Road to privatized garbage skips past council

With much fanfare — the National Post’s Peter Kuitenbrouwer reports that there was a new! podium! sign! — Chair of Public Works Denzil Minnan-Wong revealed a staff report outlining the proposed process for the privatization of solid waste collection west of Yonge Street.

Solid waste collection is not a big-ticket item. The cost is mostly recovered through user fees. While I am sure some will spin this as a great step forward toward our glorious low-tax utopia, the impact this will have on the city’s overall financial position will be minimal. As a comparison, the $10 million dollars per year the city was to bring in from billboard tax revenues is more substantial.

This is not primarily a financial move. It’s not about customer service, either, as the report concludes (page 9) no difference in customer satisfaction levels between privatized Etobicoke and the rest of the city. This is about punishing the unions and preventing future strikes. And despite some introspective ideological push-back, I’m okay with that, to be honest: if there’s one thing Ford has a legitimate mandate from the people to do, it’s this. I just wish it would be presented more truthfully.

More troubling than the intent behind this is the proposed process. In an effort to have a signed contract in place before the union’s contract expires at the end of this year, the staff report recommends that council delegate approval of the contract to the City’s Bid Committee.

Council will get to debate and approve the overall process for garbage privatization, but they will not — without an amendment to this report — get to debate and approve the final contract itself. The report lays out several reasons why this should be the case, but only one of them makes real sense (page 12):

To ensure that the contracts are awarded and executed in advance of the expiration of existing Collective Agreements. The current Collective Agreements with the TCEU(s) expire December 31, 2011.

Rushing through this process to avoid the spectre of another work stoppage is short-sighted and could cost the city significant amounts of money over the long-term. As the report indicates that the city will sell off some of its equipment (trucks, etc. — the report suggests the city will secure $1.5m in one-time revenue on page 6), this process will be essentially irreversible.

Once we go forward, we can’t go back. This is a critical and high-impact decision-making process that demands more oversight from our elected officials than has been suggested in today’s report.

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