address it today and to have people know ... that we as the city government collectively are on this," he said last Thursday.

Tory says he's seeking legal advice on whether the city can terminate its contract with Astral Out-of-Home, the private media company responsible for maintaining 10,000 garbage bins across the city. The deal was signed in 2007 under former mayor David Miller and has four more years to run. Images showing bins vandalized, with doors hanging off their hinges and overflowing with trash are common

"I'm certainly not satisfied with the current situation when it comes to the litter bins on our streets," Tory said.

In a written statement to CBC Toronto on Monday, Astral does not directly respond to Tory's comments about ending the contract, but says it is committed to continuing to work closely with the city and it's Solid Waste Management department to address any issues.

"[We] will continue to abide by the terms and conditions of the Toronto Street Furniture Agreement by cleaning and inspecting all street furniture elements once per week citywide, and twice per week in BIA and high-density areas," the company said.

Emily Alfred, senior campaigner with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA), says she's concerned that ending the Astral partnership will just lead to a contract with yet another private company. If so, she doesn't believe it's a real investment in the city's public amenities.

"We need to ask ourselves: is this public infrastructure worth investing in?" she said.

"If so, we need to invest in it and do it properly rather than looking for flashy blitzes or low-cost ways to solve the problem quickly." The trash bins aren't the only issue. There are complaints about construction debris littering roads and sidewalks. Potholes are damaging cars and injuring cyclists. This summer kicked off with 40 per cent of the city's public water fountains out of service — though a city spokesperson says all 700 fountains were later operational by the end of June.

So, in addition to looking into an early end to the trash bin contract, Tory is promising a list of clean-up blitzes, including:

  • Graffiti on public and private property.
  • Construction zones.
  • Clothing drop boxes.
  • Problem potholes.
  • An arena state-of-good-repair audit

'We need to demand a lot more,' critic says

But Alfred says Tory's approach alone won't solve the problem.

"This is not something that can just be solved with a single blitz," she said. "A blitz can be pretty flashy and it can sound exciting ... but frankly we need to demand a lot more."

Toronto is facing a massive $857-million budget gap for 2023, mostly attributed to costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the city to put a temporary hold on nearly $300 million in infrastructure projects.

Tory said in his announcement Thursday that the plans will be carried out within the existing budget only. And during his election campaign, he again promised to keep property tax increases below the rate of inflation.

 Alfred says that won't lead to cleaner streets

"As long as we're keeping property taxes excessively low ... then what we're going to see is that we're going to have to start trimming and getting those savings somewhere — and what we're seeing is service cuts," she said. 

"We're sending a message that these public places don't matter," Albert added. 

The City of Toronto said in a statement to CBC News that it is "committed to the priorities outlined in the mayor's announcement."

"We are focused on the maintenance and improvement of city streets and public spaces, including city parks and recreation facilities, and improving neighbourhoods across Toronto," the statement reads.

This article was reposted from CBC News: This article first appeared in CBC News on Monday October 31st 2022.